Reflection on this weeks reading: standards, and the tension between different “audiences”

Reading the article “Metadata for All: Descriptive Standards and Metadata Sharing across Libraries, Archives and Museums prompted me to reflect more broadly on what we have read and discussed about the need, as our readings for last week discussed, to know your audience.  I come at this issue from a several perspectives, as someone who both works/has worked and researches in the museums libraries and archives I can fully appreciate why these respective institutions have developed a “rich toolset of descriptive particulars which are uniquely adapted to the particular material type.”  Each institutions must develop standards and criteria that speak to audiences that are at once overlapping and distinct.  Museum collection sites and libraries face the challenge of creating standards that will probably need to serve the broader public, and thus their criteria must take into account that keywords that occur to a librarian may not occur to someone from the general public.  Archives have something of different problem in that they may be visited less by the general public and more by historians who might possess the historical vocabulary to get creative with their searches, but who can possess the technical acumen (myself included) of a fruit fly.

As a result the question really becomes how to balance the practical everyday need of the staff who rely on the standards to effectively do their jobs, maintain their sites, and provide (relatively) easy access to the collections that comprise an essential part of the foundation for the historical discipline.  Conversely, as was pointed out in the article, the very missions of places like museums have a responsibility to engage the public, and a great part of that involves making collections accessible and providing adequate descriptions for searchable collections so that the general public who falls into their site “through a window” as Dr. Leon phrased it, can at least land on their feet.  The ultimate question then, is what constitutes the appropriate balance?  It would seem from the article that since each set of institutions is developing standards independently of one another that this would allow a fair amount of discretion and flexibility, on the other hand, it is also a reminder to keep your audience in mind as these standards continue to evolve.  Perhaps some of the guidelines set forth in “Educating the Client on IA” would be suitable to remember and apply rigorously in this situation, continual communication among the site staff and the technical staff (assuming the two are separate, but recognizing that might not be the case) would hopefully provide a constant reminder of all the audiences who will interact and rely on these standards.

Would anyone else from class care to agree, disagree, or expand upon my thoughts?

More thoughts coming on the rest of the readings tomorrow.

Notes:

http://firstmonday.org/article/view/1628/1543

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Reflection on this weeks reading: standards, and the tension between different “audiences”

  1. Your comments about meeting the needs of your audience do raise questions about defining the audience. In your museum setting, do you gather information on the visitors or make predictions about potential visitors? Is there a criteria for the history-minded vs casual visitor who just happened to stop by? Does your site have a mission defined by age groups, education levels, place of origin, or other distinctions? What does it mean to “educate the public” and do you use the metadata standards to identify the markers that have become standard as an indication of what people are looking for when they visit your physical site or the web site? Here is where computer technology seems to have the edge. Most physical sites may have a guest book to sign to gain some information about groupings of visitors (family or single visitors) or place of origin, but otherwise, how do you learn about your “public”? Can web sites be designed to glean other forms of information about site visitors? And if so, how is this information used? and what are the assumptions of privacy (or is this yet one more issue to discuss?) Thanks for explaining how your museum site works, because I am beginning to see how knowledge of one form of information spot (a physical location / building / archive) influences other forms of information (digital locations).

  2. Developing proper keywords/metadata for a collection can be very problematic when you consider who your audience is or your average user may be. In my current position at Alexander Street Press I have to set keywords for Civil War images and ephemera and those keywords can become quiet tricky. Most users of ASP databases are students on the secondary and undergraduate level who are probably not highly aware of specific terms and ideas employed by historians. For some images it is very easy to decide what keywords should be attached, for others it can become quiet mind boggling. Also (and I may have mentioned this last week) I know that the Mariner’s Museum allows social tagging on their website. Because many of their area of focus utilizes a highly specialized vocabulary (oh the joys of jargon), a lay person probably will not conceive of the same keyword as a specialist. By allowing social tagging not only do they allow average users to augment the vocabularies of specialist, but they also make the curatorial process more interactive (oh the joys of web 2.0).

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