Summary of MDG session, 1-29-08

* Written by Jenn Riley *

The second meeting of the Metadata Discussion Group was a lively session, with about 50 people in attendance. We’re glad to have a new exit installed in the staff lounge so that we no longer have to count heads to keep under room capacity!

The article for discussion in the January session was:

Elings, Mary W. and Günter Waibel. “Metadata for All: Descriptive Standards and Metadata Sharing across Libraries, Archives and Museums.” First Monday 12, no. 3 (March 2007).

The discussion began surrounding to what degree the article successfully described the different perspectives of the library, archives, and museum communities. Some in the group thought it was a good introduction, but didn’t make clear possible differences in broad vs. narrow scope or unique vs. non-unique materials. One participant noted that these institutions all have collection management needs in common.

Overall, the group felt that choosing standards based on material type rather than institution type made a great deal of sense. Visual materials were mentioned especially as needing a different approach than textual materials, and this participant postulated that this new way of thinking has been influenced heavily by the visual resources community, where content and structure standards developed side by side and influenced each other. Many questions about how to put this approach into practice were raised, however. Are we breaking user expectations by using different models for different types of materials? Some of our current categorizations of materials are hard to separate out by type – government documents, for example, are a mixture of archival-style things, visual materials, and texts, and a complete collection of the photographic work of one person would benefit from the context provided by archival description but would also benefit from in-depth item-level indexing.

The group discussed for a time why things developed they way they have. One participant noted that the article (politely!) casts blame and says we insist on using the wrong tools because we’re used to them. There’s a reason we use the tools we have, because we have financial, administrative pressures to produce more. We care about interoperability, but we can’t afford it. Implementing a major shift in how we approach things has enormous financial implications. No good models for institutions making this shift on a large scale, and our technological tools haven’t caught up to this new way of thinking either. We need to “expand our personal toolkits.”

The group spent a significant amount of time discussing issues of efficiency and streamlining the descriptive process. The Greene/Meissner report cited by the article was mentioned, as was RLG Programs’ recent report: Shifting Gears: Gearing Up to Get Into the Flow. The disconnect between collection- or file-level description and item-level digitization was noted, and seemed problematic. Questions of efficiency led us to discuss user-contributed metadata, especially as seen in the recent LC experiment with Flickr. Participants felt this approach could shift some burden from us to our users, and increases exposure for our collections. But we still need to process collections, and do a great deal of work with them. We need to experiment – things will keep changing. Questions about the need for oversight of user-driven data were raised, with overall acknowledgment of the problem but no concrete solutions.

Participants raised some specific questions with regards to the article:

  • A version of the chart in the conclusion adding visual resources as another category was distributed at a conference last summer. Is this simply another category or does it change the argument somewhat?
  • Could the chart in the conclusion include MARC as data structure for each community?
  • Where does Dublin Core fit in all of this?

The session ended on a somewhat philosophical note, with participants commenting that the shift in thinking proposed by this article reflects changes in society in general – more collaboration, themes emerging between groups are happening. The social definition of knowledge is changing. The group closed by noting interesting content on the web and remembering that the “interesting stuff” is why we do all of this in the first place.

Our next session will be Tuesday, February 26. The article for discussion for that session will be distributed by February 12, Please send ideas for topics for future session to the MDG listserv, and feel free to use the listserv for discussion between in-person sessions.

Author- Jennifer A. Liss

Human. Librarian. Consumes large quantities of data.

One thought on “Summary of MDG session, 1-29-08”

  1. I wish I could have been there!However, Jenn’s notes almost make me feel like I have.In terms of libraries, archives and museums exchanging data, in the current environment, it seems that the hardest nuts to crack these days pertains to data format and data content. All participants have to be capable of creating standardized outputs, and particularly in the museum community, that’s still a challenge. Even more difficult and culturally entrenched are data content issues – how does data which has been created using different (or no overt) data content standards actually play with each other?Just fyi, the different chart including visual resources came from a different version of the article published by the VRA Bulletin.Thanks for sharing the fruits of the discussion!

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