This week’s readings felt extremely relevant to me because I’ve recently taken on the daunting task of overhauling the organization of nearly 5 terabytes worth of digital files at my job. Though my reliance on metadata at work was already quite high, I think this new task has underscored for me the importance of having information about the digital files I’m trying to manage.
While processing the readings, I came up with the most important (to me, right now) concepts, and I’m calling them the “Three As”: access, authenticity, and administration. Both Chowdhury and Chowdhury and Gilliland talk about these three ideas (and many others), but they felt the most vital to me based on my daily experiences with (mostly digital) information.
All of the readings focus on the importance of “intellectual and physical access to collection materials,” which I feel is the crux of why metadata exists and why it is so essential. Without the ability to find items, what’s the point of organizing them or saving them at all?
The authenticity of an item is also crucial, especially when considering how easy it is to copy certain types of digital files. The example that came to mind for me was photographs from recent archaeological digs. At my job, we embed certain metadata in the photographs before disseminating them to other researchers for the express reason of proving they are the original photographs and not altered in some way by the recipients.
Finally, the administration, or management, of information is streamlined by metadata standards. Similar to proving the authenticity and ownership of a file based on the metadata, Chowdhury and Chowdhury talk about the role of metadata in “ensuring interoperability and data transfer,” as well as functioning as the “main building blocks of information architecture and content management.”
Gilliland raised an interesting point that I predict we will all deal with in our jobs: the “bewildering array of metadata standards and approaches from which to choose.” It seems somewhat impossible to standardize metadata across fields and file types and institutions. I’m not sure how to combat the disorder this may cause, though I’m interested in what Chowdhury and Chowdhury called the
structuralists’ camp, whose members advocate greater flexibility in the formal metadata standards, so that metadata can be made more useful for the needs of a particular community.