The importance of metadata

February 18, 2010

One of the classes that I’m taking this semester is an independent study that’s actually a group project with some other students in the program led by Andrea Japzon (whom I had for my Public Library Management class last semester). We’re going to help a public library in northern Indiana create a community digital repository to show their community pride and have a place to collect their community’s history. I’m focusing on privacy and copyright concerns.

At the beginning of the semester, Andrea had us do some reading on digital repositories and the idea of a community repository and how “memories of me” become “memories of us.” The article I found especially fascinating was “Guarding Against Collective Amnesia? Making Significance Problematic: An Exploration of Issues” by Annemaree Lloyd, which appeared in Library Trends in 2007. In it, Lloyd discusses how the very act of determining what is significant enough to go into an archive is a political act and defines how future people will determine significance. She also talked about how the dominant culture can’t understand the significance to minority cultures of artifacts from those minority cultures, and takes librarians and archivists and historians to task for not examining the lack of objectivity–and the fundamental inability to be objective–in choosing what’s significant. It’s not the kind of thing I usually read in library literature (I’d expect it more from a cultural studies program), but I found it really interesting.

Anyway, my friend and classmate, Erin (who’s also the incredibly hard-working president of ALISS), is Andrea’s GA, so she’s working on the project, too. She’s interested in doing more with digital collections once she graduates and she wrote a post on her blog about the project, including a short argument for the importance of metadata in everyone’s lives:

You’re probably on the verge of clicking the X button and not finishing this blog because you think metadata is something that only applies to us nerds digitizing things and working in libraries…. but you’re wrong. Metadata is EVERYthing. Every time you tag a photo in Facebook or on Flickr…that’s metadata. Everytime you put a title on your blog…metadata. Depending on the search engine, every word you write can be a piece of metadata. When you upload photos from your camera onto your computer, and each file is given a name like 00258_img, and you see things like 154x132px or “taken with sony digital” or “jpg”… that’s all metadata.

The problem is, while metadata is everywhere, its not standardized, often neglected, and can be very subjective (think about all those times you’ve tagged pics on facebook with things like “that crazy guy from across the street”, or “my friend’s cute baby”, or even worse, not tagged anyone and neglected to write a caption, leaving librarians and historians 100 years from now no clue as to who or what is depicted).

In the digital age, information is created so much more rapidly than it ever was before. During our meeting near the beginning of the semester, Andrea said that over 90% of all information created today is only created digitally. And from our readings, we learned that in the past, preservation was something that happened after creation, now preservation happens at creation, because as soon as you take a photo, you’re locked into that file format and that resolution for all time with no guarantee that the digital information that makes up that picture will be readable in the future.

With this project we’re not only planning to help establish this community digital repository, but to design workshops for patrons of the public library to explain how data generation and preservation works in the digital world. We need to make Erin’s argument for the importance of metadata to non-librarians and we need to help people decide how to balance social networking and privacy. That’s what libraries are for: to teach information and technology literacy.

This week we’re all finishing up our initial round of research in our different areas and our identification of best practices. Next weekend we’ll drive up to the library to finalize a timeline for this project and check out what they’ve got in place already. I’ll be writing more about the project as we continue to work on it.

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4 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. erin  |  February 20, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    yay library blogs! That article on significance was my least favorite of the bunch, though i understand the importance of the point the author was making — I just felt it could have been said in, oh 3 sentences, like you did in this blog. Can I add this blog to my blog roll? if not, i’ll just give you a bookmark :)

  • 2. Gretchen  |  February 20, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    What I liked about the article on significance is that it talked about some of the deeper cultural issues in what we do. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of LIS literature that does that.

    Yes, I would love it if you’d add a link to my blog on yours. As soon as I decide on what I’m adding to the Librarified blogroll, I’ll add you, too. :)

  • 3. Preservation: not just le&hellip  |  April 14, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    […] more on metadata, see my earlier post and Erin’s earlier post at her own blog on our digital preservation project this semester. […]

  • 4. Librarified » Prese&hellip  |  April 17, 2010 at 8:22 PM

    […] more on metadata, see my earlier post and Erin’s earlier post at her own blog on our digital preservation project this semester. […]

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