Week 6: Metadata Creation and the Overall Process

1.      I found the metadata creation portion of this project to be a mostly straightforward task that did not take up too much time. When approaching an item, I put in a title of the largest print phrase at the top of the item. Sometimes this was a clear headline, like for a newspaper article (“How Hot is Watts?), but at times that was just the letterhead of the group publishing or sharing the item (“Committee for the Defense of Philip Bentley Brooks”). In writing a description for an item, I tried to summarize the overall purpose and message and mention as many individual subtopics that were listed as possible. With regards to subject terms, two parts of that process were helpful and necessary in generating consistent subject terms across all of our work. We brainstormed different subject terms on a shared spreadsheet and then reviewed them. Then, after filling out descriptions and titles and applying subject terms to items in our individual excel sheets (which served as rough drafts before we uploaded our metadata to Omeka), we reviewed the items we labeled and edited them together. This was really helpful in establishing a uniform methodology with different items. Generating and accurately, concisely applying subject terms was the most difficult part of this process, but the method of group editing made them much more clear and focused.
      As for the readings in the class, I found the excerpt from Tagging: People-powered Metadata for the Social Web to be excellent context for the immediate actions of the metadata creation process. The articles from Saidiya Hartman and Safiya Coleman were extremely helpful for establishing the importance of archives and especially digital archives in the face of the silencing of counternarratives in the age of Google and throughout history. Gerald Horne’s The Fire This Time was immensely important for understanding the context and details of Watts 1965. James Baldwin and Ta-nehisi Coates’s works, the most impactful works in the course for me, were important for placing the Digital Watts project within the black community in America’s larger struggles for authentic representation and self-identity within an Anglocentric mainstream culture. For me, this last piece helped bring perspective to the ultimate goal of shifting public perceptions about Watts and other black communities in some minute way.

2.     Tagging is a process by which users can provide more information or feedback regarding a digital item which makes it searchable or connected to other digital items with a tag, much like a #hashtag on Twitter. Tags by public users most often provide descriptions of what the item is about or what it relates to (events, places, topics, etc.). The benefits of this system are that it provides users the power and freedom to mark, label, and connect items within the archive, much like retweeting, reposting, or commenting on an item on Twitter or Facebook.  This can create an engaged conversation among users about digital archive items and how they relate to our world today. The drawback of this functionality is that there are no established limits or methodology to guide users in how they tag items. Open tagging among users can sometimes lead to a glut of metadata that is less than useful, overly general, or misleading for other users. In reviewing other platforms with open-to-all-users tagging like Nines.org, an online database for nineteenth century scholarship, we noticed that tags were sometimes overly general (“England”) or cryptic (“cruikshank”), which could sometimes lead to cluttered design and confusion on the part of a user trying to navigate items on the site. In opening up the archive to tagging, the SCL can absolutely advance its mission of giving the community access to archival texts and a means to organize and analyze items, and make this archive more relevant to their own experience. The SCL should just weigh the exciting possibilities for further engagement with the community against the ways in which open source programming design like this can make for a messier interface for users. Of course, as with any kind of community engagement, the messiness is often an essential part of the process when facilitating authentic communications amongst a large group of people.
      One system we read about that I think could work for the SCL’s digital archive is the combination of these user-generated tags and administrator-generated controlled vocabularies. The subject headings we developed through group brainstorming and peer review (which in this case can be considered a “controlled vocabulary” because they were vetted by a group) can stand alone as ways to guide content (examples include: ‘Los Angeles Police Department” and “Community Engagement”), but users can also add their own tags, which offers a way for them to organize and structure content on the website that makes the most sense to them. This way, users of the site can navigate items via subject headings developed by staff or volunteers in a controlled environment, a generally more tidy, clear system, or tags created by users, which can be more representative of the vernacular or interests of a larger set of public users.

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