Metadata. (Info Tech)

By Clyde, Anne | Teacher Librarian, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Metadata. (Info Tech)


Clyde, Anne, Teacher Librarian


The term "metadata" crops up in discussions about the future of the World Wide Web, search engine rankings, digital libraries, resource quality of the Internet, and Web site design. What is metadata? Metadata is data about data. (Thanks, Anne. Thanks very much. That really makes everything clear.)

What is metadata?

Metadata stands in the same relationship to digital information resources (including Internet resources) as catalog data does to books, maps, videos and other library resources: it describes and indexes those resources in such a way that they can be located by the people who need them. There are emerging guidelines and standards for metadata on the Internet (see below), just as there are standards or authorities for library cataloging, classification and indexing (for example, MARC, AACR2, Dewey Decimal Classification, Library of Congress Classification, LC Subject Headings, Sears Subject Headings). The major difference is that while cataloging, classification and indexing are usually carried out by disinterested library professionals who are creating finding tools for library users, metadata is usually (but not always) created by the creator of the digital resource, and often with the specific aim of promoting that resource. When a librarian creates a catalog record for a book, it is usually with the aim of assisting the library user to find relevant information. When a web site developer creates metadata, it is often with the aim of achieving high search engine rankings and bringing "traffic" to a web site.

But this is not the whole story, because metadata has many different purposes, and many different applications. Although the application that is best known is for achieving high search engine rankings for a web site, metadata is important in relation to developments such as digital libraries, electronic publishing, creating database-driven web sites and developing intranets within organizations. Metadata can be used with Web-based techniques such as XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and a site search engine to create an integrated, indexed, full-text database of an organization's digital documents and resources--even though those resources may appear to take very different forms. Metadata can be used to create Web-based documents that contain within their underlying code a complete record of their history, indexed in such a way that they can be retrieved in multiple contexts.

Metadata is not visible to the user of a digital resource such as a web page or a document on an intranet. It is incorporated into the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) code for a web page or document, usually in the "head" section of the HTML document between the and tags. Metadata tags are easily recognized, because they all begin with the word META. Depending on how the web page was created, the metadata may be visible to human eyes by using the "View/Source" option of a Web browser such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. For some web pages, the metadata may be visible only to search engines. If you go to the School Libraries Online web site at http://www.iaslslo.org/and click on View, then Source or Page Source, you will see several metadata tags between the and tags. You can also see the metadata behind the School Libraries Online home page in Figure 1. In this case, the metadata ensures that the correct title and description, and the creator of the site, are recorded by search engines and by Internet directories. The metadata behind this page also helps to ensure that abbreviations and acronyms and other aspects of the page are treated appropriately in directories and by "assistive technologies" such as voice readers for the blind.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Emerging standards

The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative is probably the best known of the current metadata projects. That's Dublin, Ohio, by the way, the venue for the meeting that launched this framework. …

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