JISC – Open Book Project

releasing open data for illuminated manuscript collection records and research…

Monthly Archives: May 2012

Disambiguating metadata

In trying to reach a position on the rights and licensing issues related to the range of stuff that a museum deals with, one approach we have taken is to tighten up our definition of metadata. It might seem an obvious thing to do but metadata means different things to different people and organisations. The definition of “Data about data” offers plenty of scope. It is common, for example, to think of a museum object record as metadata. CHIN’s guide to museum standards observes that the most obvious example of metadata in a museum context is “…the museum catalogue record (structured data about an object in the museum’s collection).”

Nick Poole has challenged this in a post on Language Matters and it is something that we had begun to tackle in a previous project.

The key distinguishing feature about metadata for us, working within the context of the Resource Discovery strand of this JISC programme, is precisely that it is about resource discovery. It is just a tool, a means to an end, in a way in which an object record, or even a collection level description, is not. It serves a different purpose from a catalogue record. It is not intended for collections management or interpretation but as a signpost which will be of value when aggregated with signposts to other things. As such it could hold information that we wouldn’t put in a collections record. Curators might be reluctant to record the term “Impressionist” in the record of a painting by Renoir, particularly if the painting is on the margin of what may be considered his Impressionist period, but the metadata might usefully contain the term. The museum is released from committing to a definitive interpretation (a rare thing in art history) but at the same time the user is given a pointer to something that could be of relevance to them. Storing these additional data, orientated to resource discovery, within a collections information management system is not ideal – hence the “middleware” approach that we are taking in this project.

By extension, we are looking beyond object records, to collection records (something that we haven’t sought to maintain before – other than the initial foray in Cornucopia  and pointers to the other resources that we have begun to create, such as online exhibitions and educational resources (again something that we haven’t maintained since the initial batch of MICHAEL records).

The metadata record could be a generic resource description, typed according to whether it points to object data, collection level data, online exhibitions or other resources. The key factor evidently is how well these things aggregate – how they can be identified so that they can be targeted at different user groups and how the potential links between them are expressed. We don’t need to make object records from different sources/museums interoperable but we do need to give the metadata enough common ground to be effective as a means of resource discovery.

Initial draft model of the different classes of digital “stuff” that we generate and the different levels of licensing that we propose.

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