MEMAT Metadata App Enables Remote Capture of Metadata

It’s been a long time coming, but it is finally here – the MEMAT Metadata App. We wanted to develop an online metadata application that could allow us to draw on experts all over South Africa and indeed, all over the World, to capture of metadata against digital files. The MEMAT Metadata App, which has been built into MEMAT 4, is a game-changer for the capture of metadata for digital archives.

Logged in as an Administrator on the Metadata App, a metadata administrator can browse the structure of an archive, select a portion of the archive, perhaps a series or box or folder, and hand that material to a metadata capturer or a subject expert.

If you don’t know what metadata is, you are not alone. It tends to inhabit the techie world of programmers and digital archivists. In a nutshell, though, metadata is “information about information.” Take a photograph, for instance, a caption or keywords that allow the photograph to be searched for, are examples of metadata. When your digital camera records the shutter speed and the f-stop you used to capture a shot, that is also metadata.

When logged in as a metadata capturer to the Metadata App, a subject expert doing the capture can see the material that has been assigned to them and then click on an item or several items at a time and associate information with the selected file or files.

Metadata, then, is information that allows one to access and categorise other information. And it tends to be captured in an ordered way using “fields” that are part of agreed standards. Such standards mean that the metadata can be shared with others using the same standard. When we were developing the MEMAT Metadata App, we knew it had to use standards used all over the World. The problem is, there are so many, and there are fields in different standards (called schemas) that overlap with one another. So when we first started to develop the App in about 2008, we used the concept of cross-matching fields where we could map different fields across different schemas so if, for instance, you capture the Title of an image in one schema it will automatically be added to the Title field in another schema.

Once a file or several files are selected, the metadata capturer can add metadata against the file using a number of metadata schemas including IPTC, IPTC Extended and Dublin Core. For science collections Darwin Core has been built in and there are plans to build in a number of other schemas including VRA and ISAD(G).

That early App was developed as a desktop application because the internet was just not up to capturing metadata online. That had some real weaknesses, one being that every time we wanted to take on a new metadata capturer, we had to find a way of installing the App on their desktop computer that needed to have a particular operating system etc. etc. So when we began to revisit the development of the App about four years ago, we knew we wanted to create an online app that could run in an internet browser like Chrome or Firefox. If we could develop an online metadata capture app that was fast enough and that could access the original files, allowing the capturers to get enough of a view of the content, then we knew that would be a real game-changer in terms of getting the right people interacting with the right collections. The expert could be anywhere in the World and as long as they had a good internet connection, they could add metadata to the digitised or born-digital files.

Common fields in various schemas have been cross-mapped enabling one to fill in the metadata in one of those fields and it will automatically appear in the equivalent field in another schema.

It’s taken us four years and a very significant investment to make that vision a reality, but we are finally there. The App allows administrators to hand out work to specific metadata capturers and then to quality control their work before approving it. It is developed in such a way that we could have literally hundreds of capturers working on a large project at once and, as long as we had sufficient administrators, we could manage the project well. And that is precisely what we have built it for. The first project we are using the App on is the ANC Archives Metadata Project where we are working with the Digitise Africa Trust’s “Metadata for Africa” community to add metadata to hundreds of thousands of images, manuscripts and other digital files. To get through that work in time we are going to grow that community substantially. Now, however, it is possible to draw on retired archivists in Cape Town or masters students at a university in Nairobi or New York.

The IIIF enabled viewer is available to metadata capturers so that they can zoom in or, it was a document, search media files.

We have significant plans for the App in terms of adding capabilities to not only add metadata at the item level, but at a more granular level such as editing the OCR text of a typed document page or transcribing a hand-written page, or adding metadata at points on the timeline of a video file or an audio file.