Metadata Musings from IASSIST 2006

By administrator | May 25, 2006

I will start with a disclaimer that I am not a metadata expert nor do I play one on TV but I have been spending a lot of time recently contemplating metadata issues. Granted they have been issues that deal with metadata in a time series world but it gave me an interesting frame of reference for attending several sessions on metadata-related issues. Here’s my thoughts:

After attending three and a half session exploring metadata issues, the one clear idea that has emerged is that there don’t seem to be any clear ideas. While we all seem to be comfortable with the idea of what metadata are, we seem to have a more tenuous grasp on other aspects: what to collect; how to collect it; who should do the collecting; why are we collecting it? The why question might seem out of place: obviously, it’s the right thing to do to make the related data more useful/meaningful/accessible. But does the purpose of the metadata influence what we collect? Does the why affect the what, who, and how?

For example, are metadata collected for archiving purposes different than metadata used for searching? Does is matter how those data are represented? In one session, a speaker was curious to know if the DDI was adequate for representing archival metadata. In another, a speaker described a two stage archiving process where the second stage used DDI. Does the answer depend on the metadata being represented? But what about Dublin Core?

In a session this morning, a presenter questioned whether metadata should be viewed as reporting about the data or supporting work with the data. Does the perspective affect the practical who, what, how of metadata? We have standards for the presentation of metadata but not the content? Can we have such standards? Should we even try? How many common characteristics of metadata can be found between metadata collected to aid processing in the back office and metadata compiled from analyzing qualitative data? Are there enough metadata commonalities between German microcensus research data and the publication of official Ethiopian statistics? Does it matter?

Contributed by San Cannon, metadata novice