Metadata: Implications for Academic Libraries
This paper surveys
the literature available on metadata and its
implications for academic libraries. Definitions of metadata
are offered. Metadata schemes are presented, including the
scheme most prominently in use among academic libraries: Dublin
Core. The paper examines the types of metadata projects
prevalent in academic libraries, and the types of collections for which
metadata is used. Implications beyond the technical aspects
of metadata include organizational changes, and changes in roles and
responsibilities necessary to implement projects involving the use and
adoption of metadata. Also, implications for the skills set
required of aspiring cataloging and metadata librarians are
explored. Finally, this paper looks at the importance of
undertaking metadata projects and the benefits for academic libraries
in pursuing digital initiatives.
expands the definition, for her target librarian
audience, as “structured information about an information resource or
any media type or format” (2003, p.3). Other sources go a bit
further adding the element of retrieval, use and management of an
information resource to the concept of metadata (Understanding
While the most basic definition of metadata (“data about data”) can be applied to traditional library metadata such as the information on the cards in a card catalog and the information in a bibliographic record displayed in an online public access catalog (OPAC), when metadata is mentioned today, it usually alludes to data that facilitates the description, discovery, and retrieval of networked electronic resources (Hudgins, Agnew, & Brown, 1999). And while AACR2 is a metadata standard (Smiraglia, 2005), when metadata standards and schemes are mentioned today, more than likely reference is being made to metadata schemes such as Government Information Locator Service (GILS), Encoded Archival Description (EAD), Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), or Dublin Core, to name several examples.
Major Metadata Schemes
GILS is a service used to locate and access information resources generated by federal agencies. The general public can search the GILS records for thirty-two federal agencies via the search interface offered at GPOAcess (Government Information Locator, 2007). EAD is an “extensible markup language (XML) Document Type Definition (DTD) and the international standard for XML encoding of finding aids” (McCrory & Russell, 2005, p.99). With EAD, one can create collection-level finding aids and individual cataloging records (Single Item Metadata) for resources in academic libraries’ special collections (Hudgins, Agnew, & Brown, 1999). EAD is modeled on TEI. TEI is a well established DTD. It is extensively used in the digitizing of texts, such as literary works, ensuring standardization and facilitating the sharing of texts in library collections (Hudgins, Agnew, & Brown, 1999). TEI provides a set of guidelines which stipulate encoding methods for machine-readable texts, mostly in the humanities, social sciences and linguistics (TEI: Text Encoding, n.d.).
Dublin Core is a
metadata standard formed over a series of workshops
attended by professionals from the computer science and library science
worlds, as well as other professions (Hudgins, Agnew, & Brown,
1999). The name Dublin Core is derived from Dublin, Ohio,
where the first workshop was held in 1995. That initial
workshop produced the thirteen basic core elements. Today,
fifteen elements make up the level of Dublin Core use which is called
Simple. When the sixteenth element is used, along with
refinements such as qualifiers, the level of Dublin Core use is called
Qualified (Coleman, 2005).
Uses for Metadata in Academic Libraries
Now that libraries are well into the “digital age,” it no longer seems enough to only describe, organize, and provide access to traditional print material. Academic libraries, in particular, may have a special collections and archives unit; within these units we may find the types of collections typically organized and described using a metadata scheme. According to a 2005 survey of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) by Boock and Vondracek, digitization projects typically begin within special collections and archives departments. These departments contain the materials to be digitized. Some libraries even transfer the responsibility of digitization to a new digital library department, rather than have special collection and archives departments absorb the new responsibilities (2006).
Image databases are common digital library projects at academic libraries. Sacramento State University’s Special Collections and University Archives maintain the Japanese American Archival Collection (JAAC) ImageBase. The digital collection consists of 1400 images in a database of selected photographs and images of artifacts related to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II (University Library, California State University, Sacramento, n.d.). The digitization project is a collaborative effort between the Special Collections and the Cataloging departments. These collaborative efforts are common in academic libraries that undertake their first digitization project.
The JAAC ImageBase was built using CONTENTdm, an OCLC product that includes a user-friendly interface that allows library staff to contribute metadata records without the need of Dublin Core expertise. CONTENTdm also includes a searching interface, allowing end users to easily search and access collections.
Another name in the digital collection management field is Content Pro, a product from Innovative Interfaces, an integrated library systems vendor. Like CONTENTdm, Content Pro includes a collection building and management interface as well as an interface for the end user. Both CONTENTdm and Content Pro are OAI-PMH-compliant. OAI-PMH stands for Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting, an interoperability standard for repositories.
Academic libraries primarily target archival and special collections when undertaking digitization projects. In these digitization projects, historical documents/archives are a top priority for 38.7% of academic libraries, and photographs a top priority for 24.2% (Institute of Museum and Library Services, n.d.). These digitization projects typically imply the use of some metadata scheme to describe the collection.
Electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) is another type of collection at academic libraries that involve the use and adoption of metadata standards. ETD-MS is a metadata standard developed in 1997 by the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) and used for ETDs. ETD-MS uses DC elements in addition to one extra element specifically for theses and dissertations (Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, 2008). The extra metadata element in ETD-MS is used to record the thesis degree, with refinements for the name of the degree, level of education, discipline, and granting institution.
There is a
considerable amount of literature available on
ETDs. University Microfilms (UMI) and Virginia Tech both were
instrumental in the early development of ETDs. A workshop
held in 1987 by UMI was the first time ETDs were given serious
consideration. Virginia Tech first began accepting ETDs in
1995 (McCutcheon, Kreyce, & Maurer, 2008).
One such repository
is Humboldt Digital Scholar (Humboldt State
University Library, n.d.). Humboldt State University is one
of the smaller campuses among the 23 in the California State University
system. Humboldt Digital Scholar (HDS) started out as a pilot
project in 2004 and became a permanent service two years later (Wrenn,
Mueller, & Shellhase, 2009).
In Humboldt States’
case, a record for the print thesis presumably
already exists in the library catalog, since Wrenn et al. (2009)
mention that the link for the electronic thesis is added to the record
for the print version in the library catalog. It would be
interesting to research the workflow implications for cataloging
departments who first must have to catalog the hard copy thesis and
then have to contribute to the metadata record for the electronic
thesis. From a FRBR-ized point of view, is it necessary to
create not only two separate records, but two records under different
metadata standards, of the same work?
Piorun and Palmer tell us that one of the implications of digitization projects is the fact that “skills and experience gained from a small project can be applied to larger-scale projects” (2008, p.223). Piorun and Palmer also mention the development of relationships in the institution and a new avenue for outreach as an additional implication of implementing an institutional repository.
As mentioned earlier, digitization projects at academic libraries have implications regarding the organizational structure of the library. In other cases, the implications have to do with the collaboration among library departments, distribution of digitization responsibilities, or the redefining of roles and responsibilities for library staff. In the summer of 2002, Sutton conducted an informal survey of special collections units of twenty libraries with holdings of three to five million volumes (2004). Sutton asked three questions, among them whether the library had implemented organizational changes as a result of digitization projects. Forty-seven percent reported they dealt with digitization projects in an ad-hoc fashion. Thirty-three percent responded they had a position in the special collections unit dedicated to managing digitization projects. Twenty percent indicated they had established a new digitization unit, either within special collections or reporting to the same entity as special collections (2004).
Sutton’s survey was done in 2002. It would be interesting to investigate whether there are more recent statistics regarding digital library departments or digitization projects within academic libraries. Also of interest would be to research whether there is a correlation between libraries that establish a new digital library or digitization unit, and that particular library’s degree of embracing metadata and understanding its purpose.
Staff and Organizational Roles
To consider roles and
responsibilities in metadata creation at academic
libraries, Fleming et al. conducted a survey of libraries and their
workflow regarding metadata creation (2008). They concluded
that the metadata creation and maintenance had been distributed among
librarians and paraprofessionals working in various library units, both
technical services and non-technical services. The metadata
schema most widely used by both groups was Dublin Core, followed by EAD
Chapman (2007) examined the skills and responsibilities required for the position of metadata librarian at research libraries. He targeted research libraries which placed the metadata librarian position within a traditional cataloging department or technical services unit. Chapman describes four roles present in these metadata librarian positions: collaboration, research, education, and development (2007).
This paper has already mentioned the aspect of collaboration as typical in metadata and digitization projects. Chapman adds that collaboration, for the metadata librarian, is both internal and external. The metadata librarian must work with the technical services staff to develop procedures and practices, as well as stay abreast of developments in the metadata and standards communities to be well prepared for cross-institutional collaboration (2007).
Skills for head of cataloging positions at academic libraries are also reflecting the implications of metadata. Among the findings of Zhu’s study of job advertisements for head of cataloging positions at academic libraries was a rise in the requirement of knowledge of non-MARC metadata schemes and digital resources (2008). A comparison in emerging job titles found in Zhu’s study and those found by Khurshid (2003) five years earlier show a rise of the emerging term “metadata” among job titles in advertisements. Khurshid found the term metadata in almost 5 percent of job titles advertised while Zhu found the term in approximately 16 percent, a rise of about 11 percent in five years. While Khurshid’s study included all cataloger positions and Zhu’s study focused on head of cataloging department positions, the comparison between the two studies is still valid.
Given the rise of the term “metadata” in advertisements for cataloger’s position, what are the implications for aspiring cataloging librarians? Should library and information science (LIS) students hoping to land a job in an academic library ensure that they include a metadata course in their program of study? Hsieh-Yee (2004) suggests three levels of expertise in metadata for LIS students. The first level of expertise is recommended for all LIS students and implies a general understanding of information organization and description. Included in this first level or expertise is an understanding of AACR and Dublin Core as examples of metadata schemes.
The second level of expertise recommended by Chan is targeted at aspiring metadata catalogers. LIS students aiming to become metadata librarians should have a solid knowledge of selected metadata schemes, including the ability to evaluate a metadata scheme. The student should also be aware of the nexus and distinction between metadata and traditional cataloging (2004). The third level of expertise Chan recommends is intended for LIS students aspiring to leadership roles in metadata projects. These students should acquire a strong command of cataloging standards and practices. They should be able to use a variety of metadata schemes and be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of using a particular scheme for a particular project (2004). In spite of Chan’s very detailed recommendations for students aspiring to become metadata librarians, she finds that only a third of LIS programs in North America offer a metadata course and only 19 percent offer an advanced metadata course (2004). While Chan’s study is five years old, a review of the literature does not turn up a more recent or updated study of metadata offerings in LIS programs.
Areas for Future Research
This survey presents numerous possibilities for further research. Of particular interest is the idea of institutional repositories and the general contribution they make to the university mission, as well as particular contribution they make to the viability of the academic library. A more specific interest is the metadata scheme (ETD-MS) used for electronic theses and dissertations and the workflow implication for cataloging departments that catalog the print thesis and are also involved in creating metadata for the electronic version (presumably, using AACR2r). Sacramento State University, for example, will soon begin accepting electronic thesis submissions from graduate students. These theses will be contributed to the CSU-system institutional repository ScholarWorks. Currently, thesis manuscripts are received in print from the office of Graduate Studies. They are sent for microfiche filming and hard-cover binding. Once bound, the theses are cataloged with less-than-full records, using to the AACR2 metadata standard.
When Sacramento State University graduate students submit an electronic thesis, they will be providing preliminary metadata. Library staff will be completing the metadata record, according to a metadata scheme (most likely, ETD-MS). This means that for each work (to use the FRBR term), cataloging staff will use two different metadata schemes. Research into automated metadata generation tools might be in order.
Metadata implications for academic libraries seem to manifest themselves in the form of digital initiatives and, more specifically, institutional repositories. Piorun & Palmer remind us that institutional repositories can help academic libraries develop relationships with other campus departments, as well as provide new avenues for outreach into the surrounding community (2008). In times of budgetary challenges, academic libraries need to find ways to demonstrate they are central to the university’s mission of teaching and learning. Engaging the campus faculty and graduate students in contributing to the building of an institutional repository should yield concrete results in raising the profile of the library on campus and in the community.
LIS students aspiring to become cataloging librarians should be proactive in seeking out courses that at least offer introductory material on metadata. Those LIS students looking to become metadata librarians will benefit from a course dedicated specifically to metadata. Finally, students seeking to play a leadership role in digital initiatives and metadata projects will require advanced metadata courses.
Academic libraries will do well to embrace metadata and
the project possibilities it brings. Digital initiatives,
particularly in the form of institutional repositories, help raise the
profile of the academic library across campus and in the
community. Metadata librarians, with an understanding of both
metadata schemes and traditional cataloging, play a significant role in
an academic library’s digital initiatives. Metadata
librarians in academic libraries are a prime example of the 21st
About DSpace (n.d.).
Retrieved February 24, 2009, from
Caplan, P. (2003). Metadata fundamentals for all librarians. Chicago: American Library Association.
Chapman, J. W. (2007). The role of the metadata librarian in a research library. Library Resources & Technical Services, 51(4), 279-285. Retrieved February 21, 2009, from WilsonWeb database.
Coleman, A. S. (2005). From cataloging to metadata: Dublin Core records for the library catalog. In R. P. Smiraglia (Ed.), Metadata: A cataloger's primer (pp. 153-181). Binghamton, NY: Haworth Information Press.
Fleming, A., Mering, M., & Wolfe, J. A. (2008). Library personnel's role in the creation of metadata: A survey of academic libraries. Technical Services Quarterly, 25(4), 1-15. doi:10.1080/07317130802127983
Government Information Locator Service (GILS): About
Retrieved February 21, 2009, from
Greenberg, J. (2005). Understanding metadata and
metadata schemes. In
R. P. Smiraglia (Ed.), Metadata:
A cataloger's primer (pp. 17-36).
Binghamton, NY: Haworth Information Press.
Hillmann, D. (2005). Using Dublin Core. Retrieved
February 21, 2009,
from Dublin Core Metadata Initiative Web site:
Hsieh-Yee, I. (2004). Cataloging and metadata education.
In G. E.
Gorman & D. G. Dorner (Eds.), Metadata applications and
management (pp. 204-234). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Hudgins, J., Agnew, G., & Brown, E. (1999). Getting mileage out
of metadata: Applications for the library. Chicago:
Humboldt State University Library (n.d.). Humboldt
Retrieved February 27, 2009, from
Institute of Museum and Library Services (n.d.). Status
and digitization in the nation's museums and libraries. Retrieved
February 23, 2009, from
International Federation of Library Associations and
(1998). Part 3. In Functional
requirements for bibliographic records:
Final report. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from
Khurshid, Z. (2003). The impact of information
technology on job
requirements and qualifications for catalogers. Information Technology
and Libraries, 22(1), 18-21. Retrieved February 22, 2009,
McCrory, A., & Russell, B. M. (2005).
Collaboration in archival description. Information Technology and
Libraries, 24(3), 99-106. Retrieved February 18, 2009,
Miller, P. (2004). Metadata:
What it means for memory institutions. In
G. E. Gorman & D. G. Dorner (Eds.), Metadata applications and
management (pp. 4-16). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations
An interoperability metadata standard for electronic theses and
dissertations. Retrieved February 20, 2009, from http://www.ndltd.org/standards/metadata/
Smiraglia, R. P. (2005). Introducing metadata. In R. P.
(Ed.), Metadata: A
cataloger's primer (pp. 1-5) [Introduction].
Binghampton, NY: Haworth Information Press.
Sutton, S. (2004). Navigating the point of no return:
implications of digitization in special collections. portal: Libraries
and the Academy, 4(2), 233-243. Retrieved February 22,
Project MUSE database.
Texas A&M University (n.d.). Digital
& technology. Retrieved February 24, 2009, from
Understanding metadata (2004). [Pamphlet]. Bethesda, MD:
Retrieved February 1, 2009, from National Information Standards
Organization Web site:
University Library, California State University,
CSUS Japanese American Archival Collection ImageBase. Retrieved
February 22, 2009, from http://digital.lib.csus.edu/jaac/
Wrenn, G., Mueller, C. J., & Shellhase, J.
Institutional repository on a shoestring. D-Lib Magazine, 15(1/2).
Zhu, L. (2008). Head of cataloging positions in academic
analysis of job advertisements. Technical
Services Quarterly, 25(4),