searching as a function of metadata

I ran across this today (on boing boing, of course)

From Wikipedia to our libraries

So basically the point is that web resources are great and instead of trying to change the behaviors of searchers, we ought to go with the flow.  So he proposes making a standard Wikipedia template that includes a link to your local library.  And my initial thought is, okay, cool.  But I was thinking about it in terms of this week’s content, and of course, the reason it works, and I’m not all the surprised by the fact that it does, is because of the enormous amount of standardization in library cataloging metadata.  He can have a link that basically performs a single search in “insert your library here” and be reasonably assured that it will be a useful search.  This is amazing.

I really think it helps to illustrate the distance that other standards have to go.  For me, what really struck me, was within a half an hour after reading this, a patron asked me if any of the Michigan eLibrary databases include articles in Fine Woodworking.  No such thing as a federated search, of course, even among the four databases the state of Michigan offers as part of their eLibrary.

In other words, today, for me, was an object lesson in metadata standards, particularly controlled vocabulary, I suppose, but just in general.  When it works, and we have Boing Boing’s own Cory Doctorow suggesting that it really might not, but when it does, it offers the ability to do things and build things on down the line that we might not even be able to envision a need for today.  When it doesn’t, well, you just do a lot of typing and you are pretty likely to forget something.

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2 responses to “searching as a function of metadata

  1. Thanks for the link! I really like the idea of accepting the existence (and massive value!) of Wikipedia and finding ways to work with it instead of trying to ignore it or somehow “beat” it at it’s own game.

    A friend of mine from undergrad just told me about a computer science professor at our alma mater (Macalester) named Shilad Sen that is looking for ways to harness the content of Wikipedia in a sort of “big data”-type way to increase the functionality of user-generated tags on big digital collections. I can’t find reference to that specific idea on Professor Sen’s webpage but I did find an interesting paper of his talking about his idea of a “tag genome” that can be used to not only link similar items but to navigate between items in a particular topical “direction.” Here’s the paper: http://www.grouplens.org/system/files/navigating-the-tag-genome.pdf (The example he gives is, within a collection of films, being able to use tags to find a film “like Reservoir Dogs but less violent”)

    I guess my point is that, once there is digital metadata created, there is potential to build tools that use it in new useful ways.

  2. I think quality of metadata is extremely important. Most introductory computer books like to mention “Garbage in, Garbage out.”

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