Week 6: Creating Metadata and Selecting Tagging Systems

With the goals of the Southern California Library in mind, the metadata process was largely based on accessibility. The question which underpinned the choices when it came to metadata like subject terms and description was: How can I make this “findable” for both researchers and community members?

1.) Because most of the objects I dealt with clearly provided information like the title, creator, contributor and date(s), there was little trace of my hand in these matters. However, for metadata like, the subject terms and description, I felt a great responsibility to accurately represent the object and to provide comprehensive information not covered by the title, creator, contributor and dates. For this reason, I employed a method in which I first identified and listed the title, author(s), and the date of an object before moving forward. If I ran into any problems with these fields I left them blank to be discussed at a later time with the class. After I located the initial metadata, I began collecting information for the description. To go about this with shorter documents, I read them in their entirety then identified the function, purpose, or goal of the document and any predominant themes. In the case of periodicals, article titles were particularly helpful for gauging the scope of the material. In order to craft a description for the more lengthly documents, I depended on the table of contents to identify some key topics and  then craft a description. However, in the case of the McCone report I found the section titles like, “The Crisis – An Overview” and “144 Hours in August 1965,” cryptic and sensational so if I came upon an issue like this, I spent enough time in each section of the document to identify the main points and important themes. After the description was completed, I moved on to the subject terms. Using the information I gained in crafting the description I began by using very general terms like “housing” and “law enforcement” alongside more specific terms like “Rumford Fair Housing Act” and “Workers Union,” (this is something that would change after I workshopped my subject terms with the class). Most often, I chose subject terms directly from the vocabulary used in the material.
After I completed the input of the metadata on my own, we reviewed our choices as a class and identified changes that needed to be made, subject terms which functioned well (or did not function well), and addressed material with missing metadata or with metadata that we were unsure of. This last step of the process was particularly helpful; to see the choices others made with subject terms allowed us to work as a group to shape a cohesive vocabulary of search terms. Personally, the group workshopping helped me narrow down my subject terms into more specific and useful metadata. For instance, instead of including both general terms and specific vocabulary, I found that the more specific subject terms were much more useful and functioned to fill any gaps that were left by the other metadata fields. For this reason I feel confident that my choice of subject terms will make the objects available and findable for many audiences. 

The most difficult part of the process was negotiating with my feelings of inadequacy. As a graduate student in English Literature I am inclined to research a text quite thoroughly before I make any claims about it. Therefore, it was difficult for me to create metadata for these objects when I did not feel like an expert in the field. While I read the material and spent a good amount of time with it, I still struggled with the fact that I am not a specialist when it comes to Watts, nor am I a librarian who is well-practiced in assigning metadata. However, many of our readings for the class were helpful in providing historical information about Watts as well as theoretical practices when it comes to approaching archives and digital space. For instance, Gerald Horne’s Fire Next Time provided necessary historical information about Watts 1965 and even named and contextualized some of the material we digitized (ie. the McCone Report) and newspaper clippings (ie. The LA Times article “1,000 Riot in LA) we came across in our research. Theoretically, the Ta-Nehisi Coates novel Between the World and Me was great for approaching and understanding the socio-political, racial, and colonial power struggles over the black body in America. While as a female I must guard and protect my body in ways a male will never know, Coates’ text made it palpable just how different my experience is from Coates’ and that of the Black American male. In this way, Coates’ text highlighted the problematic role I played in the digitizing of materials pertaining to a history that is not my own. However, while I do believe the constant interrogation of my role in this project is unquestionably necessary, I do not feel it was counter-productive and I am confident in saying that I did my best to serve the needs of the Southern California Library.

2.) According to Gene Smith in his book, Tagging: People Powered Metadata for the Social Web, tags are “keywords added by users” which “can be descriptions of the resources subject matter, its location, its intended use, a reminder, or something else entirely” (14). He goes on to say that “different people have different tagging patterns. . . Tagging systems allow for — and even encourage — these differences” (14). In other words, tagging is information about an object provided by the community. The benefits of tagging are numerous. For one, tagging allows for a collaborative understanding of an object which reaches many audiences. Second, as an information organization system, tagging allows an object, as Smith says, “to be in two, three, or more ‘places’ at once” (27). Thanks to tagging, a digital object is not bound to its standard metadata like Library of Congress subject terms. Instead, a digital object can be found by other, oftentimes more accessible, subject terms provided by the community. While a downfall of tagging is that its idiosyncratic nature is difficult to track, for the purposes of the Southern California Library, tagging is a great way to make information accessible to the community and to engage the community with the materials. 
There are many different tagging systems; some websites have an ‘anything goes’ method when it comes to tagging while others have a more controlled system in which users may choose from preset tags. In order for the tagging system on this particular project to be successful, I would suggest a tagging system that falls somewhere in between. The most functional system might be one that mirrors the example of Etsy, which Gene Smith references in his article, “Tagging: Emerging Trends.” Etsy gives the user the option to chose from prescribed tags as well as the option to create his or her own tags: “Etsy’s pre-defined tags form the top-level category navigation on the website. The suggested tags are actually sub-categories for each of the main categories. While users are nudged toward these suggested tags, they can still enter their own tags” (16). With this method, Smith claims that Etsy can maintain a “fairly stable navigation system that remains responsive to the needs of users” (16). Simply offering the ability to tag is meaningless unless the tagging system actually works to make material more accessible and easier to find. Including suggested tags will eliminate the chaos of a pure user-based vocabulary, yet users will still have the option to provide their own tags which will fill any gaps left by the pre-defined tags. This way the material will be accessible through both the preset tags and the tags users develop, optimizing an objects circulation and find-ability. Implementing this kind of tagging system for the resources digitized for the Southern California Library would be best for serving the mission of the library: “to document and make accessible histories of struggles that challenge racism and other systems of oppression so we can all imagine and sustain possibilities for freedom” (emphasis added by me).  

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