Metadata in the Real World
The following post was submitted by students enrolled in LIS2407 – Metadata at the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences. For more information on the series, see the introductory post.
By Reba Sell and Emily Schoenlein
As we continue to advance through the Digital Age, more and more information is shared online in various formats. Anyone can create blogs, share photographs, or spin a new record in order to share it with the world. Our personal documents, images, videos, and sound recordings are important to us, and yet we often neglect to name them in a controlled manner or save them in locations that would help combat digital obsolescence. Many people believe that uploading an image to Facebook or Instagram means that their image will be online and accessible forever. As archivists and information professionals, we know that this is not the case. Social networking sites allow us to add tags, which are actually metadata, to our photographs, tweets, statuses, and other social media products. Most people happily tag their social media output, often using hashtags, but for most people this is just for the purpose of sharing their photographs, posts, etc. in hopes that more people will see and ‘like’ it instead of for any type of cataloging system. As the number of files that we are able to store increases with ever-increasing computer storage capabilities, our information can easily get lost without proper identification.
Why don’t most people tag their data on their personal or work computers? Perhaps the simple answer is that people do not realize that they have the ability to add these tags. Or perhaps people do not think of tagging as a necessary step to finding their information at a later date. Adding this simple form of personal metadata will allow people to organize and search through their work more easily. Archival documentation and library materials require metadata in order to make these resources searchable and accessible. If individuals would begin to implement their own metadata, it would allow future archivists to better understand the collection creator’s thoughts, and the subjects within the documents that they examine. At the very least, adding metadata to personal files would allow people to more easily organize and retrieve their own information. For example, this essay could be tagged as “metadata”, “blog”, “University of Pittsburgh”, and “graduate school”. This would enable a future archivist to see any work done while in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh or items relating specifically to metadata. The addition of identifying information to the names of image files can also be very helpful. Most devices such as cameras or smartphones use the same basic file naming system, such as “DC0001” and onward, to name images when they are transferred to a computer. Changing the name of the image file, or even just the folder containing the images, to include metadata such as the date and name of the location or event will save you much more time later on.
While it might be too much to expect every individual who creates any kind of record to create metadata, it would certainly be a useful undertaking to perform for those who hope to share, save, or archive those records. It is the responsibility of information professionals to not only decipher personal naming conventions but also to teach and assist people with using metadata for their files. This might mean the development of tools like desktop search software such as the now out-of-date Beagle++ for Linux and UNIX. It at least means that people should be more aware of how to better name their personal and work files instead of just dropping them in folders. It is not enough for people to rely on social media to save their important information. Even though you may think that your pictures are safe on Facebook, it is still a for-profit company that may not be around forever. It is imperative that people learn how to effectively organize and store their personal files, and this starts with the help of archivists and other information professionals.