DigiCULT ERT, Stockholm, June 14, 2001)
As a consequence, to reach agreement on metadata standards in a collaborative process is an
important first step to providing integrated, seamless access across sectoral borders.
A key to integrated access: standards
The biggest obstacle to providing seamless access at the institutional level, across sectors,
is a lack of commonly shared metadata standards. For users to be able to search the different
databases in archives, libraries and museums directly, all cultural institutions would need to
describe their cultural objects homogeneously, using the same kind of metadata standards.
The fact is, however, that cultural heritage institutions not only use a multitude of different
standards, but in many cases they do not use any standards at all but still work with their
own "native" data.
Compliance with standards for object description is the first step to achieve integrated,
cross-sector search.This implies:
reaching agreement across the cultural sector, on a minimum set of standards to
facilitate cross-sector search,
and enabling and empowering cultural heritage institutions, and in particular small
organisations, to monitor and keep track of recent standards developments in order
to make informed decisions.
Standards what they are and why they are needed
Standards are agreed-upon guidelines that help cultural heritage institutions to document
their collections according to a commonly shared model. Following certain rules on how to
structure information, standards help to create systems where "data can be reliably read,
sorted, indexed, retrieved, and communicated between systems" (Bower, Roberts, 1995)
The benefits for cultural heritage institutions using standards are compelling:
protection of the long-term value of data by permitting data to be
formatted and stored to easier export them to other systems,
sharing of information,
re-purposing of information,
improve of data retrieval,
and, make it easier to determine the requirements for training
capable and effective staff.
Standards exist at various levels and with different binding nature, as shown in the
following three-dimensional matrix originally developed by David Bearman and further
elaborated by the Working Group on Standards for Archival Description (WGSAD).
The explanation of the matrix closely follows the description in the handbook published
by the Society of American Archivists (1994).
The three dimensions of the matrix refer to:
the relative strength of the standard, i.e. its rigidity with regard to standard
the primary developer of the standard, i.e. referring to the fact that many standards
used in the cultural heritage sector have been developed outside the field,
and, the level of description to which the standard applies, which ideally, should
progress downwards from the most general to the most specific operational level.