Metadata isn’t scary


A colleague told me the other day that her children had learnt a lesson about the importance of metadata. They had recently moved house, and they wanted to locate the box that contained the X-Box game Minecraft. Each of many identical cardboard boxes was labelled with 2 pieces of information: a room name identifying where the box should be, and a further description of the contents themselves. This descriptive information is known as metadata.

They knew that the box should be labelled ‘office’ (a slightly optimistic term meaning ‘dumping room for boxes’) and ‘X-Box games’. However, several minutes of browsing did not result in the identification of an appropriately labelled box. There was however a box labelled ‘office’ and ‘Playstation 2 games’.  As they do not own a Playstation 2, a quick check of the contents revealed the Minecraft X-Box game, thus showing:

  1. The importance of correct labelling (metadata)
  2. Parents cannot be trusted to distinguish between games consoles.

Metadata labels (or describes) an object or a resource. For example, if you have a lever arch folder containing your lecture notes for a particular course, the metadata you use to describe the notes could include the module code, module name and lecturer name.

Metadata is also used to describe electronic resources, for example in naming computer files to enable you to find them in future, and remember what they contain.

How is metadata used in the Library? One example is our Library discovery tool, DelphiS which contains metadata records for books and journal articles, both electronically and in print. You can search by keyword, author, or title (all metadata fields) and then limit your search by year, language, type of publication and more.

Sometimes metadata can be frustrating: if you search for journal articles on DelphiS and can only see the metadata record, and not have immediate access to the full text it can be infuriating. This happens because we have to pay huge sums of money to subscribe to journals, so any content that is not covered by our subscription is not made available to us. However, when you have carried out a search you can select the ‘Available@Southampton’ option and this will only display results where we either hold the print copy of the item in the library, or if the electronic copy is immediately available online. Also, if you find the metadata record for a book or article you really need you can use our interlibrary loan service to request the item, although it will take a few days to arrive.


by Nicki Clarkson

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