Born of Collaboration: The Evolution of Metadata Standards in an Aggregated Environment

  • Jane Darcovich University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Kate Flynn University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Mingyan Li University of Illinois at Chicago
Keywords: metadata, collaboration, data standards, data schemas, workflow


As more libraries adopt digital preservation platforms or contribute material to multi-institutional digital content aggregators, they often find that the metadata originally created for distinct digital collections does not work well in the new environment. The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Library has encountered this problem as well. This case study discusses the successful collaboration between different departments within our university library to improve our metadata for increased usability. We created a cross-departmental Metadata Working Group to develop a new Metadata Guideline, in conjunction with a project to analyze and clean up our legacy metadata. These two projects facilitated needed standardization of our digital collections metadata, and improved coordination of our standards with those of aggregate systems moving forward.

The ability for users to easily find what they are looking for was a key consideration in our metadata improvement efforts. In addition to observing how our metadata appears in aggregated contexts, it was challenging to make our digital materials available to our users due to incomplete metadata. Cross-collection searching is not possible with our current CONTENTdm system, but is an important consideration as we prepare for migration to a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS).

In order to coordinate cleanup of our legacy metadata and provide a clear set of guidelines for new collections, a new set of guidelines, based on existing ones, was developed. Creation of the new guidelines was accomplished in tandem with the review, analysis, and cleanup of our existing collections, an iterative process in which each of these activities contributed to the other. We developed solutions for issues we encountered in the metadata, including inconsistent field labeling and mapping, inconsistent use of standardized vocabularies, and misinterpretation of field usage.

Our new usability-focused metadata workflow, incorporating collaborative participation and workload sharing along with new techniques and documentation, helped improve our overall approach. This collaboration combines library faculty and staff knowledge of metadata standards from our Resource Acquisition and Management Department (RAM), an understanding of the user assessment/experience perspective from our Digital Programs & Services Department (DP&S), and a more content-oriented perspective from our Special Collections Department. The resulting positive impacts include improved communication and workflows, higher quality metadata, and renewed momentum to move forward with digital projects.

Author Biographies

Jane Darcovich, University of Illinois at Chicago

Jane Darcovich is Digital Services Librarian and Liaison Librarian for Architecture and Art at the Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where her varied responsibilities include project management to develop digital image collections. She is a member of her library’s Metadata Working Group and Digital Content Management and Preservation (DCMP) group. Her scholarly interests include improving metadata quality for digital image collections. She received her MA in Art History and MLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Kate Flynn, University of Illinois at Chicago

Kate Flynn is the Digital Programs & Metadata Project Librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Portal Manager for the Chicago Collections Consortium. She previously was a Resident Librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago for Digital Programs & Services. She earned an MSI from the University of Michigan School of Information in 2011, specializing in Preservation of Information and Archives & Records Management. She is most interested in issues around digital preservation, user experience and metadata.

Mingyan Li, University of Illinois at Chicago

Mingyan Li is Metadata Librarian and Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Library. Prior to joining UIC in 2016, she worked for over ten years as a technical services librarian in different settings including a special library, public library, and academic libraries. She received her Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and also holds a Master of Computer and Information Systems from Bradley University. Her scholarly interests focus on developing and accessing metadata workflows and seeking creative approaches for managing metadata.