How Metadata Enables or Inhibits Discovery and Access to Diverse Communities and Concepts

At ALA Annual 2018, Nadine Ellero (Auburn University Libraries), Erik Mitchell (University of California San Diego Library) and Michael Bolam (University of Pittsburgh Libraries) presented the results of the ALCTS Metadata Standards Committee’s survey on diversity, inclusion and accessibility in metadata schema design, implementation and use. This program was co-sponsored by the ALCTS Metadata Interest Group, the ALCTS Cataloging and Classification Research Interest Group and the ALCTS/LITA Linked Library Data Interest Group.

The committee has been testing a rubric for evaluating metadata standards that it developed this past year. They have tested two metadata standards so far, but do not feel that their testing has been particularly successful. Subsequently, they contacted over 20 vendors and standards organizations, seeking responses to a survey about their organizational goals, their organizational profile and the development, adoption, and usage of metadata standards by their organization, particularly as it relates to diversity, inclusion, equity and implicit biases. Metadata profiles of nine of the 14 respondents, developed from their survey responses, are available on the committee’s website, After receiving 14 responses, the committee determined that the majority did desire to reflect diversity, inclusion and equity in their metadata standard though doing so is challenging. Particularly in a linked data environment, it is challenging to envision the user who may be using the given metadata.

Following this presentation, the panelists asked the audience to engage in a brainstorming activity about the following questions:

  1. How does discovery and access play a role in supporting diversity in metadata services or products?
  2. What are your expectations of organizations whose mission includes metadata?
  3. What are your decision criteria in your organization as you identify or adopt standards?

Comments gathered on each of these questions was as follows, respectively:

  1. User-provided tagging has only been implemented a little, but could assist here. Working with specific communities and/or using our users’ knowledge of terminology will be helpful. Considering diverse users adds considerable value to our metadata. Another session at ALA Annual 2018 described working with donors to represent their donations adequately in metadata.
  2. We expect organizations to be transparent, allow for feedback and use of local vocabulary, to consult their user-communities and accommodate our needs.
  3. We select metadata schemas that are interoperable, easily referenced with full documentation, adaptable and widely-adopted.

The panel presentation was followed by questions and comments from the audience. These included:

  • Scholars may find our work anathema: choosing a single form of a name may not be the most useful for our users, who understand that a person may be known by one name for some length of time and by another for some other length of time.
  • We need to be inclusive in our workforce and in those we consult at all times—not only at our point of need to determine the “right” name for an entity.

Presentation slides are available to attendees on the conference scheduler, and a recording of the session will be made available.

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