“Metadata for All”: Looking Back to Metadata Standards
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 Eleanor Godbey and Kathleen Donahoe
Mary W. Elings and Günter Waibel’s article published in 2007 in First Monday provides an easily understood review of metadata standards and systems. The article has since become a useful teaching tool for metadata beginners from all walks of life, though it’s age may be an issue for some. For this reason, we chose to look back and see how relevant the article is for metadata students today.
The article begins by introducing standards through the metaphor of bottles. Data fields are compared to the actual bottle, data content becomes the contents of the bottle, data format is the crate in which the bottles are packed, and the person, truck, plane, or ship delivering the bottles is likened to data exchange. Different standards, vocabularies, formats, and sharing languages and methods are inserted into this metaphor to illustrate how the different pieces fit together and function. After this illustration of the basics of metadata, Elings and Waibel break down the history of metadata in libraries, archives, and museums, respectively. Each history has the need for a standardization of organizing and labelling in each institution. For example, in libraries AACR, RDA, and MARC were developed to meet cataloguing needs. In archives, AMC developed as an archives specific MARC, and EAD and DACS cropped up. In museums, CDWA and CCO were developed to deal with museum collections and needs specifically. After breaking down this history, the authors look at current metadata trends, bringing up the point that a majority of changes to metadata systems are more user focused. Libraries, archives, and museums are striving to better serve the user by making their metadata systems more user-friendly. The article concludes by making the point that these different cultural institutions share and learn from each others’ metadata. The differences in standards really lies with the type of record or material being described.
Elings and Waibel’s article is incredibly easy to approach and is written in simple terms. It isn’t too technical and the metaphor used really helps to illustrate the very basics of metadata. Speaking as beginners to metadata standards and structure, we felt that the article provided the proper balance between formalized technical thought and introductory explanation. The article did seem to shy away from pointing out any negative aspects of the different formats and schemas, which could have been helpful in deciding between different standards. There are some small mentions, such as in the discussion of the library community, where it was pointed out that the Metadata Object Description Standards (MODS) operated more efficiently than MARC.
Considering the fact that this article was written in 2007, which was more than enough time for new developments to occur in the library, museum, and archival fields, we were careful to note shifts that have occurred in the field since its publication. For example, the comments about archival shifts toward more product, less process (MPLP) have been criticized on many levels. It is now often used as a first step to make a collection useable before more item level processing occurs. Also, the article was written before huge booms in social media and online use of collections, and therefore is less able to comment on one of the bigger trends of today’s world, which is creating metadata to display collections online. Overall while we believe that the article was useful to introductory students of metadata such as ourselves, the article requires some updating in order to fully educate users on the specifics of metadata in the library, museum, and archival professions today.
The article under review is available to read at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/1628/1543.
Article Citation: Elings, Mary W., and Gunter Waibel. “Metadata for All: Descriptive Standards and Metadata Sharing across Libraries, Archives and Museums by Mary W. Elings and Gunter Waibel.” First Monday 12, no. 3 (2007). http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_3/elings/index.html.