Digital Collections and Metadata


Collections of primary sources are categorized and described by archivists, librarians, and sometimes the general public through crowdsourcing projects. The information about primary sources (aka metadata) is presented cleanly, but how was that information gathered and processed? What choices were made to standardize the data/metadata? And what do those choices mean for people who want to use those data/metadata?

In this assignment, you will work in small groups (in Zoom breakout rooms) to create a digital collection of objects. You’ll learn about and work with the Dublin Core metadata standard, an international standard for describing items in structured, systematized ways. 


  • Conduct structured interviews and create metadata for a digital collection.
  • Reflect on the practice of categorizing information and what that means for how we understand data and primary sources more broadly.

Before class on 8/26: 

  • Read about Dublin Core:
  • Select a personal item to bring to class. Pick something that has some backstory (how/where you got it, what it’s made out of, sentimental meaning)
    • Please don’t bring something precious or deeply personal that is uncomfortable to show others or is in danger of breaking!
  • Open the Google Doc with the set of basic interview questions — this will be the set of questions used in every interview. Save your own copy of the document.
    • Add questions that would likely help gather all the required metadata in the 15 core fields.
    • Draft alternate wording for questions to help interviewees feel comfortable and understand the questions clearly. 

During class 

  • Groups of 3. There will be 3 roles for this assignment: 1 person is the interviewee; 1 person is the interviewer; 1 person takes notes. Everyone will get a chance in each role. 
  • Using your set of questions, each person will interview someone else in the group about the object they brought. The notetaker records all the answers for the interview. Rotate and repeat the interview until everyone has had a chance to be interviewed.
  • Review your notes. Each person fills out the class Google Form with the metadata for the interview and object for which you were the notetaker as best you can.

Discussion in Small Groups (time allowing)

  • What was it like to interview someone? To be interviewed? What did you notice as the notetaker?
  • How easy was it to translate interview data into object metadata?

Individual Write-up: Due Sunday, 8/30 by 11pm in D2L.

Answer the following questions and save as a Word doc, PDF, or Google Doc. Turn in to the Week 1 Lab assignment. If you share it as a Google Doc link, then please make me an editor.

  • First, review the Google Sheet to see the resulting dataset. What do you notice about how class members entered in their metadata? What differences do you see in how the group filled in metadata? Which fields have more consistent responses? Less consistent? Are there any patterns or themes you can identify?
  • What did you learn about data collection and organization?
  • Thinking about museum collections or datasets created by companies or researchers — What advice would you have for someone responsible for data and metadata gathering and description? What tips would help smooth the process from interviewing a person to creating a dataset

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