The readings all referred to the importance of metadata in terms of the extent and history of its use, but their descriptions of the different purposes of metadata made me wonder whether there are identifiable limits to the utility of metadata. The first passage that raised that question for me was Gilliland’s assertion in the “Preservation and persistence” subsection of the section “Why Is Metadata Important?”:
If digital information objects that are currently being created are to have a chance of surviving migrations through successive generations of computer hardware and software, or removal to entirely new delivery systems, they will need to have metadata that enables them to exist independently of the system that is currently being used to store and retrieve them.
My immediate reaction, as a consumer of information through various media of which the majority are digital, was to think about digital information objects that are created in a format that can only be interpreted by one company’s software. The consumers of those objects are not supposed to foresee needing to use a different system to store or view them, so even if the object is associated with metadata that would link it to more generally usable versions, it is often in the object creator’s interest to ensure that its unique metadata conventions are the most widely known.
Rereading the “Expanding use” subsection, I thought of another way that metadata can (paradoxically?) restrict the use of an object. Even if the creator or holder of a digital information object claims an overarching goal of making the object available to new audiences, there is a significant chance he does not understand the needs of those audiences well enough to make the greatest possible use of their storage systems, while metadata creators who do understand the audience may not understand the original object well enough to identify it in the metadata for their version.