THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

12 April 2019

The British Library’s new Collection Metadata Strategy

“Our vision is that by 2023 the Library’s collection metadata assets will be unified on a single, sustainable, standards-based infrastructure offering improved options for access, collaboration and open reuse”

Foundations for the Future
Fig. 1: The front cover of the new Collection Metadata Strategy 2019-2023

April 2019 sees the launch of the British Library’s latest Collection Metadata Strategy Foundations for the Future .

Metadata word cloud
Fig. 2: A collection metadata tag cloud

‘Collection metadata’ is an umbrella term for structured data capturing the key properties, relationships and holdings supporting collection management. The British Library’s collection metadata evolved from simple inventory lists to encompass all information required to access, preserve and coordinate resources. Efficient exploitation of metadata underpins user services in a networked world. It is therefore a key resource requiring dedicated management to maximise its potential. 

Unlocking the Value
Fig. 3: The front cover of the original Collection Metadata Strategy 2015-2018

The British Library formally acknowledged metadata’s importance in 2015 with the publication of its first collection metadata strategy. Unlocking the Value described the foundational principles required to manage metadata as an asset in its own right rather than as a by-product of other activities. This concept proved influential for other national and state libraries with several developing similar strategies. The first strategy period saw great progress in centralising management and support of metadata policy and best practice but also included other notable achievements, including creation of:

  • Automated workflows to upgrade publisher eBook metadata to library standards with minimal intervention
  • Software tools to convert print catalogues to contemporary metadata formats and to automatically enhance over 1 million older catalogue records
  • Open metadata services used by over 2150 institutions in 127 countries
Heatmap
Fig. 4: British Library open metadata users by country – 2019

‘Foundations for the Future’ will build on such achievements to ensure collection metadata becomes even more accessible, relevant and useful by addressing key challenges and new opportunities including:

Increasing Volume and Complexity -Traditional methods of metadata generation, management and dissemination are not scalable or appropriate to an era of rapid digital change, rising expectations and diminishing resources.

New Metadata Creation Options -The changing information landscape presents many new opportunities. Open web resources, automated metadata generation from full text and crowdsourcing offer interesting possibilities requiring exploration.

Improving Visibility - If collection metadata is unavailable, the resources described are effectively invisible. A programme of metadata creation is required to improve visibility of any ‘hidden’ content and enable use.

Metadata users
Fig 5: Users of British Library Collection Metadata

Rights Management – To manage increasingly diverse and dynamic options for hybrid print/digital and local/remote access to content, we must create an equally sophisticated rights metadata infrastructure.

Preservation Metadata – The long-term future of digital collections can only be secured by good preservation metadata. Only by accurately recording key content properties to recognised metadata standards will it be possible to offer current digital content to future users.

Unifying Infrastructure – Collection metadata’s potential is constrained by the requirement to address contemporary challenges with outdated systems, standards and practices. The new strategy proposes the creation of an integrated standards and systems infrastructure capable of unifying and presenting collection metadata in a way unachievable since the British Library’s foundation.

Metadata roadmap
Fig. 6: The Collection Metadata Strategy Roadmap, 2019-2023

A summary roadmap has been created to show the steps planned to address these challenges and ensure that by 2023:

  • The complexity of the British Library’s collection metadata infrastructure will be reduced by convergence on an agreed set of supported standards and systems
  • The unified collection metadata infrastructure will offer new access and processing options enabling improved user services
  • Efficient, sustainable collection metadata workflows will match the increasing scale and complexity of collection content via implementation of new techniques for record creation and exploitation of external data sources

Through the achievement of these goals ‘Foundations for the Future’ will ensure The British Library’s collection metadata will complete its evolution from passive descriptor to active agent, supporting sustainable and relevant services to new generations.

This is a guest post by Neil Wilson, Head of Collection Metadata at the British Library.