Today, I was looking through a bunch of things including the excellent Signal blog run by the Library of Congress (I like to read this blog every so often, though they post daily). One post on email file formats (obviously, in the context of preservation) had a link to a site which hosted this presentation by Carl Fleischhauer from 2006 about audio-visual data and different approaches in commercial and cultural-heritage institutions. I think there’s a lot to take away from this admittedly bare-bones and dated presentation, but the major point is the recognition of overlaps in the mandates of those institutions. And how this overlap gets materialized in metadata.
As a side note, I think one way I think about research and things that I am studying is by recognizing institutional mandates and institutional authority, and then moving on to identify the ways that individual people negotiate their relationships to these institutions. Not sure exactly where that places me, but pretty squarely within contemporary media/cultural studies. (Which is why it’s funny that I’m in an iSchool now, but we’ll leave that laugh for another day.) I also surprise myself by being interested in people, because for a long time I wasn’t. It was all traces and objects and materials and practices. Also understanding everything as technologies. (I lied, maybe that’s a new thing.)
So, I’m reading this presentation and it comes to a discussion of metadata and how metadata needs are (obviously) different for different institutions/user groups. In this case, the two groups referred to are public television and commercial broadcasting (p. 46 in that pdf document), but I was reminded of another set of user groups that I read about recently (I suppose this is why I’m trying to blog more, because my memory is utter shit and I can’t depend on it). I think the point in that one was talking about how, no shit, we can’t use a metadata system made for a commercial system for archival quality metadata.
Metadata schemas are technologies, made for different use cases, and understandably can never be complete. But I think it’s illuminating to see what different institutions use different descriptors and tags and such, because the fact that, say, WordPress distinguishes between Posts and Pages and that Twitter now stores “post replied to” and “user replied to” are all important in understanding these systems in contemporary use. And honestly, all of these are metadata, even though the kind of metadata I’m talking about are the kinds required to contextualize an object in a socio-historical context (Dublin Core, MARC, etc.).
On a related note: check out the Historical Software collection at the Internet Archive, they’ve got tons of stuff available for in-browser emulated play.