At the moment I am looking at the choices that are made about metadata in oral history archives. I work with the Cork Folklore Project, and the metadata schema chosen for our catalogue is Dublin Core. Other oral history archives also mention their use for Dublin Core (for example Hunter and James 2000 use Dublin Core for collection level description). On the other hand, occasionally, we also hear oral history projects (or libraries and archives) talk about other metadata schemas. Then there are little moments of panic: have we chosen the right schema?
There appear to be lots of different metadata options to choose from (see the JISC Guide, An Introduction to Metadata, JISC n.d.). Why so many? And what, exactly, is metadata anyway? (The frequently used “data about data” is not self-explanatory to the novice.) Looking specifically at digital audio, the IASA (International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives) describes metadata as “structured data that provides intelligence in support of more efficient operations on resources” and “vital to the understanding coherence and successful functioning of each and every encounter with the archived object at any point in its lifecycle and with any objects associated with or derived from it” (IASA 2009). Metadata is like the kind of catalogue information that is collected about resources in libraries, archives and museums. When dealing with digital resources it is fundamental; it describes the item and provides structured information about its creation, technical specifications and content.
No matter what metadata standard is used, the key is to pay attention to qualities such as versatility (able to ingest material from a number of different sources), extensibility (allowing for extensions to be developed), sustainability (ability to migrate to new systems) and granularity (metadata must be sufficiently granular for all intended uses) (IASA 2009). Once the key qualities are maintained the IASA recommends that future migrations and/or translations “will not require substantial changes to the underlying infrastructure”. Several crosswalks already exist for Dublin Core, the metadata system chosen by the Cork Folklore Project. This suggests that the standard we use is a good one. It is certainly widely used and supported by an active organisation (the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative). So the key to ensuring that your metadata will last (and remain valid for your digital resource, aside from ensuring that it is structured in a manner that meets your needs, is to use a standard that lots of other use, that has widespread support, and one where crosswalks to other standards already exist.
Update 17 November 2014: I’ve done a subsequent post about metadata (“More metadata“) that covers some of this ground, and expands on the idea of metadata.
Hunter, J., & James, D. (2000). The application of an event-aware metadata model to an online oral history archive. In Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries (pp. 291-304). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv.php?pid=UQ:7842&dsID=paper.html
IASA Technical Committee. (2009). Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects (web edition) (No. IASA_TC 04). Retrieved from http://www.iasa-web.org/tc04/audio-preservation
JISC. (n.d.). Putting things in order: a dictionary of metadata schemas and related standards [Guide]. Retrieved October 14, 2014, from http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/guide/putting-things-in-order-links-to-metadata-schemas-and-related-standards