Metadata (Part 3)

By Heather Watson

During 1999 Connections published several articles explaining metadata, its relevance to school libraries, and the need to deal with both physical and digital resources. Heather Watson pursues that theme in this issue with an article describing national processes to manage and further develop Australian metadata standards consistent with international developments. This work will have, in the long term, as much relevance for Australian schools and Teacher Librarians as existing cataloguing standards such as USMARC.

Metadata and resource location

Increasing use of the Internet in education has heightened awareness of the need for user-friendly searching and navigation tools to locate information for users. However, the Internet has not developed with school users in mind and to select and manage access to the vast number of resources on the Internet presents a significant challenge. In addition, there are an increasing number of digital resources relevant to the schools sector including multimedia data, learning outcomes frameworks, resources for pedagogy and communication including resource persons, organisations, and curriculum content with schools applicability.

Consistent use of metadata provides a solution and has the potential to save users time in discovering resources and to significantly reduce network overload.

Currently, several established metadata formats exist internationally which all support such resource discovery. Each of these has its own strengths and limitations from a schools perspective.

Revising EdNA Metadata Standard Version 1.0

Australian education in all sectors has an agreed commitment to the EdNA Metadata Standard Version 1.0, based on the Dublin Core standard. The existing EdNA Metadata Standard takes a minimalist approach and a revision process is currently underway. Education.Au Limited is managing consultation and developments arising from the need to refine and extend Version 1, managers of the EdNA Online service.

Process of committees and consultation

An EdNA Metadata Standards Working Group was formed to take forward the process of revising the existing standard. This committee consists of representatives from each of the EdNA sectoral groups (Schools, Vocational Education and Training and Higher Education) with the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA). Schools sector specific recommendations forwarded to this committee were developed by the Schools Metadata Consultative Group, formed with the assistance of Commonwealth funding to define school sector requirements.

State and Territory representatives were nominated to develop this work with a specialist consultant developing documentation. A process including a workshop, and several telephone and electronic consultations defined schools sector recommendations and identified further enhancements to consider for subsequent metadata revisions. The enhancements were scoped and prioritised to support development. The papers were presented to the EdNA Schools Advisory Group meeting in early March and will then be publicly available on EdNA Online.

Why the standard needs revision

In the past year changes have occurred in the schools sector, in the development of Australian standards for all Government metadata, and in the development of metadata internationally. All of these factors have impact on current revision activity that aims to accommodate local values and allow for changes as required, but within an agreed framework of interoperability. It is recognised that the EdNA Metadata Standard will always be under review and development. Not only do the needs of stakeholders change in relation to metadata, but also as EdNA metadata conforms to Dublin Core agreements and is influenced by other international and local metadata trends, adjustments will always be required. This process of revision must be consistently managed to maintain interoperability.

Metadata revision activities have continued whilst many relaxed over the holidays, or pyrotechnically celebrated the end of 1999. The proposals submitted ensure EdNA Metadata Standard Version 2 is effective for school users. It is intended that the process of revision be undertaken by all sectors and completed by the middle of 2000.

Issues in revising the EdNA Metadata Standard: a schools sector perspective

The issues outlined have arisen from analysis and discussion of the differences between State and Territory metadata standards, the current EdNA Metadata Standard and international standards, which are also currently changing. The workshop of State and Territory representatives raised additional issues and identified recommendations for change to meet the specific needs of the schools sector.

A range of schemas and vocabularies

Metadata is being developed simultaneously within State and Territory requirements such as state-specific learning outcomes information, in parallel with defined national standards such as Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS) and with participation in international activities such as Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI). Elements are defined in response to a range of needs, and tools developed to assist users must facilitate seamless movement between schemas and accommodate local and regional vocabularies and priorities.

This mix of influences creates the potential for confusion, but States and Territories are conforming to the agreed Dublin Core and EdNA Metadata Standards, and are also able to include their own local descriptive elements to support specific priorities. The Tasmanian Discover website, the Victorian Education Channel and the Education Queensland metadata development work, all illustrate the capacity for local and interoperable standards to be effectively combined.

Effective support for resource discovery and metadata application

There is a general awareness of the need to maintain a balance between the easy application of metadata and effective searching outcomes for a user. To support user discovery of resources, terminology adopted could be derived from international systems, nationally agreed standards and protocols or from defined local vocabularies. This varied range of sources is particularly evident in relation to schools curriculum. Benefits of value-adding to make resource discovery easier for users, is challenged by the need for a minimalist approach to metadata application so that the task of applying metadata remains cost effective for developers, resource administrators and content managers.

Supporting easy resource discovery by users is the intention, but this must be balanced against issues s uch as the range of abilities of people applying metadata, the financial and resourcing issues required for metadata application and the extent of value-adding for local applicability.

Defining some fields as mandated and leaving others as optional is one approach used to balance these issues. Endorsing and sharing metadata application tools has potential to resolve some challenges in this area.

Formal classification systems/thesauruses

A managed approach in this area within the EdNA Metadata Standard revision would support a range of vocabularies/systems to include international, national, learning area specific and local types. Their use would not be mandatory, but a managed register of controlled vocabularies and classifications could support resource discovery within the wide range of learning contexts.

Natural language keywords are valued in describing the topic of content in a resource. For future iterations of the EdNA Metadata Standard it is intended to investigate mechanisms to allow natural language searches across a number of databases or formal classification systems to support a range of users. Revisions of the EdNA Metadata Standard could include support for the use of natural language keywords.

Implementing the EdNA Metadata Standard

While it is not yet possible to fully automate metadata application, the development of application tools would enhance consistency and accuracy within defined approaches. Currently several metadata tools are being developed for whole-of-government publishing. It is likely these or modified versions will influence and improve processes for the schools sector. The EdNA community in collaboratively defining those most appropriate for schools sector needs could disseminate investigation and evaluation of these tools across states to strengthen participation.

A 'translation' tool could be provided centrally to facilitate mapping between state specific schema within the EdNA Metadata Standard. This would accommodate searches for appropriate resources across a wider range of material and enable resource discovery when state preferred terms are not known to external users.

A process of awareness-raising and training internationally, nationally and locally would support wider acceptance and knowledge of the revised standard. Development of training packages would support consistent and accurate metadata application and tools provide the possibility within this national approach, for States and Territories to mandate particular fields or emphases if required. Participating in such programs would enhance the consistency of metadata nationally and support the EdNA Metadata Standard, in all versions.

Copyright and intellectual property issues

With the development of national projects and the trend towards on line resource sharing, t he development of copyright standards and protocols for this area are essential to protect locally produced materials. Future revisions of the EdNA Metadata Standard will be designed to accommodate the copyright and intellectual property standards and protocols that are still in development to address these complex issues. Formal processes to progress these outcomes will be through the EdNA Schools Advisory Group and EdNA Reference Committee.

Further metadata information

International metadata development reference sites include:

  • Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI), 1999
  • The Gateway to Educational Materials (GEM), The GEM Element Set and Profile(s) Workbench
    < Vocab_ Type.html>

Australian Metadata reference sites include:

  • Education Network Australia (EdNA), EdNA Metadata Homepage
    < .au/metadata>
  • National Archives of Australia. Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS)
    < Is/ user _manual/ AG LS _metadata_e lements. him>
  • Tasmania. Department of Education. Tasmanian Metadata Guidelines, vol. 2.
    <http://www. tased .edu .au/tason I ine/metadata/ index.him>

Heather Watson

Manager, Electronic Development