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April 30, 2007

JISC CETIS Metadata SIG, Manchester

A bit slow off the mark again here, but I spent the Monday before last at a meeting of the JISC CETIS Metadata & Digital Repositories Special Interest Group in Manchester. The focus of the meeting was Dublin Core, and I gave a presentation on the recently circulated version of the DCMI Abstract Model (slides).

I was slightly apprehensive as to how the presentation would go down, in part because I was first up (on a Monday morning...) and I was plunging straight into a topic which almost by definition is somewhat, well, "abstract", and in part because it was my first attempt to present this version of the DCAM. As it turned out, I think it was OK. I concluded with a couple of slides where I attempted to summarise how I think we ("the DC community") need to reframe how we present "what Dublin Core is (and isn't)". I suggested that the focus is moving away from the notion of DC as a (more or less fixed) "set of terms", and particularly away from that of DC as "15 elements", and towards an emphasis on the idea that the DCAM provides a framework for the construction of sets of resource descriptions of arbitrary complexity which can reference whatever metadata terms are required to meet the requirements of the particular application; those sets of descriptions can be represented/encoded using a range of digital formats; and the approach is compatible with the approaches underpinning the Semantic Web. I think that view is broadly consistent with the perspectives given by Tom Baker in his opening presentations to the last two Dublin Core conferences. 

I found it very helpful that directly after my presentation, Julie Allinson from UKOLN described (slides) the work on the ePrints DC Application Profile for describing scholarly works. I think Julie succeeded in making rather more concrete some of the issues that I had addressed in a rather general way, by illustrating very clearly how they were applied to a specific problem (and it meant that I could keep saying, "That point might be a bit clearer after you've heard from Julie"!) Julie's presentation was well-received, I think, and a couple of people came to chat to us later about the possibilities of applying this profile (or a similar profile based on a FRBR-derived model) to other types of documents for which similar requirements had been identified.

I also gave a (very!) brief report (slides) on the work of the DCMI/IEEE LTSC Task Force, which is seeking to facilitate interoperability between systems working with the IEEE Learning Object Metadata standard and systems working with Dublin Core by developing a mapping of the IEEE LOM standard to a set of terms that can be used in DC metadata. Essentially the initiative is developing a DC application profile which supports the representation of the same information as is expressed in a LOM instance, and providing a mapping from the LOM standard to that profile. There hasn't been much activity from the Task Force recently, in large part because the work had reached a point where some decisions were dependent on decisions about the domains and ranges of DCMI properties (see also Andy's comments) and on updates to the DCAM itself. But I think we are close to a point where the answers to many of those questions are rather clearer and we can start to pick up the LOM-DC work in the Task Force.

After lunch, Rosemary Russell from UKOLN introduced the work of the UK DCMI Affiliate. The DCMI Affiliate programme creates national or regional agencies which have a mediating role between DCMI and DC implementers in the countries or regions they represent. Affiliates act rather like two-way channels, disseminating up-to-date information from DCMI to the "local constituencies" (and maybe supplementing or contextualising that information - for example, through the provision of translations of key documents) and feeding "local" responses and requirements back from those constituencies to DCMI (Affiliates have representation on the DCMI Board of Trustees). Although the UK DCMI Affiliate is funded jointly by JISC and MLA, with UKOLN acting as "managing agent", the intention is that it should represent the broader communities of DC implementers in the UK. I think Rosemary was hoping for some feedback on what sort of activity might be useful, but during the meeting we struggled to come up with very concrete suggestions! A couple of possibilities which occurred to me later (the former perhaps more concrete and realisable, the latter perhaps more tentative!):

  • The development of a set of modular "tutorial"-style resources for DC implementers, based firmly on the DCAM and presented in a consistent "style" (consistent use of terminology, but also reuse of graphics etc), such that the components could be used in various combinations to meet the requirements of different audiences. So, something like:

    • (?) short introduction to the entity-relational model
    • (?) short introduction to Web Architecture (URIs, resources and representations etc)
    • short introduction to the DCAM (notions of making statements about resources etc)
    • DCAM in detail
    • DCAM and RDF
    • the vocabulary model and how to create/describe vocabularies of metadata terms
    • the DC application profile model and how to create/describe DC application profiles
    • encoding DC metadata using X/HTML (and processing X/HTML-encoded DC metadata?)
    • encoding DC metadata using the DC-XML format(s) (and processing DC-XML-encoded metadata?)
    • the DCMI metadata vocabularies
    • Case study 1: "Simple DC" as a DC application profile
    • Case study 2: the ePrints DC application profile
    • Case study 3: some other DCAP? a service provider (metadata consumer) view?

    While DCMI does provide some materials via its own Web site, these materials have been developed by several different people and/or over a long period of time, and they vary at least in the terminology and presentational style they use if not also in some of the concepts described - though I should note that DCMI  is aware of these issues and has itself recently tendered for some work in this area. I think the first two of those items on my list have probably been under-emphasised in the past, but it seems to me that at least some grasp of them is helpful to (arguably, necessary for) an understanding of the others - certainly for the developers of DC application profiles.

  • The development of a regular programme of small f2f meetings within the UK, rather along the lines of the JISC CETIS SIGs. I appreciate the resource implications here are rather more substantial - and Rosemary may not thank me for suggesting it! And I'm also conscious that it's important not to draw energy away from the work of the DCMI Communities and Task Groups. I guess this suggestion is partly motivated by my admiration for the way CETIS have succeeded in building up active and supportive communities around areas of activity related to e-learning and e-learning-related standards/specifications, and the way the SIG meetings (or the ones I've attended at least) seem to work so well. They provide fairly low-key, informal forums in which people come together and exchange ideas and they really do seem to foster a spirit of collaboration, and generally avoid the problem of "meetings for meetings' sake". Is there scope to do something similar around the DC implementer community in the UK? Or is that community too disparate/fragmented? Maybe the fact that Dublin Core is longer established than most of the e-learning specs means that the context is different and it's harder to build up those sort of "interest groups" at this point in its evolution? I'm really not sure.

The final section of the day focussed on areas of DC-related activity closer to the CETIS community's e-learning-related interests, with a presentation by Sarah Currier of Intrallect on the work of the DCMI Education Community, of which Sarah is a co-moderator, and by Rob Tice of the Vocabulary Management Group on the Vocabulary Bank and Vocabulary Studio tools that have been developed for Becta to support the authoring and management of the controlled curriculum vocabularies used in UK education. Those presentations led into some discussions of the role of "metadata registries" of one form or another in the context of the Web, which has prompted me to think about resuscitating a draft post I was working on a while ago... So more on that topic coming up shortly, I hope.

Anyway, thanks to Phil Barker and Neil Fegen for organising an enjoyable day.

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