Probably the most frivolous aspect of metadata is the widely favourited, simplistic definition: “data about data”. Beyond this pun-like generalisation, there isn’t much space left for shortcuts or frivolity, since the best metadata standard is one that has strictly defined categories, controlled vocabularies and lack of unauthorised alterations. Metadata describes what the digital object is and what does it contain, which significantly increases both searchability and discoverability of it. Which, in turn, makes sharing and re-using existing digital object much easier.
Metadata is very much like the library, since its purpose is the organization, retrieval, sharing and environmental meaning (context) of an object. In order to make it even more efficient, metadata standards were brought into place in order to create set of fields for describing digital object. Good metadata standard is accurate, precise and has consistent terminology. Providing rich detail, which is also widely understandable is the key to successful metadata standard, which can be considered the factor behind popularity of Dublin Core.
Good example of well constructed metadata standard is Dublin Core, established in 1995, probably the most commonly used system. This metadata set is basic, yet expandable which makes it possible to use Dublin Core standard to describe digital objects such as video, sound, image or text. At the moment it contains 18 categories that enable accurate description of the objects. It is also worth mentioning, that the xml format of Dublin Core is quite user friendly, which makes it more widely applicable. That being said, one finds that – like in case of any metadata standard – it is quite difficult to create detailed, ‘holistic’ description of an object that would reflect all of its qualities, especially while describing piece of art.
Metadata standard seems to be rather straight forward way of tracking information, yet one cannot help but wonder how will it manage to describe material related to social sciences and to obey rules established by the discipline. Many research methods, such as ethnography, can touch on sensitive matters and for various reasons certain ethical standards needs to be fulfilled, including one of the source (that is: informants) protection. Recorded interviews are precious source of information, and even though they themselves might not be accessible to general public, the ‘visible’ metadata should be as carefully constructed as the ethnography itself. Informant’s identity cannot be revealed both in the digital object (audio or video recording) itself, but also the metadata, since it can be viewed even if the access to the object isn’t granted. This is where the paradox emerges and the question of what should be prioritized: ethics of conducted research or accuracy of the metadata that could potentially contribute to further research in chosen matter. Even if the name of the interviewed individual isn’t provided and he or she figures in metadata as anonymous, it is still possible to trace the informant if other context is provided.
Hirwande Mangala “Metadata standards”.Youtube 2 September 2012. Web. 28 October 2016.
Ingram, Colin “Practical metadata standards: Making data sharing and endurance feasible (2010)”. INCF online video. Youtube 25 November 2010. Web. 27 October 2016.
O’Carroll, A. and Webb, S. “Digital archiving in Ireland: national survey of the humanities and social sciences“. National University of Ireland Maynooth, 2012. Web.