Making metadata work – a report on a ISKOUK seminar

Making metadata work was the theme of a day of workshops and presentations organised by ISKOUK in London on 23 June with the support of the Information Retrieval Specialist Group of the BCS and the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative.  I was unable to attend either of the workshops but did have the honour of starting off the afternoon session of six papers on various aspects of metadata management. My theme was the value of metadata in improving search performance, with particular reference to the importance of date metadata in enterprise search and the need to place metadata within an information management strategy. I was followed by Sean Bechhofer (University of Manchester) talking about the wonderfully named Wf4Ever project which is developing a metadata framework for ‘research objects’ arising from the process of scientific research and publication. The issue of data provenance was (deservedly) given a lot of prominence. Next up was Professor Mark Sandler (Queen Mary University London)  talking about the challenges of tagging music recordings with metadata, a project that QMUL are working on with Goldsmiths College, London.

After a break Richard Ranft (British Library) presented an overview of the work being undertaken to tag the 8 million sound recordings held in the BL’s Sound Archive. A European perspective was provided by Antoine Issac, a member of the team developing the Europeana service which acts as a portal to a wide range of museum and other specialised collections in the EU. The final paper was given by Dr Andy MacFarlane on the Photobrief project being undertaken by the Centre for Interactive Systems Research at City University.

There is no doubt that metadata is critically important in effective information discovery but that the intellectual challenges in developing robust but extensible schemas are immense, especially when dealing with non-text objects. One of the issues that was mentioned in passing but probably needs a seminar of its own was how people adding content to a repository could tag the content in the most consistent way without adding significantly to the overall process time. I’ve seen many CMS products where the focus is on the end-user experience with seemingly little concern about the way in which contributors can be supported in the tagging process. Overall it was an excellent event and ISKOUK should be congratulated on putting together an excellent programme that attracted around 80 delegates.

Martin White