Questions for: Lesley Whyte

News - Interviews Tuesday, 04 February 2020

The managing director of BDS contributes to our Q&A series


Describe your current job
As managing director, and one of the founders of BDS, I provide vision and direction for the business, working for customers with my colleagues to deliver services that will transform their businesses and libraries.

What was your first job in the book industry?
I started my career in academic libraries, and my first job was as editor of the University of London's Library shared catalogue. This was a real springboard for my career, as I learned all the principles of management of metadata which I apply in my job today, and had a profound influence on my thinking about metadata, and subsequently how we developed our business model at BDS.

Who has been the most influential person in your career?
Indisputably my fellow director and founder of BDS, Eric Green. We've been working together for over 30 years, and we have created a successful and innovative business and, I hope, a good place for the people we employ to work.

How has the industry changed since your first job?
I moved from libraries into business, initially in bookselling, and then to metadata creation in the book and home entertainment industries. It has been my experience in the workplace that there are more processes and less intuition applied. Although this seems like a negative, I think we are all working more effectively, and there is still plenty of scope for vision and creativity in business. I like my job even more today than I did when starting out.

What's the biggest challenge in your job?
Creating quality metadata is a challenge. There is so much potential for things to go wrong. It's about commas and full stops, character sets, upper and lower case letters, numerical sequences and authority files. It's about things that most people never think about, yet when something is inaccurate it affects discoverability or pricing, and can have radical implications for businesses or users.

However, the biggest challenges offer the greatest rewards. We're extremely proud that the metadata we create at BDS is used in bookshops and libraries all over the world, assisting in the sale of books and home entertainment products and helping people to find the information they require for work, study or recreation.

What are the most interesting things you're seeing at the moment in the industry?
One thing that relates to my early career is the resurgence in libraries worldwide, the way they are reinventing themselves as hubs, both in local communities, and on a national and international stage. They embody a new respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, and their connectedness with, say, universities, is bringing learning into the heart of communities. I think there is also increased awareness in the value of authentic sources, as opposed to fake news. There's a long way to go in re-asserting the value of the library for the man in the street, but if nothing else, it is good for book sales.

What do you think might be the next big thing?
Metadata is more and more important. A few years ago the purchase of a book was a physical act; now to find what you are looking for you need superb metadata, otherwise your publication will lie at the bottom of a digital swamp. Metadata describes the world so that computers and AI can do what we want. Bad metadata equals chaos and misinformation. I like to think that within the book industry, BDS is helping to lead the way in this.

What do you most like doing when you're not working?
This one is easy - gardening by day, the opera by night. Unless it is one of those lovely long summer evenings in Scotland, when I can work in my garden until 23.00, which is my favourite thing to do.

What is the best book you've read in the last year?
A surprise for me was A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, which I picked up at Euston Station before boarding a train because I'd left my book at home. It's a collection of short stories, and I regard them as a tour de force. It got better and better as I read.

What are you reading now?
I have just started reading She-Merchants, Buccaneers & Gentlewomen by Katie Hickman, which is about the intrepid women who left Britain for India in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has a cast of powerful and eccentric women, and has introduced me to a world I knew nothing about.

How do you like to read: on screen, on paper, or do you listen to audiobooks?
I was an early adopter of an e-reader, and read almost solely on screen for several years, but have gone back to paper, and have to say that I much prefer it as a recreational experience. The only problem is, my house it filling up with books again.

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