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History 402A (Dr. Cawthra): Metadata Literacy

Library instruction guide for the Fall 2023 semester of History 402A: Introduction to Public History.

What is Metadata and Why is It Important?

Metadata is data that provides information about other data (i.e., information about digital photo in an online archive). For example:

  • Descriptive metadata (title, date, creator, etc.).
  • Administrative metadata (owner, rights, etc.).
  • Structural (table of contents, pages, etc.).

Metadata is based upon standards. Dublin Core is a type of metadata standard heavily used by libraries and archives. It is what allows so many digital repositories to be interoperable and "talk" to each other, exchanging data without each library or archive having to rekey all of that data. For example, this is how digital collections from digital archives like Calisphere or the Portal to Texas History are also available on the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

It serves such a critical and sometimes complex role that there are professions which focus exclusively on metadata. The Pollak Library has our own specialist, Cataloging & Metadata Librarian Samuel Barber. Metadata is what makes digital content more discoverable and useable.

This short 3-minute video provides an excellent explanation of metadata, in easy every-day terminology, and its role in researching using a library catalog. The video is published by the Lovejoy Library at Southern Illinois University.