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Metator, Librarian, Gatekeeper, Broker

A reader named Boz had the best response to last week’s diatribe against corporate information disorganization that called for creating a titled role for a metadata editor or “metator” to manage collaborative sharing of information.

“So now everything comes full circle,” wrote Boz. “This is the role the corporate librarian used to have in larger organizations.”

First of all, right on. Boz had me with that comment right up until he added that our old corporate librarian was “not a gatekeeper, but an information management expert.”

Today’s librarian might indeed be an information management expert, but that’s the revised job title, not the one HR knows about. The old corporate librarian was considered an archivist; the newer version is often called a gatekeeper or custodian, but I prefer to call them an information broker, an indexer and distributor of information. Gatekeeper sounds too one way for me, though I get the quality maintenance role.

I meet these people all the time, like Marge at Burlington Coat Factory, who was hired as a compensation manager but inherited the technology and owned the experience that made her the go-to person for legal services, compliance and anything having to do with human resources at her company. Marge is no dummy, as can be attested by the fact that her company treats her as the last, best source of a certain type of information for a variety of vested decision-making.

Having cited the idea of a “metator” from the idea’s creator, Bob Boiko, a consultant and senior lecturer at the University of Washington, I went back and talked to the source. As Bob related to me, most of his job is to literally train librarians, a role he says has been turned on its head.

It’s no longer a librarian behind a desk responding to things that come from the outside world and shelves of books. “It’s more about being an information professional. It’s a leadership role that goes from a pull to a push person where you understand your constituents’ information needs.” I can personally relate to Boiko’s expertise having learned from big pharma companies how librarians have become important redirectors of information, even though that might not be the case at other companies.

Boiko’s role model for the quintessential push information professional is the character of Radar O’Reilly from the old M.A.S.H. television show. You remember this fellow as the guy who has the proper folder in his commander’s hands before his commander knows he needs it.

“This is no secret,” Boiko says. “We all know that when you need a piece of information that you don’t go to the boss, you go to the boss’s secretary.”

True enough, though fewer bosses have secretaries, or better yet metators, when in fact it’s the workforce at large that needs them dearly. Again, Boiko summed it up best. “The information function inside an organization has been completely hidden and it’s an incredibly vital thing and completely underutilized. It’s the network of the people who really know what’s going on. They’re not organized or rewarded, yet they’re running the damn place.”

Boiko says the people he trains or identifies are not usually tech-savvy people, nor do they seek to be. He sees them as natively talented indexers or organizers who might not be called to the job of subject matter expert. “An indexer is already a metator because they’re adding extra information to tag or otherwise make sure information is accessible. A really good indexer doesn’t need to be a subject matter expert and in some senses it’s better if they’re not, because they can make the information base accessible to others who don’t already know the lingo.”

Note to self: for future success, find and follow the Radar O’Reilly in my organization - and buy him lunch.

(Precursor column available here. -ed) 

(Bob Boiko is the author of Content Management Bible.  His latest book, Laughing at the CIO  addresses many of the ideas pertaining to business librarian roles and “metators.”) 

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