The average visitor clicking through an online exhibit or browsing an online collection probably does not care to know where that artifact came from, who took that photo, or when that document was written. However this information is invaluable to anyone hoping to conduct research using the exhibit or collection or learn more about its content. Metadata tells us the who, what, where,when, and how of artifacts, documents, books, and many more resources utilized in exhibits and stored in databases.
The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s online exhibit Time and Navigation: The untold story of getting from here to there apply utilizes metadata for the content of the exhibit. In the Multimedia Gallery each resources has its own page. For every artifact, document, map, photo, and illustration seven categories of metadata are included: caption, type, image date, credit, origin, creator, and call number.
All of the information is unobtrusive and clearly labeled in a column to the left of the image. A direct link to the Smithsonian’s catalog entry, where users can find more complete metadata, is also provided. Users can also add social metadata via social media links at the bottom of each page.
In contrast to the clarity and consistency of the Smithsonian’s exhibit the metadata for the Chicago History Museum’s online exhibit The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory is ambiguous and sporadic. To view the metadata of a specific photo or document the user has to click on the photo, which pops to the center of the screen, and the metadata is then listed underneath the photo without any categories or explanation. Also, not every photo has the same amount of metadata. Some documents have three or four categories while others only have one. The user can also choose to view the resources in list view where the metadata is listed to the right of the photo, but it still lacks categories. Luckily, the call number CHM uses is listed, so users can fill in the missing data using CHM’s online database.
Properly formatting the metadata is just as important as much you include choose to include. For our final project the metadata will be consistent and clearly categorized. It’s more important to have some metadata that is clearly organized and useful and having more information that is confusing and frustrating to users. We will need to decide which categories to use, but including what institution the content came from and its call number will are essential since we have used resources from multiple institutions.