In “Setting the Stage”, Anne J. Gilliland describes metadata as “the sum total of what one can say at a given moment about any information object at any level of aggregation.” Gilliland further notes that all information objects have three common features—content, context, and structure. So metadata includes not just the circumstances of the item’s creation (like the date a photo was taken), but additional information that might be used to arrange, describe or access that information object.
I fell into my last job in a DH lab because I had extensive experience with census records, Sanborn maps and historic architecture inventories. What I did NOT have was ANY training in database management, standards or archive creation.
I hit the ground running and did what seemed logical to me in the creation of a spreadsheet and standards for data collection in a project tracking former residents of a mill village. No one mentioned anything about core standards or set vocabularies, but I naturally created data fields in the spreadsheet based on the data that: 1.I knew we had access to and 2. By ways in which I thought the public, as well as academics, might want to search the data (in this case, 1920 census records). Weeks after I started the project we had a meeting, and someone asked about when a database would be created for metadata collection. I replied that I had never done that before but I’d be happy to learn how. A colleague chimed in that I in fact HAD already started the database and a data dictionary for metadata standards. While perhaps it didn’t follow industry standards to a ‘T’, I had unknowingly done something I didn’t have the words for. I was, using Gilliland’s description, collecting data on the content, context, and structure.
We encounter metadata every day and categorize things in countless ways. When ordering shoes on Amazon, I’m likely to first chose the size, style and price, but perhaps narrow down further by brand, color, rating. If the metadata behind the site isn’t properly structured, the computer won’t know which items to show me.
Within many industries, there is a specific set of standards for metadata related to that industry, and the fields can be numerous and technical. In addition to being industry specific they can be location specific, such as the Australian Recordkeeping Metadata Schema. In contrast to these industry-specific standards, the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set is a basic standard of 15 elements that can be easily implemented and understood for a variety of virtual as well as real objects. It is one of the most widely used metadata standards set and provides a simple way of categorizing something and listing its qualities to make it show up in machine searches.
It originated at a conference held by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) in Dublin, Ohio in 1995 and is now run by the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative. It was originally created specifically for organizing and retrieving web content. The 15 Dublin Core elements can be used to categorize descriptive or technical elements to help identify a digital resource. In addition to the Simple Dublin Core (the original 15 standards), there is also the Qualified Dublin Core which includes Audience, Provenance and Rights Holder, as well as a group of element qualifiers in additional ways. The Dublin Core’s usefulness has since expanded beyond web-retrieval though as a standard of organization across various platforms.The original 12 standards include:
- Coverage Rights
A full list of DCMI Dublin Core metadata standards can be found here. These categories can be used to then narrow down searched but only identifying certain objects within the data set that fit the parameters and descriptors.
My team is working on creating a database for the May Weber Ethnographic Collection right now, and one of the concerns is that by using industry defined terms for the metadata it prescribes that the material can only be discovered or examined through a certain lens. By using set standards for organization of data (or organization of a website) does that limit the way people can interact with the object? What kind of interactions would organizing in this way miss?