Event: what metadata is really useful?

CETIS are organising an event “What metadata is really useful” at Brettenham House in London on Mon. 18 October.

This meeting will focus on looking at what data we have (or could acquire) to answer the question of what metadata is really required to support the discovery, selection, use and management of educational resources. The emphasis is on identifying data that demonstrates a real requirement from some party; this is in contrast to other approaches such as hypothetical, future-looking usecases. Future looking use cases have their place–we would all like to see applications and services which allow us to do things that we cannot do now–but now seems to be suitable point to reflect on what needs to be prioritised because it meets the needs of users today. Of those four functions (discovery, selection, use and management), it is likely that the meeting will deal mainly with the first two or three; I think we will be able to find more data for these, but it is important to keep all four functions in mind before we say that there is no demonstrated need to describe some characteristic of a resource. The data in question may come from various sources, for example, user surveys of how people look for educational resources, current practice in metadata production, or analysis of user search behaviour.

Here’s an example of what we can get from user surveys from David Davies. I hope that at this meeting we will be able to build on this and any other existing work people care to bring along. we might, for example, want to consider whether we can increase the scope and reach of such questionnnaires in the future by suggesting some common questions they could include.

A second source of data can be found in the current cataloguing practice for existing repositories; this can be surfaced by examination of application profiles or cataloguing guidelines in use and examination of the records themselves. So we can find out whether people using the LOM do find it useful to have seperate description elements for general and educational properties (not to mention all those that come in the classification category). This is especially interesting since it is perhaps the only source of data I have thought of that reflects metadata required internally to the repository for managing resources.

Finally, and this is where I think we will have most to discuss, data can be obtained from logging access and queries. This is what I have in mind by way of questions that could be answered this way:

  1. How do people find the site? Is it through search engines or direct referral? Do they land on a resource page (=> they were looking for a resource and found it directly with an external search) or on your home page (=> they were looking for a collection of resources)? Obviously the answers will depend on who your users are and why they are coming to your site, if you have an institional repository or other local collection of your own resources (e.g. an OER site) you might find that members of your own institution, staff and students, have a different behaviour to others from outwith your institution.
  2. What search terms do people use to find resources? We can divide this into two: people who search elsewhere, e.g. Google, with query terms discovered through referrer logs or other web analytics tools; and people who search using a site’s own search functionality. A lot of the search terms will be subject keywords and they’ll be of interest to cataloguers or thesaurus developers for a specific site, but there will be other search terms (e.g. ‘powerpoint’, ‘ppt’, and ‘slides’ all featured in the one set of logs I looked at recently), which lead us to …
  3. What do the search terms tell us about what characteristics of a resource people are searching for? And how do they conceptualize those characteristics. So a search for “powerpoint” suggests that they’re searching for a particular resource type, “introduction to…” would suggest a way of thinking about educational level. This would help us when making decisions about what metadata elements to use.

If you are interested in this event, you can register online. More details about the programme etc. will become available on the event’s wiki page (at the time writing there is very little there that isn’t also on this post). Most importantly, if you think you have something to present or contribute, please get in touch with me, phil.barker /at/ hw.ac.uk.

1 thought on “Event: what metadata is really useful?

  1. Phil, very good induction! The questions above outline the critical factors that make the metadata developments so far most of the time “stuck in engineer mode” to quote K. Coyle whereas what we really need now is to understand in any peculiar situation what technical solutions are likely to be the more sustainable and interoperable in a long term vision in a certain context of uses and potential uses (that’s why I believe policies and governance are key in this incremental process). I have already registered myself and will attend the workshop on Oct 18th. If there is time and interest I can share some thoughts from the presentation I am going to give at #ILI2010 (about metadata in the context of semantic Wikis considering diversity of approaches – from a RDA / FRBR – FRAD framework to other records management requirements that may be more suitable to corporate environments).

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