The Critical Component

New publication from the American Library Association addresses the difficult but necessary task of tagging documents with meaningful metadata and unique descriptors. Competing standards (Digital object identifier, ISSN Road, EPUB, Dublin Core) are evaluated in an insightful analysis.

The Critical Component* (TCC) – standards in the information exchange environment by Todd Carter is a publication from the American Library Association. It is therefore firmly on the side of a classification-metadata-indexing approach to information retrieval as opposed to today’s free-for-all Google-type search.

Rigor in classification comes at a cost. As Mark Bide states in a chapter on basic standards concepts, ‘metadata is not hard to understand but can be hard to implement. Such discipline can feel antithetical to real life concerns .. huge bases of existing legacy data may be unsuitable for conversion. However, machines deal badly with ambiguity. For business to work, well designed metadata and identifier standards are essential.’

This of course begs the question which standard to use? Our quick scan through TCC suggests that this is quite a challenge. Even in the relatively constrained space of the library, standards, and standards organizations are legion. TCC does a good job of enumerating them and outlining the background of ISSN, the standard for books and periodicals, DOI, the digital object identifier, and Dublin Core. TCC is a fairly dry book but even here matters get somewhat heated. A standards war seems to have taken place between the DOI community and Dublin Core, which gets a bit of a kicking for its ‘vagueness and ambiguity.’ The ISSN Road directory of open access scholarly resources gets a plug as a test bed for outputting ISSN as linked data in XML. The EPUB 3 publishing standard gets a chapter to itself.

Oil and gas has its own standards for much of its business processes but could perhaps benefit from some of the core concepts that the librarians advocate. How unique descriptions are attributed to digital objects, to the identity (of authors and companies) and how access and entitlements are managed are all very pertinent to the exchange of seismic and well data.

On the downside, when we came across what seemed to be a novelty, the mention of ‘indixes’ on page 7 we and turned to the back to look it up but TCC has no index! A curious omission. ‘Indixes’ by the way is a typo. Finally, TCC strongly recommends participation in standards which are invariably volunteer efforts. More on Dublin Core on page 10 of this issue.

* ISBN 978-0-8389-8744-5.

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