Why Metadata Matters

Metadata, to me, can be defined simply as “the details of data points.” By this, I mean that metadata serves as an organizational tool, while also providing context surrounding an object or text. If one were to manually fill in the metadata on an image of one’s own common frying pan, for instance, one would take dimensions, identify raw materials, when (and potentially where) the image was taken, the file format, copyright information, and so on. If the object or text is not one’s own, then this would necessitate the addition of where the item was found and analyzed; whether this be an archive, a collection, or other such creations.

Digital tools assist immensely in keeping this information together in an ethical and efficient way that provides proper context and credit. However, the effectiveness of these tools is dependent on the user compiling their primary and secondary sources. Omeka and Tropy, for instance, provide premade and customizable templates to fit the needs of the source one is adding to their online exhibit or archive, respectively.

In trying to understand the importance of proper, manually-generated metadata, we can start with the reliability of records versus human memory when one must utilize these kinds of online tools. Research requires a multitude of sources to make a convincing and holistic argument/narrative. When considering the arduous task of conducting research itself–let alone turning that into a coherent piece–one must consider that these programs are here for a reason. The field of history and Digital Humanities in general are dependent on ethical citation. They are fields that build off centuries of analysis and research to improve our understanding of the world. The manual creation of metadata, in my eyes, is a two-step process: the creation, and the observation. If one values their peers, it is vital to understand where one’s objects originate, which will help others build off of your own findings.

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