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Metadata in Practice

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IT IS BOTH an exciting and frustrating time to be working in the world of metadata. Exciting because so many new communities are discovering the usefulness of metadata at the same time as librarians seriously consider the limitations of our traditional notions of the functions of libraries. New metadata formats seem to erupt like dandelions on a spring lawn, each seeking to bring together new communities with genuine needs to organize their important information.

For librarians or project managers who attempt to understand this world enough to plan a project implementation with a metadata component, the frustrations are also considerable. Although a library or cataloging background can be an asset when approaching metadata issues, to a traditional librarian the current metadata environment seems like the Wild West as seen from the point of view of a Boston Brahmin—very messy, and with armed cowboys behind every rock.

In such environments, prudent librarians review the literature. Unfortunately, information on the metadata context of relevant projects is sometimes difficult to find; and when relevant information is found, it rarely contains the detail that a planner desires. In addition, most of the research literature about digital libraries is not published in journals familiar to librarians; rather, it is scattered in digital library and computer science conference proceedings or journals. Consequently, taking advantage of the experience of others can be daunting. Those planners looking for the latest ideas in important areas of implementation have an even more difficult time. Developments are constantly in flux, and without active participation, it is a challenge to discover what is still relevant among the existing documentation.

Planning for metadata implementation is even more confusing, of course, for those without the benefit of a traditional cataloging background.
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