Internship Reflection #6

At this stage in my internship, I’m drawing on what I’ve learned about metadata in the certificate program. When I first encountered this subject in the Fall of 2021, I was incredibly intrigued. Before enrolling at GMU, I spent three years in the collections department of a natural history museum, cataloging objects that were new to the collection and updating or expanding existing object records. Working in that environment, I came to learn how important it was to create highly-detailed records of objects: their condition, their appearance, their location, etc. While I believe this background primed me to better understand and appreciate the topic of metadata in digital humanities, there were certain metadata issues that were new and challenging to me.

The topic of discoverability and the creation of resource discovery metadata has been top of mind for all the members of the HCAC team at RRCHNM. I have had the privilege of sitting in on (and occasionally contributing to) discussions surrounding the question of how to best make the items on the forthcoming Omeka site most discoverable to site users (i.e. the general public – not necessarily scholars or academics). Additionally, the team at the Center has dedicated many hours towards the creation of a metadata resource template in Omeka S (otherwise known as a schema) that would allow for maximum discoverability, but also fit the needs of the diverse collections from the five HBCUs at the center of the project. It’s definitely quite a tall order!

Recently, initial work on the resource template was completed and the schema was rolled out to the five universities. Now, staff at the HBCUs must work to generate metadata for itemsĀ  they have selected to be a part of the HCAC digital history website. Even as this work begins, the metadata schema is not technically “complete.” The RRCHNM team encouraged project staff to reach out with comments and suggestions regarding the resource template; the team at the Center realizes that a single, uniform schema is unable to fit the needs of every single item within one collection, not to mention five collections spanning as many institutions. While this initial template that was rolled out last week was developed based on assessments of the institutions collections, HCAC staff realize that continued conversation and schema development will lead to increased discoverability for every item featured on the site.

With the premiere of this first schema version, I have been tasked with generating metadata for the Papers of Monroe N. Work at Tuskegee University. Thus far, it’s been an interesting experience. For the Digital Public History course I took last spring, I created metadata for a handful of documents that were a part of a larger report that had been generated as part of a Texas Senate and House investigation into the Texas Rangers. I didn’t find it particularly challenging to create metadata for these documents, since they had already been organized for the final legislative report. Working with theĀ  Monroe N. Work collection, however, is more challenging because it requires me to decide which items should be grouped together. It’s a learning experience that I’m very grateful for, since I’m continually working to translate my experience with museum cataloging into tangible metadata skills.

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