searching for images

What makes a good metadata schema and how do you know if you’ve got one?  

No formula exists today for answering this question in quantifiable terms — it requires evaluation and reflection on the part of the organization. 

Taxonomy and metadata schema design can be hotly contested topics when you get into the weeds of designing and implementing one — especially when there are differing opinions on the best way to search and find digital assets. Additionally, when an organization lacks operational definitions for terms which may become metadata fields, the battle can get even tougher. 

But this is a battle worth having, because effective metadata schema design and implementation can mean the difference between adoption or rejection of digital systems housing important assets for an organization. And when an organization has invested hundreds of thousands — or millions — of dollars in a digital system, the schema should be vetted to the extreme by experts and the business users of the system.   

Creating a metadata schema is not a one time task. You will have to reassess it and change it as business needs evolve for it to remain relevant.  

The initial phases of metadata schema development are an important time where an organization is sometimes starting from scratch, sometimes re-evaluating an existing schema, and sometimes relying on an outside consultant to help make sense of “all this stuff.” Content audit is a good place to start, or even re-start when defining or refining a metadata schema. What digital content exists for the organization? What is worthy of cataloging in the sea of petabytes? 

Five Metadata Schema Steps 

These five general steps can be used to help guide creation, evaluation or re-evaluation of a schema: 

  1. Asset Appraisal and Content Audit
  2. Schema Development and Refinement
  3. Quality Control
  4. Curation
  5. Use the Metadata Schema Evaluation Tool 

Asset Appraisal and Content Audit

Asset appraisal and content audit includes the auditing of digital content, preferably with relevant stakeholders who are subject matter experts for insight into business-specific nomenclature. A digital asset appraisal analysis questionnaire can be found here. This tool is an adaption of the International Council on Archives, "Digital Records Pathways: Topics in Digital Preservation, Module 5: From ad hoc to Governed - Appraisal Strategies for Gaining Control of Records in Network Drives."

Schema Development and Refinement

Schema Development and refinement is the stage in which the schema is being created and edited. Creation of application profiles and reuse of existing standards (integration of standards ranging from cultural heritage sector to private sector schemas per Jenn Riley’s Metadata Universe) are good starting places to familiarize yourself with different types of schemas.  

Quality Control

Auditing your metadata schema for quality can include things like creating and curating a metadata dictionary or thesaurus, testing the schema for accuracy and relevance to examine things like data field types and application of controlled values. 

Curation

Curate your schema over time, because a schema is never done. You may get sign-off on initial drafts, but as noted above, you should revisit the schema as business needs evolve and organizations grow.  

The Metadata Schema Evaluation Tool 

If you can’t find digital assets, you can’t use digital assets. If you can’t use digital assets,  you can’t re-use digital assets. And if you don’t know the maturity of your organization’s metadata schema, you can’t improve it.  

The Metadata Schema Evaluation Tool was designed to help you think critically about your metadata schema, identify areas for improvement and evaluate its maturity. 

Ready to find out where your metadata schema stands?  Use the Metadata Schema Evaluation Tool online or follow the instructions below.  

Appraisal of Metadata Schema 

1. Rate Your Standardization & Documentation 

(Chaotic = 0 points, Early Stages of Development = 10 points, Developed = 15 points, Mature and Future-Oriented = 25 points) 

How well is the schema or implementation of the schema standardized and documented? Which/How Many of the following are utilized for documenting the schema: metadata dictionary, controlled vocabulary, thesaurus, etc? 

2. Rate Your Data Maturity 

(Chaotic = 0 points, Early Stages of Development = 10 points, Developed = 15 points, Mature and Future-Oriented = 25 points) 

How mature and how robust is the schema or implementation of the schema in regards to the usage of different types of metadata (e.g., descriptive, administrative, structural, embedded metadata such as XMP, IPTC, Dublin Core, sidecar metadata, relationships between data field such as parent, child and sibling)? 

3. Rate Your Translations and Global Application 

(Chaotic = 0 points, Early Stages of Development = 10 points, Developed = 15 points, Mature and Future-Oriented = 25 points) 

How well is the schema or implementation of the schema adapted for translations, nomenclatures and global applications? Tip: Evaluate differences related to language, geography, culture/sub-culture specific nomenclatures, organizational or domain-specific nomenclatures.

4.Rate Your Search

(Chaotic = 0 points, Early Stages of Development = 10 points, Developed = 15 points, Mature and Future-Oriented = 25 points) 

How well does the schema or implementation of the schema facilitate the various types of search such as faceted search, serendipitous browsing, semantic search, known-item search?

5. Rate Your User Search Behavior and Needs 

(Chaotic = 0 points, Early Stages of Development = 10 points, Developed = 15 points, Mature and Future-Oriented = 25 points) 

How well does the schema or implementation of the schema facilitate user search behavior and needs pertaining to items such as the following: inspiration, content reuse or creation, findability of assets (user experience and ease of use), fact-checking?

6. Rate Your Database Design 

(Chaotic = 0 points, Early Stages of Development = 10 points, Developed = 15 points, Mature and Future-Oriented = 25 points) 

How logical is the schema or implementation of the schema in terms of database design best practices (if applied to a technology system)? 

7. Rate Your Permission and Access 

(Chaotic = 0 points, Early Stages of Development = 10 points, Developed = 15 points, Mature and Future-Oriented = 25 points) 

How robust is the defined schema or implementation of the schema in terms of permissions and access control for what parts of the schema are accessible to the end user? (Tip: Think of things such as rights management and ability to limit visibility of content to end-users.)

8. Rate Your End User Satisfaction 

(Chaotic = 0 points, Early Stages of Development = 10 points, Developed = 15 points, Mature and Future-Oriented = 25 points) 

How robust is the defined schema or implementation of the schema in terms of user-satisfaction? Tip: Have you conducted surveys, focus groups or trainings? 

metadata schema evaluation tool

Title image by Dai KE