Metadata and its Applications in the Digital Library: Approaches and Practices

Robin Yeates (E‐library Systems Officer, London Borough of Barnet Libraries, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




Yeates, R. (2008), "Metadata and its Applications in the Digital Library: Approaches and Practices", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 203-204.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Library and information professionals like to think they know a bit about metadata. The use of the word “metadata” has spread well beyond the field of digital libraries, however, and is even generating some controversy from its presence, quality and handling by publishers (broadcasters) in the field of digital TV recording in the UK: new Freeview Playback services should allow consumers to record television series and automatically correct erroneous advertised programme times during recording, but not all broadcast channels contain the required high‐quality information about programmes for the system to work properly. This book restricts itself to the handling of more scholarly digital content, but goes well beyond traditional library cataloguing standards and formats.

The preface points out that the work is perhaps more European in focus than other such texts, which tend to cover just the US. Its coverage is already beginning to date, however, as the main research was carried out from 2000 until 2004.

A major strength of the book is its clear coverage of the basics, from definitions to examples and the functions of metadata in practice. The second chapter goes on to present a typology of descriptive, administrative and structural metadata, with full library, records or archives based examples and coverage of educational standards. References are provided with each chapter, dating up to around 2004, although web addresses were checked in 2007.

Encoding standards and data formats are addressed in the next chapter. MARC is included very briefly with an example at a level for basic students or general managers without professional library and information training. We then move on to the METS schema and mark‐up using SGML and related HTML/XML/XHTML standards. Unlike most of the more general texts, however, this textbook includes text encoding and archival formats such as TEI and EAD and the use of the logical structure RDF for handling metadata itself.

A chapter on metadata implementation is included to cover a range of practical issues, such as namespaces, application profiles, schema registries, workflow and metadata authoring and harvesting. There are even paragraphs on essential matters such as crosswalks for interoperability, authority control and multilingualism, which perhaps could have led on to the currently very important area of the semantic web. Instead part 2 documents some metadata projects and applications in digital libraries, with a distinct emphasis on the scholarly and academic research that has been carried out and standards developed, rather than the application and take‐up of the content and services enabled. Projects include Biblink, MetaLib, MetaWeb and the Nordic Metatadata Project, which were influential but reflect little of the current commercial importance of metadata. Applications include publicly funded digital libraries in Australia, New Zealand, China and DSpace from MIT Libraries/Hewlett Packard in the US.

The author states in the preface a rather ambitious aim to “provide an overview of the basic and latest metadata knowledge”, interestingly suggesting that the two concepts are not in conflict. This book is perhaps something of a primer, giving a range of exemplary practices from the public and academic sectors, but lacks the latest knowledge, especially since for most people this will soon mean knowing about Resource Description and Access (RDA), the replacement for Anglo‐American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2), which will be put into practice from 2009 by the British Library, Library of Congress, National Library of Australia and Archives Canada. It is largely restricted to the handling of traditional text‐based forms of scholarship and records.

Metadata is data about data, its richness and complexity can continue to grow as needs require and funds permit. In an age of social networks dependent on end‐user tagging and declining user dependence on assistance from human professional intermediaries, metadata is proliferating but perhaps becoming both more democratic and more of a value‐added commodity. It is frequently judged on its capability to save the time of cash‐rich users rather than to enhance the quality of life and level of knowledge of students. Nevertheless, if we are to build the future on experience, metadata of the kind discussed and described here is essential.

The semantic web will depend on the coalescence of metadata over the next decade or so, according to leading analysts, delayed by the fact that its use benefits mainly relatively small, well‐defined communities. Content will then no longer be locked in particular silos and applications unless commercial or privacy concerns require it. This book concentrates on software and standards rather than on the communities that will drive the adoption of the semantic web in libraries, often now referred to in the conceptual context of Library 2.0 or Library 3.0. This is a pity, since focusing on formats and structures exclusively may prevent many from understanding the potential of metadata or its relevance to everyday information management. Nevertheless, the book should provide an understanding of the history of metadata in digital libraries and perhaps provoke the desire to learn more.

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