Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'Cause Tonight is the Night

My digital archive uses Dublin Core and I’ve been looking into best practices. This led to the realization that we currently violate one of the central tenets of Dublin Core, the One-to-One Principle:

In general Dublin Core metadata describes one manifestation or version of a resource, rather than assuming that manifestations stand in for one another. For instance, a jpeg image of the Mona Lisa has much in common with the original painting, but it is not the same as the painting. As such the digital image should be described as itself, most likely with the creator of the digital image included as a Creator or Contributor, rather than just the painter of the original Mona Lisa.

Like many cultural heritage projects, my digital archive has cheerfully ignored the One-to-One Principle for years, combining metadata about both the digital file and physical original in a single record. I’m not planning to change this because--abstract principles aside--mixed records make more sense for both our users and our local situation.

In an article on current practice and the One-to-One Principle, Steven Miller of the University of Wisconsin gets to the heart of the problem for me:

…many practitioners, including those who are well aware of the One-to-One principle, come to their digital collection projects with the intent to create records only for their digital resources. They are creating metadata for an online collection of digital resources, not a database or catalog of both their analog holdings and their digitized files.

My archive doesn't even have real physical material (all of our documents are photocopies or scans from other archives), so why go to the trouble of creating two separate records for each item? Not to mention, double records would be a headache if we ever exposed our metadata for aggregators.

In the same article, Miller recommends a compromise solutions:

  1. Follow the One-to-One Principle as much as possible, with the bulk of a record focusing on either the digital or the original,
  2. use the source field to explain the relationship between the digital and original versions (i.e. “Digital reproduction of photographic print in the So-and-so Collection, located in the Such-and-such Archive.”)
He goes into more detail in the article, but that's the basic idea. This is similar to what we are doing now and I think I'll follow his suggestions, keeping in mind what our metadata records will look like when stripped down to simple Dublin Core.*

*One caveat: I’m not crazy about some of Miller’s DC mappings in his examples. For instance, in one he uses the "Contributor" field for the name of the institution holding the original physical document, which I don’t think is right. It makes much more sense in the Publisher or Relation field. See Arwen Hutt and Jenn Riley, “Semantics and Syntax of Dublin Core Usage in Open Archives Initiative Data Providers of Cultural Heritage Materials,” p. 6.

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