Shared posts

26 Jun 14:01

I Made Metadata Fun: A True Story

by Susan Manus

The following is a guest post by Madeline Sheldon, Junior Fellow with NDIIPP.

Most of you who follow this blog have an interest in digital preservation and will already be familiar with the following information. This particular post is more for the individuals who are just beginning to understand the implications of their digital footprint and what it means to store/preserve and retrieve their data.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine asked about the progress of my research, curious to learn more about the nature of my work. I did my best to relay some of my recent findings about digital preservation stewardship, but when her eyes started to glaze over, I knew I had to employ a different approach. I tried to think of topics that would translate easily into popular culture without losing my friend’s attention, or confusing her with technical jargon. I had the most luck with metadata, mostly because this person had heard mention of its existence in the news and wanted to hear more about how this “new” term existed within her own life.

In order to make metadata relatable, I explained that she inadvertently created metadata every single day by logging onto her favorite social media site, sending an email, text or even taking photos with her digital camera. I used a metadata guide that I found online, followed by real-time demonstrations to further illustrate my point. Together we looked at source code from her newest social media update, pointing towards the time stamp and text of her most recent post:

In the same way, I explained, emails and text messages create metadata which highlights sender/receiver information, such as location, and the day/time a person sends/receives a new message. When taking photographs with a digital camera, the resulting image often has data encoded into the file, such as size, resolution and camera make/model.

This revelation piqued her interest, though she still didn’t fully comprehend why I needed to relate metadata to my research with digital preservation planning. I did my best to keep my explanation as simple as possible, using digital photographs as a relatable example. Digital material, I explained, is not a stable medium, eventually degrading or becoming obsolete. Cultural institutions dedicated to digital stewardship work to prevent this by creating policies or strategies within their organization to plan for long-term preservation of this material. The use of metadata is a major component in this process because it holds valuable, descriptive information, which allows the digital object to be accessed or discoverable in the future.

After our conversation, I felt a sense of accomplishment because I made metadata fun and relatable to a person completely outside of my profession, which rarely happens. Despite this, I think the conversation went so well because metadata appears to be a hot topic at the moment, though that may (or may not) change in the future.

Whatever the case may be, I can revel in the satisfaction that I successfully brought a new convert to the (meta) side.