Alana Mohamed Weekly Response #3

I’m interested in the interpersonal exchanges that go into the creation of metadata. It seems that all these standards need to be agreed upon in some way.  I was quite interested in Chowdhury & Chowdhury’s point that there are “two distinct schools of thought that influence the development of metadata standards.”  It seems to me that since one of the prime functions of metadata is to “facilitate information retrieval,” these standards must be carefully considered to allow the public the greatest access to information.

However, I’m not exactly sure I understand the distinction Chowdhury & Chowdhury make between the two groups yet.  Structuralists seem more interested in less-regulated metadata that are, perhaps easier for public use but make more work for the cataloger. Minimalists seem more interested in convenience for the document authors and (it seems) computer programs that use this metadata.  Or at least, that’s what I interpret Chowdhury’s use of the word “tools” to mean. Without dwelling on how badly I’ve fudged the distinction between the two camps, I was really fascinated by this idea that users are not only our human public, but our machines as well.  Thinking of machines as distinct users with their own needs really pushes back against larger cultural conceptions of the computer as some automated overlord.  But the truth is that computers follow their own logic and that logic has limits that a human user might not face.  Gilliland talks about the specific needs of humans users when discussing user-created metadata:

Among the advantages of these approaches is that individual Web communities such as affinity groups or hobbyists may be able to create metadata that addresses their specific needs and vocabularies in ways that information professionals who apply metadata standards designed to cater to a wide range of audiences cannot.

This also points to the problem that, unlike computers, not all humans use similar logic.  User-created content is individual-specific, which means it’s less generalizable, but more efficient for certain groups of people.  Consider: how would low-income individuals talk about poverty and how would an economist?  And which low income individuals?  How old are they, where are they from, what is their race, nationality, gender?  It’s clear that there are multiple languages surrounding poverty, but how does that compare to how the Library of Congress would categorize books about poverty?  What use is free literature about poverty to an impoverished community if they cannot access it?  I suppose the arguments could be made that A) that’s what librarians are for and B) they would need to, at some point, assimilate to mainstream language about poverty.   Still, how do we create a system that is useful to both machines and humans?  It seems that multiple standards would need to be used to increase accessibility to both.


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