Talk by M. Feinberg: Making use of interpretive flexibility in metadata implementation – University of Copenhagen

Talk by M. Feinberg: Making use of interpretive flexibility in metadata implementation

Open and free talk/conversation with Melanie Feinberg.

People organize information differently, even when they employ standardized
mechanisms (such as metadata schemas, controlled vocabularies, and detailed
guidelines) for doing so. Theoretical discussions, empirical observations, and
experimental assessments in various domains concur: we should expect interpretive
flexibility to emerge in all data collection activities. Nonetheless, practices associated
with the development of metadata standards, the generation of data according to these
standards, and the aggregation of standards-compliant datasets continue to view
interpretive flexibility as a solvable problem. In this talk, I examine the persistent
dissonance between evidence (that interpretive flexibility is inevitable) and practice
(which continues to “aim for” semantic interoperability based on consistent application
of standards). I use findings from a critical design study to locate this dissonance within
particular values associated with notions of user-centered information access. To address
this situation, I contend that, if we hope to curate, aggregate, and use datasets
responsibly and well, we need to better understand the kinds of interpretive differences that appear even when metadata standards are employed. Further, I suggest that
interpretive flexibility in metadata implementation also has utility, albeit a form of utility
associated with a different set of design values. I illustrate this with a set of examples
from an experimental dataset of videogame metadata, where creators of metadata
records applied a standardized schema and associated controlled vocabularies to
describe a set of common games. Analysis of these examples demonstrates how useful
evidence emerges from the metadata creators’ creative, flexible interpretations of
metadata standards.

Melanie Feinberg is an associate professor at the School of
Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Melanie is a classificationist: she studies the design of systems for organizing information. Her research approach blends information studies, the humanities, and human-computer interaction.