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Über dieses Buch

This book offers a comprehensive guide to the world of metadata, from its origins in the ancient cities of the Middle East, to the Semantic Web of today.

The author takes us on a journey through the centuries-old history of metadata up to the modern world of crowdsourcing and Google, showing how metadata works and what it is made of. The author explores how it has been used ideologically and how it can never be objective. He argues how central it is to human cultures and the way they develop.

Metadata: Shaping Knowledge from Antiquity to the Semantic Web is for all readers with an interest in how we humans organize our knowledge and why this is important. It is suitable for those new to the subject as well as those know its basics. It also makes an excellent introduction for students of information science and librarianship.



Chapter 1. What Metadata Is and Why It Matters

In this chapter, we introduce the concept of metadata and explain its importance. Metadata is ‘data about data’. It is a human construct, not found in nature, and the form it takes reflects its origins and the purposes for which it is created. Metadata can be divided into three types, reflecting its different functions: it can describe data, help administer it and record its complex structures. It has a key role in allowing us to construct knowledge from its basic building blocks of data and information. It also allows us to curate our cultural heritage and pass it between generations.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 2. Clay, Goats and Trees: Metadata Before the Byte

Metadata has a history as long as human civilisation. In this chapter, we trace its story from antiquity to the first half of the twentieth century. We find metadata of increasing sophistication in the ancient cities of Ur, Ebla and Alexandria. The arrival of printing revolutionizes information and the metadata that is needed to handle it. The nineteenth century sees the codification of practices that still influence metadata, and also a great schism between libraries and archives that persists to this day. The twentieth century sees the advent of a radical new way of organizing knowledge, facetted classification, which has come into its own in today’s digital terrain.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 3. Metadata Becomes Digital

This chapter describes the revolution in metadata sparked by the advent of the computer and the move to the digital. The MARC (MAchine Readable Cataloging) standard, devised in the 1960s, revolutionizes metadata in libraries, making it possible to share and transfer it on scales previously impossible. The arrival of the Internet spawns new metadata standards for describing data, including Dublin Core, and new standards for handling the technical information needed to allow digital data to be moved seamlessly around the Internet. Old divisions, including the schism between libraries and archives, continue despite the digital revolution. New metadata standards appear on the scene to this day.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 4. Metadata as Ideology

This chapter explores the roles, conscious or otherwise, that metadata can play in supporting ideologies. An ideology can be defined as a system of beliefs which represents itself as a transparent reflection of reality. Metadata can be ideological if it attempts to fill the gaps in imperfect knowledge without acknowledging them. The terminology used in metadata can serve ideological purposes, as can the way in which it is organized (particularly if this is hierarchical). The idea that metadata is objective is also an ideological statement and should be treated with great caution.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 5. The Ontology of Metadata

This chapter introduces the three core components of metadata, each of which is borrowed metaphorically from the field of linguistics. Semantics is the term used to describe the meanings of metadata elements. Syntax is used to record how metadata is encoded, for instance in the markup language XML (eXtensible Markup Language). Content rules prescribe what should go into a metadata element and the form this should take; this may be done using controlled vocabularies, lengthy lists of terms designed for this purpose.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 6. The Taxonomic Urge

This chapter introduces taxonomy, the ‘science’ of classification. Taxonomy is used to organize terms that express subjects, what something is ‘about’. Most taxonomies are arranged hierarchically, in strict layers: one of the most widely-used, the Dewey Decimal Classification, is organized in this way. More flexible taxonomies can take the shape of thesauri, controlled vocabularies which link terms to their broader and narrower counterparts. These have proved especially suited to the digital environment, where the flexibility they allow for terms to be combined by the searcher is particularly useful.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 7. From Hierarchies to Networks

This chapter highlights moves away from the strict hierarchies of traditional taxonomy to models where metadata is viewed more as a network. Facetted classification, proposed by the Indian librarian S.R. Ranganathan in the 1930s, offers a new way for simple concepts to be combined into more complex subjects with great flexibility. More recently ontologies, ways of expressing complex semantic relationships between concepts in machine-readable form, have become important in information science.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 8. Breaking the Silos

This chapter introduces the Semantic Web, the notion propounded by Tim Berners-Lee that the Web might record semantic linkages between its components in a way that computers can understand, so potentially creating one global interconnected database. This he proposed to do by reducing information to ‘triples’, simple ‘sentences’ in which a subject and object are joined by a semantic link using a method known as the Resource Description Framework (RDF). As an alternative to this approach, services such as Google bypass metadata completely and allow sophisticated retrieval based directly on the content of digital objects. It is argued that, successful as they are, they do not render metadata irrelevant.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 9. Democratizing Metadata

For most of its long and illustrious history, metadata has tended to be the preserve of the professional, the librarian, the archivist or the scholar. This chapter discusses ways in which the creation of metadata has recently moved away from being the domain of experts to something more democratic. Crowdsourcing, the use of the internet for mobilizing large numbers of people to create metadata, has proved enormously successful in fields as diverse as astronomy, climate science and palaeography. Folksonomy, the creation of subject tags by users of such services as Flickr, has shown the potential for generating new ways of organizing knowledge but also presents problems of potentially messy metadata. A means to reconcile expert- and democratically-created metadata, which was suggested in a recent book, appears to offer a way forward.

Richard Gartner

Chapter 10. Knowledge and Uncertainty

This final chapter rounds off our exploration of metadata by discussing its importance to human culture and development. Little of human intellectual advancement could have occurred without metadata, nor could cultures have survived or developed without it. It is a ‘science of ideas’ which makes the organization of knowledge rational and so capable of growth and development.

Richard Gartner


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