Metadata Creation for Digitized Collections

Margot Note

Margot Note

April 24, 2023

Metadata is structured data about data that facilitates information management and use. Metadata provides users with a standardized means of intellectual access to digitized materials. 

Metadata standards can assist by streamlining the information transfer between hardware and software platforms as technologies evolve. Resources encoded using open standards have a greater chance of remaining accessible after an extended period than resources encoded with proprietary standards. 

Metadata can identify the name of the collection, its creators, and other descriptive information. It can also provide unique identification and links to organizations, files, or databases with more extensive descriptive metadata about the collections. 

Unfortunately, no system has been widely adopted for tracking the digitizing activities of libraries, archives, and museums. Therefore, the prudent course for archivists is understanding the current challenges, emerging principles, and best practices before implementing any metadata solution. 

Four Metadata Types

There are four types of metadata: administrative, descriptive, preservation, and technical. 

Administrative metadata encapsulates the context necessary to understand information resources and support resource management. Descriptive metadata attempts to capture intellectual attributes, enabling users to locate, distinguish, and select suitable files based on their subjects. An essential element of descriptive metadata is an identifier that uniquely distinguishes the item. Other descriptive metadata elements include title, author, publication date, subject, publisher, and description. Preservation metadata is the information about a record that protects it from deterioration or destruction. Finally, technical metadata assures that the information content of a file can be accessed even if the applications associated with the file have vanished. 

Investing in Description

Metadata is a significant cost of digitization. Although materials can be digitized without cataloging, a digital collection should not be created without metadata. In addition, providing metadata for digital resources can create bottlenecks in a project’s workflow. 

Metadata can be embedded in digital files or stored separately. Embedding metadata ensures the metadata will not be lost, prevents problems of linking between data and metadata, and ensures that the metadata and record will be updated together. Storing metadata separately simplifies the metadata’s management and facilitates search and retrieval. Metadata is usually stored in a database and linked to the images described.

Metadata creation requires organizational and subject expertise to describe files effectively. Organizational expertise refers to applying the correct structure, syntax, and use of metadata elements. In contrast, subject expertise refers to generating a meaningful description for users. Metadata using both expertise types is integral to effectively searching, retrieving, and preserving digital resources. 

Describing files with metadata allows them to be understood by humans and machines and promotes interoperability. Interoperability is the ability of systems with different hardware and software platforms, granularity levels, controlled vocabularies, data types, and user interfaces to exchange data with minimal loss of content and functionality. 

Metadata Crosswalks

Metadata crosswalks that map elements, semantics, and syntax from one metadata scheme to another facilitate information exchange. The success of the crosswalk depends on scheme similarity, the granularity of the target scheme’s elements compared to the source’s, and the compatibility of the content rules used to fill the elements of each scheme.

Crosswalks are vital for collections where resources are drawn from various sources and are expected to act as a whole within a single search engine. However, while crosswalks are critical, they are also labor-intensive to develop and maintain. In addition, mapping schemes with fewer elements or less granularity to those with more elements or more granularity is problematic. These problems have frustrated users who want consistent metadata interoperability across products and platforms. Until the archival field resolves these complexities, the issues will continue to cost users and archivists time and resources.

Description is vital to improving the representation of archival materials. The better the cataloging, the richer the context, and the better users can appreciate the materials. Digital materials require descriptive data to render them usable. The types of information needed to describe the files will differ and may exceed that needed to describe analog materials. However, the primary purpose of the description remains the same. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

If you’re interested in this topic and eager to learn more, please join us for “Description”, the fifth in Margot Note’s latest free webinar series, on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we’ll send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

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