DIG510: Metadata Systems

Syllabus v1.1, 3 credits


Course Information

*      URL: to come

*      Instructors: John Bell, Desiree Butterfield-Nagy

*      Synchronous Hours: to come


Course Description

This course covers digital formats for describing the contents and contexts of artifacts with an emphasis on their use in libraries, archives, and online repositories.  This includes a discussion on the need for and use of metadata in a variety of digital contexts, exposure to specific metadata standards used in a number of fields, and demonstrations of how these metadata are expressed in several output formats.


Course Goals

Upon completing the course, students will have:

1.     Been shown to the operating principles of and motivations for creating descriptive metadata as part of an artifact's archival or cataloging process.

2.     Seen how humans and computers apply metadata to solve a variety of research and discovery tasks.

3.     Selected and used a metadata standard appropriate to the material they choose to describe in an archive.

4.     Created metadata describing artifacts using a common online archival software package.

Required Materials

Required Reading:

*      Readings will be provided through e-reserve or other online means; there is no required text for this class.

Course Site


The course website will be where the majority of the class takes place, including videos, lessons, and interaction with the instructor and other students.  Before the class begins you will receive a message from the instructor(s) including login credentials and other information on how to access and use the site.


Course Flow


The course will consist of a series of video lectures, readings, and associated assignments broken up into week-long topics.  Within each week you will be expected to:


*      Watch all of the lectures and tutorials listed in the week's introduction and read any assigned material.

*      Submit the weekly assignment on the course web site (or as a link to another site or resource, as appropriate).

*      Participate in the ongoing discussions on the course web site.  It cannot be emphasized enough how important this is to successfully taking an online-only course.  A significant part of what you get from the class will come in talking and listening to other students and the instructors as they discuss their own take on the material.

This course is designed to be completely asynchronous so there are no specific times for meeting with other students or the instructor.  Instead, interaction will take place via email and the course's message board, where you will also be submitting assignments and giving feedback to other students.


There will also be a significant final project associated with completing this class, including both the production of the project and a written summary describing the process you used to create it.  Since this project is larger in scope than your normal assignments, it will be split across several weeks near the end of the semester.


Attendance Policy

Attendance in an asynchronous online course is a somewhat nebulous concept.  While it is expected that you will accomplish all of the tasks by their assigned deadlines, participation in the class' online discussion is also critical to your success in the class and the frequency and depth of your interactions with other students and the instructor will be considered part of your "attendance" and thus part of your grade.  If you for any reason think you may have an issue, either on a specific day/week or overall, talk to us!  It is much easier to make accommodations ahead of time than after the fact.


University Policies


Disabilities (ADA) Statement:


Students with disabilities who may need services or accommodations to fully participate in this class should contact Ann Smith, Director of Disability Services in 121 East Annex, (voice) 581-2319, (TTY) 581-2325 as early as possible in the semester.


Academic honesty (plagiarism, etc.):


Academic honesty is very important. It is dishonest to cheat on exams, to copy term papers, to submit papers written by another person, to fake experimental results, or to copy or reword parts of books or articles into your own papers without appropriately citing the source.  Students committing or aiding in any of these violations may be given failing grades for an assignment or for an entire course, at the discretion of the instructor.  In addition to any academic action taken by an instructor, these violations are also subject to action under the University of Maine Student Conduct Code.  The maximum possible sanction under the student conduct code is dismissal from the University.


Class Disruption:


In the event of an extended disruption of normal classroom activities, the format for this course may be modified to enable its completion within its programmed time frame. In that event, you will be provided an addendum to the syllabus that will supersede this version.



If the only time you post a message is when you're turning in an assignment then you will have little opportunity to display your understanding of the ideas being discussed and we will not have much information to use when evaluating your success in the class.  Ask questions, throw in comments, and generally add to the discussion as much as possible, particularly if you think you missed something or you have a stupid question.  Odds are other people are as confused as you are.


As with all classes, it is expected that you will treat others with respect.  If you are repeatedly abusive toward your classmates you will be moderated out of the conversation and it will be considered an absence for purposes of the attendance policy.



With the exception of the final project, grading for your assignments is weighted equally across each week of the class.  Your final project will count as 1/3 of your grade, as it largely occupies the final 1/3 of the semester. 


Participation is a significant part of your grade.  The more you add thoughtful, insightful comments to the discussion the more both you and other students will benefit.  Questions are always welcome and should be asked publicly so that everybody can see the answer unless there is a very good reason to ask privately.  In many cases you will be expected to look at and critique other students' work as an absolute minimum level of participation.


This is a graduate level course and you are expected to perform accordingly. Meeting the requirements in an average manner will result in a "C" as the final grade. Better than average effort and execution will result in a "B". An "A" is reserved for those students who demonstrate exceptional creative development, application, innovation, effort, and an in-depth understanding of process. Under normal circumstances a C or lower grade cannot be used as a graduate student to count towards completion of your certificate. Failure to complete any of the required components of your grade with an average or better effort will result in a "D" or an "F" as your final grade.



Unit 1: Defining Metadata

In many contexts metadata is considered an afterthought–when it is thought of at all–and either ignored completely or taken to be an inherent property of an object that is not worth enumerating.  For archivists, librarians, and programmers, it is a critical tool used on a daily basis.  This unit describes various types and structures of metadata and why the differences are important.


Unit 2: Developing Metadata

Creating metadata is about more than just describing an object; it also requires understanding how the metadata will be used and putting yourself in the shoes of the person (or machine) that is going to use it.  When choosing what type of metadata to produce for an artifact it is important to consider all the ways it will be used.  This unit describes the patterns people and machines use to connect metadata dots and how those patterns influence what metadata should be recorded about an artifact.


Unit 3: Using Metadata

Metadata does not exist in a vacuum, or it at least isn't very useful in one.  This unit describes how metadata is input, searched, and represented in the archival software used for your final project and introduces the Dublin Core standard.


Unit 4: Standards and Formats

Different artifacts, fields, and perspectives necessitate a variety of metadata standards that both share some common characteristics and have a schema all their own.  This unit goes further into Dublin Core, a critical launching point for many modern metadata standards, as well as several other industry-specific formats that can be applied to artifacts in your areas of interest.


Unit 5: Metadata in the Wild

The final unit will take on the larger questions of using metadata in the real world, including how networks influence metadata creation and use, what to do when different types of metadata collides, and the ethics of metadata creation.  It also serves as the launching point for the course's final project.




Unit 1 :

Defining Metadata

Week 1

What are metadata?

Goals of metadata (Why use metadata?)

Types of metadata

Week 2

Metadata Networks

What does metadata really look like? 

Unit 2 :

Developing Metadata

Week 3

Finding significance

Metadata usefulness (human and machine)

Discussion of projects that would benefit from metadata

Week 4

Algorithmic representation and processing

Encoding and implied metadata for humans

Unit 3 :

Using Metadata

Week 5

Software introduction

Applying theory: Dublin Core

Inputting Dublin Core

Week 6

Walkthrough of software features and interface

Introduction to specifications; their purposes, creators and audiences

Dublin Core use and output


Unit 4 :

Standards and Formats

Week 7

Application appropriateness

Hierarchies and taxonomies

Networks, common uses, accessing metadata

Week 8

Standards beyond Dublin Core

Data fields, values, vocabulary

Week 9

Formats and expressions for specific fields

Workplace realities: great variation in availability of off-the-shelf software, templates and forms

Week 10

Formats and expressions, continued

Functional formats

Evaluating metadata success

Preservation metadata

Unit 5:

Metadata in the Wild

Week 11

Demo of software tools useful for semester project

Week 12

Crosswalks and wraps

How can I use other people's metadata?

How can I create metadata that can be used by others?

Week 13

Metadata ethics

Week 14


Exam week

Final written review