DRAFT Principles for Evaluating Metadata Standards

The ALCTS/LITA Metadata Standards Committee submits this draft document, Principles for Evaluating Metadata Standards, to the library, archives, and museums metadata communities for discussion. This current draft incorporates feedback given on an earlier version of the document.

The committee encourages written feedback through one of the following options: leave a comment on this post or send private comments via our webform.

In addition, the Committee will be presenting this document at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston. There will be two opportunities for face-to-face discussion of this draft, one at the Metadata Interest Group meeting on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 8:30 am EST, and one at the regular Metadata Standards Committee meeting on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 1:00 pm EST. Registered conference attendees are welcome to attend.


These principles are intended for use by libraries, archives, and museum (LAM) communities for the development, maintenance, governance, selection, use, and assessment of metadata standards. They apply to metadata structures (field lists, property definitions, etc.), but can also be used with content standards and value vocabularies.

1.  Metadata and metadata standards should be part of the network

Metadata—its standards, systems, and services—is most efficient when connected with the broader network of information. Newly adopted standards should leverage “by-reference” models (i.e. “things” instead of “strings”) to connect information from different sources, to support distribution to indexing and research services, and to support resource visibility on the web.

2.  Metadata and metadata standards should be open and reusable

Open metadata is a foundational building block of information systems and next-generation research. Metadata standards, associated vocabularies, and the metadata itself needs to be open for use and re-use, free of charge.

3.  Metadata creation should benefit user communities

The volume of information in a web-enabled world, along with the ability of information systems to analyze and index digital objects themselves, changes the value of traditional metadata. Metadata standards should prioritize metadata being created only when clear use cases and value are evident, allowing metadata practitioners to dictate the level of description provided based on the situation at hand.

4.  Metadata standards should support new research methods

Traditional bibliographic metadata supports a relatively narrow vein of research, involving reading, viewing, listening to, or otherwise engaging with individual documents by humans. As new research methods emerge (e.g., computational linguistics, computational bibliometrics, linguistic analysis, network analysis) metadata standards and exchange/access methods should easily support this new research.

5. Metadata standards should have an active maintenance and governance community

Metadata standards are only as valuable and current as their communities of practice. Communities of practice are changing rapidly and, although metadata in LAM institutions have been very stable over the last 40 years, that is not necessarily the case for future standards. Needs of implementers should be a driving force and voice for the changes and new development of standards over time.

6. Standards should be extensible, embeddable, and interoperable

A key enabler in the successful deployment of a metadata standard is its ability to be used effectively alongside standards from other communities. Standards should be designed in a modular way to allow relevant parts to be incorporated into local systems together with parts of standards from other sources, with each given equal preference. Relatively complex standards should provide “lite” style implementation options, to allow for wider adoption and utility, even if this means lossy data transfer in some cases.

7.  Metadata standards should follow the rules of “graceful degradation” and “responsive design”

Metadata standards should be described well enough to support new and unexpected uses. The design of metadata standards should support metadata remaining useful as complexity is stripped away, allowing it to degrade gracefully. In addition, metadata standards should be designed such that more sophisticated uses (e.g., ontological inferencing) are easily achievable by those who wish to add value.

Jennifer Liss

Jennifer heads the Image Cataloging department at Indiana University Libraries, where she designs and implements metadata strategy for the Libraries' physical and digital collections. Her research interests are focused on the history of library technology and how core competencies for professional catalogers have changed over time. See also: forest explorer, WWII warbird nerd, brownie consumer.

8 Responses

  1. Stephen Hearn says:

    Is this meant to be applicable to metadata representations of persons and corporate bodies? If so, some acknowledgement of the issues around privacy/identity protection vs. public presence and personal and institutional reputation management might be needed. I agree with the principles as stated so far.

  2. John Mark Ockerbloom says:

    “Newly adopted standards should leverage “by-reference” models (i.e. “strings” instead of “things”)”

    I think you need to switch this around– the by-reference model is based on identifiers for “things”, rather than simply using “strings” of text. So rather than just recording my name as the string “John Mark Ockerbloom” you might record it via a reference to my ORCID ID, such as https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6568-3357 . If I later change my name, and the ORCID record reflects that, the thing identifier can be used to retrieve my current name, rather than it needing to change in the metadata record. You can also use the identifier to retrieve all kinds of other information I’ve shared in my ORCID record, which you would not be able to do as easily if you just stored the string of my name.

    (In practice, metadata systems might have good reasons for storing both “thing” identifiers and “strings” of text, since it may be easier in some cases to just use a locally stored string of text than to try to fetch the thing that it’s associated with. But the advantages of the by-reference model have to do with the “things” that get referenced in it.)

  3. asimong says:

    I wonder what Principle 2, about openness, should imply about Principle 5, about the maintenance and governance community? While it is theoretically possible that a closed, or proprietor-led, community could generate open standards, is this likely, or is there more likely to be conflict of interest, with a danger of the money prevailing sooner or later, resulting in failure of Principle 2?

  4. Amy Barton says:

    With regard to 4. Metadata standards should support new research methods:

    “As new research methods emerge (e.g., computational linguistics, computational bibliometrics, linguistic analysis, network analysis) metadata standards and exchange/access methods should easily support this new research. ”

    I question the “new research methods” wording. I agree that metadata is being used in new ways to describe and document more than just text, images, etc. But is it “new research methods” pushing new uses of metadata? Also, research data (datasets) are now being shared in data repositories that definitely use standard metadata for description, documentation, indexing, discoverability and exchange. This should be considered as well.

  5. Adrian Pohl says:

    What I am missing is a principle about a standard’s documentation other than it being open. Specifically, I miss the following points:
    – The standard itself should state basic information about itself clearly, i.e. it should provide sufficient metadata about itself (creators, maintainers, contact addresses, status, change log etc.)
    – Documentation should be clearly understandable by the intended user group and – I think this is the most important thing – include implementation examples. Another point to consider in this context is multilinguality. If a standard wants to be(come) international, is documentation in English sufficient? Which other languages should be covered?

    I also left some annotations via hypothes.is, see https://via.hypothes.is/http://metaware.buzz/2015/10/27/draft-principles-for-evaluating-metadata-standards/.

  6. Diane Hillmann says:

    Just posted a review on the MetadataMatters blog: http://managemetadata.com/blog/?p=470

  1. April 18, 2016

    […] second draft of the Draft Principles for Evaluating Metadata Standards on October 27, 2015, on the metaware.buzz site. This second draft incorporated feedback received on the first draft. The committee held a second […]

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