bird of maps

competency G

understand the system of standards and methods used to control and create information structures and apply basic principles involved in the organization and representation of knowledge


Introduction

Information must be findable to be useful. As caretakers and organizers of collections of knowledge, it is an information professional's responsibility to understand the fundamental processes behind creating systems designed to aid the retrieval of information. This process is based on the representation of information within a structured system or environment. Regardless of how the information is actually represented, the systems that contain these representations must be able to organize the representations and enable their retrieval upon being queried. To do this efficiently, the representations of the items often include metadata.

The benefit of an effective information structure is that its contents can be collated and differentiated based on their assigned attributes. This is the result of identifying and populating the metadata elements that each representational item within the system must have. It is the metadata of the represented information objects that enables us to organize and control an information system. Some information systems are structured by the actual required metadata elements, as is the case with MARC, Dublin Core and METS, for example. However, flexible metadata schema like basic tagging (as found in LibraryThing and Flickr) will not necessarily define a system's structure.

Creating metadata schema is a question of the desired level of detail and formalization that the users of an information system require of it in order for it to be useful. In addition to descriptive information reflecting the "aboutness" of a represented item, required metadata may also include information about the item's structure, administrative and preservation history, etc. In many cases, controlled vocabularies are employed at the point of metadata creation to solve the problems associated with natural language: metaphors, homonymy, and misspellings.

A more recent consideration for controlling represented information stems from the opportunities for information organizations to collaborate and share their resources. As digitized collections increasingly gain value and substance, and as digital preservation initiatives take root, collaboration among institutions is continually heralded as a strategy to add value to collections and to share resources and costs. The biggest challenge to this is ensuring that the metadata of the items within shared collections will be interoperable among different organizational systems.

Evidence

Creating a controlled vocabulary is a vital step in having robust metadata and thus ensuring the organization and control of represented information. To prove my competency in this skill, I am submitting a thesaurus of descriptive metadata for use in a theoretical database containing Sports-related articles. This was a group project for my Vocabulary Design course. Working with a pre-determined sample of articles, we developed a hierarchical relational thesaurus intended to guide and support the descriptive needs of articles acquired in the future. We all contributed to the creation and selection of the final thesaurus. My role was to identify and report on terms or subjects that were problematic in the course of our design.

To illustrate my competency in creating standards to organize represented knowledge in an information system, I am submitting a metadata scheme designed for a collection of historical forestry photographs. This was also a group project completed in my Vocabulary Design course, and the document includes feedback from our instructor. We analyzed the needs of the collection's user group to determine what information about the photographs needed to be included in the metadata. Based on the Dublin Core structure, our scheme includes elements that utilize controlled vocabularies and free text. This document includes a description of the scheme and controlled vocabularies, as well as rationale for our decisions and an applied example. We all worked on developing the required metadata elements and controlled vocabularies, and my specific role was to interview the caretaker of the collection and to identify potential user groups of this collection.

To contrast the two structured methods of organizing representations of information that I have shown, I am submitting a screenshot containing some of the free-text tags that I assigned to a collection of books. In a contract position at Pixar Animation Studios, I organized a collection of 4000 books both physically and in a LibraryThing database. The tags that I deemed to be relevant representations of the books were based on the company culture and the proposed uses for the library resources. This resulted in a need to identify both the "aboutness" of each item as well as the images or content within the books that were relevant to specific film productions or were useful visual aids. The resulting metadata was imperfect in many ways, but the freedom it allows searchers and future catalogers is well suited to the company's needs.

Finally, I am also submitting a blog post I composed about the METS standard, which has been developed to support the transfer of metadata intended to aid in the preservation of digital objects. Digital preservation responsibilities may be shared among partnering institutions, and the metadata from various collections must all live together within a shared system. METS uses XML to harbor individual institutions' metadata in a transferable format in order to facilitate this exchange and sharing of resources. Such tools are valuable additions to the methods in which we can collect, organize, and preserve represented information.

Conclusion

The methods used for the organization and control of represented information objects will vary depending on the needs of their users. The benefit of structured metadata schema is that the identifying attributes needed for each represented object are specified so that the organizing system can work as it is intended to. Conversely, flexible metadata schema may widen the uses and applications of metadata. The concepts of organizing information have been, and will continue to be, the most important skill of my role as an information professional.