Metadata: Translating Expertise into Value

by Lesley Whyte

“We are moving towards a global database integrating seamlessly and accessible to everyone, with no single point or source but as many sources as wish to participate each with their own vision of their own data and each, by and large, interoperable.”

These are the words of expert on linked data, Dr Lars G. Svensson, during our discussion at the German National Library. That was back in 2015. A lot of data has flowed under the bridges and into the oceans of the Internet since then, and many of the traditional landmarks we used to navigate by have been eroded, submerged or rendered irrelevant.

When I started working in libraries, accessing information meant knowing on what shelf to find the required book in my library’s collection. Today, the search is global, ignoring the boundaries of library walls, increasingly unhindered by language barriers or whether the item sought physically exists.

The early twenty-first century is one of virtual exploration, and it is easy to get lost. The shift from physical to digital, local to cloud, connected to inter-connected has changed our information-geography. One of the major results is a much greater reliance on metadata to navigate effectively. Creating that metadata for books, and more recently other media, making it responsive, fit for purpose, fit for the future, super-fit to be used in diverse systems and searches worldwide while at the same time making it affordable, is the challenge that faces a bibliographic agency such as BDS.

Turning “Dumb Data” into “Marvellous Metadata”

Describing cultural products starts with the publisher or the production company. The marketing material, description and, often, additional information to generate interest or discoverability is “metadata” but, despite much of it being excellent in quality, it is only the start of a long and complex process to meet the challenge described above.

The metadata that BDS creates serves a host of masters, each with different demands and designed to work within diverse hardware and software systems. It must meet those demands exactly and prove reliable even in circumstances difficult or impossible to anticipate. It must be affordable while enabling interrogation across sectors, for example within and external to library systems. The metadata must be machine-readable and readable by the man in the street. The way this is achieved is not by anticipating every circumstance – that is simply impossible – but by using the expertise within BDS to create value for each record that is open-ended and satisfies clients and their customers.

The BDS Process

Turning “dumb data” into “marvellous metadata” requires expert curation to offer value. The BDS Process has been built through 25 years of company experience and founded on long-established and developing principles. It is a process that involves engagement with international committees on standards; it involves working on the published output of the UK and Ireland and implementing the RDA standard; it means attending conferences worldwide, listening and contributing, but the result of all this experience and expertise can be simplified into: Source - Validate - Classify – Enhance - Deliver.

To source the data that starts the process of creating our records, BDS employs a Publisher Liaison team that works closely with publishers and film and music studios. Sourcing information also involves considerable technical expertise and investment as the initial data can be received in many formats, both electronic and physical. There is another sourcing process further down the line of record creation that relates to live information such as price and availability, as well as inputting revised information derived from book-in-hand cataloguing, a unique and invaluable feature of a BDS record.

Validation is a checking process that provides the best possible foundation for the eventual BDS database, the great resource that is the springboard for the final stage, delivery.

Classification employs the intellectual expertise of the BDS cataloguing team. This ensures each record conforms to accepted standards such as Dewey for libraries and Thema for the book trade. This is where BDS’s investment in training and its engagement with international committees proves invaluable and plays an integral role in ensuring the quality of each record, guaranteeing consistent results when used in diverse systems.