In Zen and the Art of Metadata Maintenance, the author John W. Warren sees metadata as “…both a universe and DNA.” In the article, he attributes the metadata “ecosystem” as a strategic tool, being implemented by publishers in a myriad of incarnations for an ever-expanding number of reasons.
At its core, metadata is simply information: a title, an author, a publisher, a format, etc. In an ideal situation the information would be clean, unaltered, and reciprocated between publisher and end-user. However what optimally would be a two-way street, is most often a one-way street with modifications occurring along the way so that by the time the data reaches its original destination, it has become bloated, amalgamated or corrupted.
Warren is clearly entranced by the idea of using a series of core technologies: ISNI (International Standard Name Identifier) as well as merging MARC records with ONIX (Online Information Exchange). The ONIX system is clearly his favorite. Developed by the Association of American Publishers in 2000 it is currently used by book wholesalers, retailers, and databases. The standard has a foothold in the book publishing industry as well as major research entities (the Library of Congress, OCLC) and can be enriched to hold hundreds of fields of data. It has been used as a very effective tool in aiding the discoverability of an object and even more so in its ability to market it. But its true value lies in the raw data that can be pulled from the system…and how that data can be manipulated to suit the publisher/institution’s needs. This seems to be Warren’s real passion.
Where I begin to take serious issue with his love affair with all things metadata is when he declares “Metadata creation and management is a core activity and a shared responsibility, perhaps as important as the content itself.”
No. No, it’s not.
Yes, metadata aids in discoverability, in asset management, in streamlining systems, in providing feedback, analytics, and improving our ability to fulfill a user’s needs, but in NO way is it more important than the content. EVER.
It is a tool. It is a system. It is a means to an end. Unfortunately many industries are built around the concept that the means IS the end goal – that the data extrapolated is more important the quality of the information or content used to gather that data. The wrapping is more important than the gift.
There’s nothing Zen about any of that.