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#DIG510 Metadata Systems Syllabus v2.3 - John Bell

UMaine Digital Curation program

Course Description

This course covers digital formats for describing the contents and contexts of artifacts with an emphasis on their use in libraries, archives, and online repositories. This includes a discussion on the need for and use of metadata in a variety of digital contexts, exposure to specific metadata standards used in a number of fields, and demonstrations of how these metadata are expressed in several output formats.

Course Goals

Upon completing the course, students will have:

  1. Been shown to the operating principles of and motivations for creating descriptive metadata as part of an artifact’s archival or cataloging process.
  2. Seen how humans and computers apply metadata to solve a variety of research and discovery tasks.
  3. Selected and used a metadata standard appropriate to the material they choose to describe in an archive.

Required Materials

The Discipline of Organizing: Professional Edition, Ed. By Robert Glushko. 4th Edition. Available as an eBook only–make sure you're using the 4th edition. There are several options access options available:

  • You can use O'Reilly Safari to read the book online. The University of Maine subscribes to this service, so reading the text through Safari is free. Depending on how you want to read, though, it may not be the most convenient format since it's difficult to read on devices and the web formatting is a bit odd. You can try it out by:

    • Going to the UMaine Library site
    • Hitting "Safari Books Online"
    • Entering your credentials
    • Typing the name of the book in the search box (make sure you use 4th edition)
    • If you have trouble getting in, please call or chat with a librarian. Contact info is at
  • You can purchase a DRM-free epub from

  • TDO 4th Edition is also available from iTunes and the Google Play Store

Useful References

Course Site

The course will be held on Slack, an increasingly popular player in the online collaboration tool arena. We will be using, evaluating, and experimenting with this environment throughout the semester. Slack conversations take place in topical channels where messages are streamed in chronological order; the channels we will be using are:

  • discussion - where the majority of the class takes place, by which I mean your interaction with the instructor and other students. Your assignments will be submitted here as well, which means that a) other students can see them and b) other students can discuss what you’ve said. This is a good thing! Discussion is an opportunity for learning, which everyone in the class is there to do. Remember, if everyone was an expert who did the assignment perfectly the first time there would be no point in taking the class.
  • reference - where I will be posting videos, reading materials, and assignments. There is nothing stopping other people from posting here, but if you do so please make sure it is a useful reference link. Responses, questions, and assignments should be posted to #discussion.
  • general - the first thing you usually see when you log in to Slack, it will be used for high level announcements.
  • random - everything else you might want to talk to the class about.

Course Flow

The course will consist of a series of video lectures, readings, and associated assignments broken up into topics. The length of the topics will vary; many will be one week long, but in some cases they may extend beyond that. I will generally post new material during the work week and have your assignments due the next week, giving you at least one full weekend and some week nights to work on it. For each topic you will be expected to:

  • Watch all of the lectures and tutorials listed in the topic’s introduction and read any assigned material.
  • Submit the assignment to your discussion channel or other location that I specify.
  • Participate in the ongoing discussions on the course web site. It cannot be emphasized enough how important this is to successfully taking an online-only course. A significant part of what you get from the class will come in talking and listening to other students and the instructors as they discuss their own take on the material.

Attendance Policy

Attendance in an asynchronous online course is a somewhat nebulous concept. While it is expected that you will accomplish all of the tasks by their assigned deadlines, participation in the class' online discussion is also critical to your success in the class and the frequency and depth of your interactions with other students and the instructor will be considered part of your “attendance” and thus part of your grade. If you for any reason think you may have an issue, either on a specific day/week or overall, talk to me! It is much easier to make accommodations ahead of time than after the fact.

University Policies

Academic Honesty Statement:

Academic honesty is very important. It is dishonest to cheat on exams, to copy term papers, to submit papers written by another person, to fake experimental results, or to copy or reword parts of books or articles into your own papers without appropriately citing the source. Students committing or aiding in any of these violations may be given failing grades for an assignment or for an entire course, at the discretion of the instructor. In addition to any academic action taken by an instructor, these violations are also subject to action under the University of Maine Student Conduct Code. The maximum possible sanction under the student conduct code is dismissal from the University.

Students Accessibility Services Statement:

If you have a disability for which you may be requesting an accommodation, please contact Student Accessibility Services, 121 East Annex, 581.2319, as early as possible in the term. Students who have already been approved for accommodations by SAS and have a current accommodation letter should contact me privately as soon as possible.

Course Schedule Disclaimer (Disruption Clause):

In the event of an extended disruption of normal classroom activities, the format for this course may be modified to enable its completion within its programmed time frame. In that event, you will be provided an addendum to the syllabus that will supersede this version.

Observance of Religious Holidays/Events:

The University of Maine recognizes that when students are observing significant religious holidays, some may be unable to attend classes or labs, study, take tests, or work on other assignments. If they provide adequate notice (at least one week and longer if at all possible), these students are allowed to make up course requirements as long as this effort does not create an unreasonable burden upon the instructor, department or University. At the discretion of the instructor, such coursework could be due before or after the examination or assignment. No adverse or prejudicial effects shall result to a student’s grade for the examination, study, or course requirement on the day of religious observance. The student shall not be marked absent from the class due to observing a significant religious holiday. In the case of an internship or clinical, students should refer to the applicable policy in place by the employer or site.

Sexual Discrimination Reporting:

The University of Maine is committed to making campus a safe place for students. Because of this commitment, if you tell a teacher about an experience of sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, relationship abuse (dating violence and domestic violence), sexual misconduct or any form of gender discrimination involving members of the campus, your teacher is required to report this information to the campus Office of Sexual Assault & Violence Prevention or the Office of Equal Opportunity.

If you want to talk in confidence to someone about an experience of sexual discrimination, please contact these resources:

  • For confidential resources on campus: Counseling Center: 207-581-1392 or Cutler Health Center: at 207-581-4000.
  • For confidential resources off campus: Rape Response Services: 1-800-871-7741 or Partners for Peace: 1-800-863-9909.
  • Other resources: The resources listed below can offer support but may have to report the incident to others who can help:
    • For support services on campus: Office of Sexual Assault & Violence Prevention: 207-581-1406
    • Office of Community Standards: 207-581-1409
    • University of Maine Police: 207-581-4040 or 911.
    • See the OSAVP website for a complete list of services at


If the only time you post a message is when you're turning in an assignment then you will have little opportunity to display your understanding of the ideas being discussed and we will not have much information to use when evaluating your success in the class. Ask questions, throw in comments, and generally add to the discussion as much as possible, particularly if you think you missed something or you have a stupid question. Odds are other people are as confused as you are.

As with all classes, it is expected that you will treat others with respect. If you are repeatedly abusive toward your classmates you will be moderated out of the conversation and it will be considered an absence for purposes of the attendance policy.


With the exception of the final project, grading for your assignments is weighted equally across each week of the class. Your final project will count as 1/3 of your grade, as it largely occupies the final 1/3 of the semester.

Participation is a significant part of your grade. The more you add thoughtful, insightful comments to the discussion the more both you and other students will benefit. Questions are always welcome and should be asked publicly so that everybody can see the answer unless there is a very good reason to ask privately. In many cases you will be expected to look at and critique other students’ work as an absolute minimum level of participation.

This is a graduate level course and you are expected to perform accordingly. Meeting the requirements in an average manner will result in a "C" as the final grade. Better than average effort and execution will result in a "B". An "A" is reserved for those students who demonstrate exceptional creative development, application, innovation, effort, and an in-depth understanding of process. Under normal circumstances a C or lower grade cannot be used as a graduate student to count towards completion of your certificate. Failure to complete any of the required components of your grade with an average or better effort will result in a "D" or an "F" as your final grade.

This course is designed to be completely asynchronous so there are no specific times for meeting with other students or the instructor. Instead, interaction will take place via email and direct messages on Slack, where you will also be submitting assignments and giving feedback to other students.

There will also be a significant final project associated with completing this class. Since this project is larger in scope than your normal assignments, it will be split across several weeks near the end of the semester.


Unit 1: Defining Metadata

In many contexts metadata is considered an afterthought–when it is thought of at all–and either ignored completely or taken to be an inherent property of an object that is not worth enumerating. For archivists, librarians, and programmers, it is a critical tool used on a daily basis. This unit describes various types and structures of metadata and why the differences are important, as well as exploring the variety of ways metadata is used in different contexts.

Unit 2: Developing Metadata

Creating metadata is about more than just describing an object; it also requires understanding how the metadata will be used and putting yourself in the shoes of the person (or machine) that is going to use it. When choosing what type of metadata to produce for an artifact it is important to consider all the ways it will be used. This unit describes the patterns people and machines use to connect metadata dots and how those patterns influence what metadata should be recorded about an artifact.

Unit 3: Using Metadata

Metadata does not exist in a vacuum, or it at least isn’t very useful in one. This unit describes how metadata is input, searched, and represented.

Unit 4: Standards and Formats

Different artifacts, fields, and perspectives necessitate a variety of metadata standards that both share some common characteristics and have a schema all their own. This unit discusses how to find and evaluate industry-specific formats that can be applied to artifacts in your areas of interest.

Unit 5: Metadata in the Wild

The final unit will take on the larger questions of using metadata in the real world, including how networks influence metadata creation and use, what to do when different types of metadata collide, and the ethics of metadata creation. It also serves as the launching point for the course’s final project.


Topic do not map directly to specific class sessions or dates in this asychronous course, but topics are presented in roughly this order:

Unit 1–Defining Metadata

  • What are metadata?
  • Goals of metadata (Why use metadata?)
  • Types of metadata
  • Metadata networks
  • Data modeling
  • Medium and message: how metadata storage influences design

Unit 2–Developing Metadata

  • Finding significance
  • Metadata usefulness (human and machine)
  • Discussion of projects that would benefit from metadata
  • Algorithmic representation and processing
  • Encoding and implied metadata for humans

Unit 3–Using Metadata

  • Case studies
  • Use cases
  • Introduction to specifications; their purposes, creators and audiences
  • Standards and non-standards

Unit 4–Standards and Formats

  • Application appropriateness
  • Hierarchies, taxonomies, and ontologies
  • Networks, common uses, accessing metadata
  • Data fields, values, vocabulary
  • Formats and expressions for specific fields
  • Workplace realities
  • Functional formats
  • Evaluating metadata success
  • Preservation metadata

Unit 5–Metadata in the Wild

  • Crosswalks and wraps
  • How can I use other people’s metadata?
  • How can I create metadata that can be used by others?
  • Metadata ethics

Final written project


Syllabus and resources for the DIG510 - Metadata Systems course in the Digital Curation program at the University of Maine






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