Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current CityLIS students.
Bawden and Robinson (2012) define metadata as ‘data about data’. It is characterised as short, structured and standardised descriptions of information resources. Pomerantz (2015) describes metadata as ‘something that is beyond data’. The prefix ‘meta’ indicates something that is at a higher level of abstraction. He goes on to say:
“Metadata is a map. Metadata is a means by which the complexity of an object is represented in a simpler form.” (Pomerantz, 2015, p.12)
Pomerantz (2015) reminds us that the word ‘metadata’ only entered the English language in 1968, but the idea can be traced back to the first library. Lerner (2001) believes that the earliest libraries were probably located in Sumer in Southern Mesopotamia. As far as we know, when the Sumerians invented writing they also created metadata when they decided to label the receptacles that stored their documents.
The Pinakes catalogue, its classification system created by Callimachus for the Great Library of Alexandria, can be seen as the ‘first recognizably modern form of bibliographic tool.” (Bawden and Robinson, 2012, p.25). Pomerantz (2015) informs us that the Pinakes is considered by historians to be dated to around 245 BC. Although only fragments of it remain, what is evident is that today we still use many of the same pieces of information such as genre, title, author and biographical information about the author. Seen from another vantage point, Pomerantz (2015) suggests that metadata allows us to navigate and interact with all the complex systems of modern life.
The idea of linked data or ‘the semantic web’ emerged out of the realisation of the World Wide Web and has been promulgated by its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee since 2001. It is Berners-Lee’s vision of a ‘web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines’. Structured data and metadata are embedded into webpages and links, and can be analysed by software agents to make connections between datasets.
Berners-Lee (2009) explains that he wants to ‘reframe information and the way we work together’, just as he reframed information in 1989 when he invented the World Wide Web and a ‘web of documents’. He believes that there is still a huge unlocked potential in the power of data, and the technology of ‘linked data’ is the key to an unbelievable resource which will evolve the Web into a global data space.
Pomerantz (2015) recognises that for the semantic web to be realised on a global scale will require that structured data adheres to ‘widely shared standards’. This means that only when everyone is using the same standards will widespread collaboration and sharing of datasets be possible, and it would seem that Berners-Lee’s vision is still a long way off from happening.
Bawden, D. and Robinson, L. (2012). Introduction to Information Science. Chicago: Neal-Schuman
Berners-Lee, T. (2009) Tim Berners-Lee: The next Web of open, linked data. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OM6XIICm_qo
Lerner, F. (2001) The Story of Libraries from the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age. New York: Continuum
Pomerantz, J. (2015) Metadata. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press