Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Making of a Standard

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Making of a Standard

Article excerpt

This article describes how the Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata was developed and how it relates to USMARC Format for Bibliographic Data to provide the ability to communicate and access descriptions for digital spatial datasets.


The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) was established by the Office of Managment and Budget (via circular A-16) in October 1990 to promote the coordinated development, use, sharing, and dissemination of geographic data. This interagency committee, which is chaired by the Secretary of the Interior, has representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of the Interior, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Library of Congress, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Other federal agencies participate on various FGDC subcommittees and working groups.

In June 1992 the FGDC hosted a forum to discuss what information would be needed to describe a digital dataset so that numerous data-collecting agencies could coordinate and share spatial data. During these deliberations the participants agreed on the necessity for a standard. The FGDC accepted the offer of ASTM Section 18.01.05 to develop a draft standard to define the required content information.(1) The ASTM draft was slightly revised by the FGDC before it was then offered for public review from October 1992 to April 1993 as the "Content Standard for Spatial Metadata."

This review period generated extensive comments from a wide range of potential digital data producers and users. The comments were summarized, resulting in a packet almost two inches thick, and were presented to the members of the FGDC standards working group for consideration. This group held an intense four-day session in April 1993 to consider each comment that had been submitted. For nearly each data element present in the circulated draft, comments ranged from "Expand it and include more detail" to "Get rid of it!"

Global Issues or Assumptions

The first step in the analysis of the comments the working group received was to establish some global issues or assumptions to serve as a framework in revising the standard. These assumptions were that:

* The standard was to be considered an independent document defining the data needs of the spatial data community and was not linked to any specific implementation, although two implementation methods were proposed--the Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS or FIPS 173) for the transfer of data, and USMARC for access to the metadata in a catalog environment;

* While the standard should provide for uniform description of spatial data independent of the form or media, the current standard would be intended to cover only digital forms; any effort to cover nondigital forms would be deferred since expanding the standard to cover nondigital forms would require an extensive effort;

* The standard was intended to encompass all means of describing locations--geo-referenced coordinates, coordinates whose relationship to the earth is unknown, street addresses, mile markers, and indirect positional references through objects which have a known location--but would also include ancillary datasets important to spatial analysis but not spatially referenced; and

* The term dataset, which represents the foundation for the standard, should be defined simply as "a group of related data," and that what constitutes a specific dataset should be left to the provider of an individual dataset.

Additionally, the working group determined that the standard, and therefore the data elements included in the standard, must be sufficient to support four activities: availability, defined as the information needed to determine what data exists for a given geographic area; fitness-for-use, defined as the information needed to determine if a dataset meets a specific need; access, defined as the information needed to acquire an identified dataset; and transfer, defined as the information needed to process and use a dataset. …

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