I have been musing about metadata and what it all means and more importantly – who uses it and how is it used.
It is certainly clear that metadata is “data about data”. But these days it is certainly not clear that metadata needs to follow any prescribed form.
In the library world we have rigorous metadata standards in MARC and Dublin Core that allow us to describe the context, content and structure of books, photographs, movies, etc.
In the free but highly connected world metadata is captured, collected and used by nearly everyone and everything. Metadata about you, and what you do. Metadata about things and where to get them. Metadata about almost everything. And there are plenty of places where metadata about books and photographs and movies is created and made available freely by others.
Librarians and Teachers are experts…..
But what are they expert at?
Some will say that Teachers are experts at “content” and that Librarians are expert at “researching”.
But the world is moving on. Teachers are beginning to find their new relevance – being expert at content is really now no longer possible or necessary. Content is abundant and access to it is ubiquitous. Teachers must somehow become expert at turning searchers into researchers. The skills of a Librarian are now starting to become second nature to the youth of today.
So where is the space for Librarians and Libraries and how does metadata fit into this?
In this vast sea brimming with content, individuals need to make value judgements about what they are prepared to trust and believe, what they consider to be good and bad content.
Encyclopedia Britannica is considered by many to be a trusted source of content yet has an estimated “error in fact” rate of about 3 per entry.
Wikipedia is also considered to be a trusted source of content and it’s “error in fact” rate is only about 4 per entry.
One is produced by experts and the other is contributed by volunteers, but reality either says – both are equally bad, or both are equally good as sources of content.
So is metadata just “data about data” or is it really “facts about data” – “facts” from the classifiers perspective.
If I were to classify Avatar as a “Great Movie” then that is a fact to me, and many people will agree with me. But there are plenty of others that will disagree. It is only when you know some more about me – perhaps by examining the metadata about me, that you could form a value judgement regarding my fact and then perhaps accept it as your own – or not.
So the world today is telling us that there are objective facts and subjective facts and everything has relevance to someone. And now we are so inundated with subjective fact, it is becoming difficult to place a value on it.
Perhaps the new relevance for libraries is to become a trusted source of “subjective” fact, and for librarians to become virtual personalities that groups of consumers can align with to add the necessary layer of trust and validity to that subjective fact.
And would you believe that just after I wrote this I went and had a look at Port Phillip’s Sorcer site and discovered that they are starting to do just that.