The Experience of Good Metadata
Linking metadata to research impacts
When Roger Schonfeld codified the “stumbling blocks” experienced by users of online academic resources, those of us managing the channels of scholarly content search and retrieval pinned blame squarely on the underlying metadata — but which data points exactly? Was it something in the DOI record? An error in the full-text markup? A mismatch between either of those metadata assets and the link resolver? It is nearly impossible to determine which metadata was at fault for undermining research experiences, or who owned its remediation, especially without a complete view of the ecosystem.
When we peel back the layers of metadata construction and transmission to examine points of friction in the research workflow, we get a glimpse into the messy supply chain of publishers, libraries and service providers. Together, this network of stakeholders and experts manage high-volume pipelines of bibliographic data, persistent identifiers, controlled vocabularies and terabytes of XML, KBART and MARC files that surround digital scholarly outputs. When you closely examine instances of poor user experience, like a broken link in a paper’s cited references, multiple pieces of information could be to blame. A previously correct URL can be rendered useless if content switches domains, such as during a platform migration or rebranding. In aggregator platforms, like JSTOR, SCOPUS or ProQuest, if the publication date or page numbers are incorrect for a journal article, an open URL link can fail and send users to the platform homepage and not the article — or produce a 404-error message.
Cases like this have led to uneven progress toward meaningful changes in metadata that produce measurable benefits to researchers, students, faculty and librarians. While proof of metadata’s impact on end-users may lurk in proprietary data, such as the 90 percent discoverability increase found by investment in semantic technology, we lack a shared framework to measure our collective returns on metadata maintenance and enrichment.
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