Metadata, or “data about data,” is an essential component to any digital collection (and physical ones, too!). The essential goal of online metadata should be to aid researchers. An online finding aid for example allows researchers to find the exact physical location of material like series, box, and folder numbers. Metadata offers researchers with information on individual photographs or documents exhibited online as well, such as collection information on an author, date of production, provenance, or copyright status. In the digital world, metadata can serve as a useful tool for researchers to access information on material that is under copyright restriction. While a specific book or image may be inaccessible online, metadata is always copyright-free! Thus providing clear metadata offers researchers with at least bare-bones information on a physical archival source. Lastly, a successful use of metadata on an online collection can help promote an archival organization by showing researchers where materials are physically located.
While all digital collections need metadata, not all digital collections use metadata to the best of their abilities.
My group is using Omeka to host our final online exhibit, so I decided to explore how different digital collections use metadata on the Omeka platform. In general, I found that most online collections successfully use metadata thanks to Omeka’s detailed options for gathering and presenting collection information. One digital collection I looked at, for example, was Heroes and Villains: Silver Age Comics. This site hosts an expansive collection of Silver Age Comics published by DC and Marvel comics that are housed at the J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections. The metadata for digital collection items on this site are incredibly detailed and clearly assembled with the needs of researchers in mind. For each comic, the site provides the following information: title; subjects covered in the comic; description; creator; source; publisher; date; detailed copyright information; format; language; a high-resolution image of the comic cover; searchable tags; and a full citation. Most other digital collections that are hosted on Omeka provide this level of detailed collection information due to the platform’s backend metadata options.