The following is a guest post by Amy Benson, who has been working the past year under the auspices of the Boston Public Library to review Digital Commonwealth member metadata issues.
My recent collaboration with the BPL, to prepare metadata from a number of libraries for the Digital Commonwealth Repository, has been a pleasure and a great learning experience. That’s one reason for the title of this post. The other is that each of the letters represents a basic principle to keep in mind when it’s your turn to create new, or enhance existing metadata.
G for Granularity: The discovery is in the details. Use existing local expertise to record place names, people’s names, landmarks, and other specifics. Transcribe text from signs, labels, posters, etc. In short, describe items at the smallest useful level that your resources allow.
A for Automation: Use available tools to facilitate your work. If existing metadata is in a printed document, consider scanning and using OCR to capture the text electronically. If you have data in one system, explore options with a vendor or IT person for exporting and repurposing it.
A for Authority: Follow metadata standards appropriate to the materials you are describing, such as RDA, LCSH, Getty vocabularies, or Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials.
S for Structure: The more structured your data is, the more useful it can be. Splitting first and last names and using start and end dates instead of a date range will yield more powerful search and delivery options. It is much easier to combine data that’s been separated than it is to separate blocks of text. Structure your data by putting each element in a separate spreadsheet cell, by using special punctuation in a text file, or with XML tags.
Following these basic principles when creating metadata is more important than focusing on one metadata schema or tool. Systems come and go, but data endures. Descriptive information written in library hand a hundred+ years ago has been transcribed and enhanced and is helping users locate resources in our online databases today. With the right transformations, the same metadata you create for a local system can be made available in Flickr, the Digital Commonwealth, or the Internet Archive – from pencil and paper to MARC, MODS, JSON, and beyond.
Get more mileage out of the GAAS in your tank and boost the usefulness, flexibility, and longevity of your metadata. Go for Granularity, adopt Automation, respect Authority, set up a solid Structure, and above all, be consistent and enjoy yourself. You are creating a lasting resource to make cultural heritage materials more available and useful to all.
Librarian/Archivist for Digital Initiatives
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study