Archives & Museum Informatics








last updated:
November 30, 2017 12:56 PM

Unifying our cultural memory: Could electronic environments bridge the historical accidents that fragment cultural collections?

in Information Landscapes for a Learning Society, Networking and the Future of Libraries 3, 1998. and presentation at UK Office of Library Networking Conference, July 1998.

David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, Partners, Archives & Museum Informatics, USA

(Section 9)

Metadata declarations and dialogue

An Example of metadata in a process

Consider the example of a professor, working on the creation of a multimedia study-guide to be used in his course on Egyptian history and culture.29 He queries a database of Dublin Core records, hoping to find works with an appropriate temporal and spatial coverage. He discovers a number of representations of art and artifacts in museums around the world. Because his student's technical environment is limited, he uses format metadata to limit his retrieval request to only those works that are depicted by images that his classroom lab computers can display.

His retrieval request returns a catalog record, and an image file depicting the relevant works of art, as well as an image metadata file. With the aid of an explicitly declared descriptive schema, he is able to integrate the catalog record from each museum into his own working database, by mapping their fields to the ones he uses. He finds the metadata for images particularly useful in distinguishing the versions he acquires for his students from his own, higher-resolution study images.

Following the integration of the new works, he begins his analysis. Sorting and grouping functions enable new comparisons. Struck by several points about the nature of the hieroglyphics on a number of works, he queries again to find out if the differences he's seeing are a result of transliteration methods, or if, indeed, he has discovered a new formal variation. Unfortunately, class is tomorrow, and this insight will have to be explored later.

Click for full sized image

Now ready to write his next study unit, the professor queries for the terms and conditions of use of the representations of several, comparable sarcophagi. Each will prove his point equally well, and he hopes that one will be within his budget. He easily discovers that several that are part of licensed resources delivered on his campus (which he can use freely in his own teaching and research and one that has no restrictions on educational use. Citing the required credit line, he incorporates several images into his study unit, glad that his authoring tools extracts their metadata and automatically builds him a table of contents that lists all of the components of his course. He's already had a query from an educator at a museum about his research; she'd found one of 'their works' in a previous course pack and had emailed to discuss ideas for explaining Egyptian iconography.

Towards models and methods

This discussion of the process shows that metadata has a pivotal role to play that extends far beyond that of "simple resource discovery" as identified by the Dublin Core. The chart below, while by no means exhaustive, begins to position various "packages" of metadata at particular stages in the process.

Metadata Packets in Five Stages of Research by Layers in the Reference Model for Business Acceptable Communications30

  Discovery Retrieval Collation Analysis Re-presentation
Handle Publisher or Distributor Identification Number      
Terms and Conditions Access, Use, Rights Statements Access terms, fee structures, Use restrictions Acknowledgements Anonymization Requirements Terms and Conditions, Fees
Structure File type, Size, Format Resolution, Compression Method, Arrangement Hardware or Software dependencies Data Structure and Representation Methods Data capture and manipulation methods  
Creation Functional Provenance, Creator Name, Date, Links Functional Dependencies   Value Tables and Organizational Schemes  
Relations Collection / Site / Item / Association Toolsets and Analytical Methods Disciplinary Schemas   Credits / Citations
Classification Object Type, Class   Disciplinary Schemas   Conventions of Representation
Subject Subjects, Coverage, Topics or Themes   Disciplinary Methods Methods, Data Values  
Use History Publication or Citation History Captions and citation details     Citations

The challenge, in constructing methods that will support the process, is to provide each user with the metadata they need at the time they need it. The kind of detailed analysis of the research process which is required - in various disciplines, with users of differing levels of expertise, and in both formal educational settings and informal lifelong learning settings - has not been undertaken. As such, we are still guessing when we design information discovery and retrieval systems or propose frameworks for metadata delivery.

To elucidate requirements, we must systematically ask:

What we do know is that different users require different metadata and that during the life of an information resource people and organizations playing quite different roles will create metadata that may be germane to future users. Designing distributed mechanisms that can support on-going metadata creation and responsive metadata delivery will continue to be a challenge, especially to the cultural heritage community where the variety of users and uses is so much broader than more narrowly targeted research domains such as medicine, or aeronautic engineering.

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