That was the topic discussed recently by OCLC Research Library Partners metadata managers, initiated by Melanie Wacker of Columbia University, Roxanne Missingham of Australian National University, and Sharon Farnel of University of Alberta. Our libraries are repositories of large amounts of audiovisual materials, which often represent unique, local collections. However, as Chela Scott Weber states in the report Research and Learning Agenda for Archives, Special and Distinctive Collections in Research Libraries, “For decades, A/V materials in our collections were largely either separated from related manuscript material (often shunted away to be dealt with at a later date) or treated at the item level. Both have served to create sizeable backlogs of un-quantified and un-described A/V materials.” The result is that today, much of this audiovisual material is in dire need of preservation, digitization, clarification of conditions of use, and description.
In addition, the skill-sets and stakeholders across institutions are complex. The nature of the management of these resources requires knowledge of the use context and well as technical metadata issues, providing a complex environment to think through programs of description and access. At the same time, libraries also must deal with current time-based media that is either being produced locally as part of research and learning, or streaming media that is being commercially licensed.
The discussions surfaced similar concerns across the OCLC Research Library Partnership, and a wide range of practices. It proved useful to identify the issues by category of the AV materials:
- Commercial AV: Licensing issues, replacing old formats, and the quality of accompanying vendor records
- Unique archival collections: Often in deteriorating formats, large backlogs, lack of resources, and rare and expensive equipment that may be required to access (and assess) the files
- Locally generated content: Desire for content-creators to describe own resources
Most of our discussion focused on the latter two categories. An over-arching challenge was how much effort to invest in describing these AV materials just because they are unique? Institutions have used hierarchical structures to aggregate similar materials with finding aids created using the Encoded Archival Description standard, which provides useful contextual information for individual items within a specific collection. But often such finding aids lack important details about individual items needed for discovery, such as transcribed title and date broadcast. This is a particularly acute issue for legacy data describing recordings from years past. Efforts to enhance the finding aids in a library system may not be reflected in the metadata describing the same item in digital access or archival systems. Some hope that better discovery layers will alleviate the need to repeat the same information across databases, but to present the information to the users would require using consistent access points across systems. (Metadata managers discussed this particular problem in 2014, synchronizing metadata among different databases.)
Institutions commonly prioritize which of their AV materials are to be described and preserved, assessing their importance through surveys and assigning priorities from inventories. These are often multi-divisional efforts. The OCLC report, Taking Stock and Making Hay: Archival Collections Assessment, provides assessment frameworks that may be useful in an AV context. Locally-generated content such as course lectures, performances, streamed video, and webinars are often handled by other units in academic institutions.
Rights management for AV materials are a “gazillion miles ahead” of other materials in terms of complexity. Metadata for commercial AV files may often have a link to the license in the bibliographic record so that they can track the number of simultaneous users, as required. For other AV categories, libraries are developing rights frameworks and implementing rights statements from Rightsstatements.org. Rights management is easier for new AV files acquired as they have become part of normal workflows; metadata for older materials may lack rights information. Some materials may be accessed only on-site, and rather than revise the metadata descriptions, some institutions include statements in the discovery layer that it is up to the reader to get permission from the rights holder based on the information provided.
Metadata for AV materials often include important technical information. A subset of the Partnership have implemented PREMIS (Preservation Metadata: Implementation Strategies), the international standard for metadata to support the preservation of digital objects and ensure their long-term usability, for some of their AV materials.
Given that so many institutions across the Partnership develop their own assessments and templates, an opportunity emerged to share them and identify common practices and criteria.
Karen Smith-Yoshimura, senior program officer, topics related to creating and managing metadata with a focus on large research libraries and multilingual requirements. Karen retired from OCLC November 2020.