Assessing Descriptive Substance in Free-Text Collection-Level Metadata

Oksana Zavalina, Carole Palmer, Amy S. Jackson, Myung-Ja Han


When many collections are brought together in a federation or
aggregation, the attributes of the original collections can get lost.
Collection-level metadata has the potential to provide important context about the
purpose and features of individual collections, but these qualitative aspects are
difficult to describe in a systematic way. This paper reports on a content analysis
of collection records in the IMLS Digital Collections and Content Collection
Registry, conducted to analyze the kinds of substantive and purposeful information
provided about 202 cultural heritage collections. The findings show that the Dublin
Core free-text Description field often provides more accurate and complete
representation of subjects and object types than the specified fields. Properties
such as importance, uniqueness, comprehensiveness, provenance, and creator are
represented, as well as other vital contextual information about the intentions of a
collector and the value of a collection, as a whole, for scholarly users. The
results demonstrate that semantically rich free-text Description field can provide a
valuable source of data for enhancing and customizing controlled vocabularies and
that there is a need for collection-level metadata schema that better represent
holistic properties of collections.

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