Exploring Mutual Complementarity of Free-Text and Controlled-Vocabulary Collection-Level Subject Metadata in Large-Scale Digital Libraries: A Comparative Analysis

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Explor
ing Mutual Complementarity of Free
-
Text and
Controlled
-
Vocabulary Collection
-
Level Subject Metadata

in Large
-
Scale Digital Libraries: A Comparative Analysis

OKSANA L. ZAVALINA


College of Information, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA

Oksana.Zavalina@unt.edu


ABSTRACT

Provision of high
-
quality subject

metadata is crucial for organizing adequate subject access to
rich content aggregated by digital libraries. A number of large
-
scale digital li
braries
worldwide are now generating subject metadata to describe not only individual objects but
entire digital collections as integral whole. However, little research to date has been
conducted to empirically evaluate the quality of this collection
-
level

subject metadata
. The
study presented in this paper
compares free
-
text and controlled
-
vocabulary collection
-
level
subject metadata in three large
-
scale digital cultural heritage aggregations in the United States
and the European Union. As observed by this

study, the emerging best practices in creating
rich collection
-
level subject metadata includes describing collection’s subject matter with
mutually
-
complementary values in controlled
-
vocabulary and free
-
text subject metadata
fields.

INTRODUCTION

Both c
u
ltural heritage institutions and funding agencies
worldwide

have invested
intensively in digitization
projects. Large
-
scale digital libraries now bring together hundreds
of individual digital collections produced by these digitization projects.

Metadata


“structured data about an object that supports functions associated with
the designated object” (Greenberg, 2005, p. 1876)


is used in digital libraries to organize
information for effective retrieval via search and browse functions. Metadata is subdivid
ed
into two distinct kinds: controlled
-
vocabulary metadata which draws values from formally
-
maintained list of terms, and free
-
text metadata which relies on natural language. The subject
metadata


“information concerning what the resource is about and wha
t it is relevant for”
(Soergel, 2009) is crucial for providing subject access to information objects in digital
collections and aggregations. To help achieve optimal recall and precision, it is recommended
(e.g., ALCTS, 1999) to include
Subject, Type,

and
Coverage

elements in metadata records in
digital libraries to accommodate different subject
-
related facets: topic, place, time period,
language, etc.

Metadata that describes collections as integral whole has long been applied in archival
community. Many d
igital aggregations are now supplying collection
-
level metadata



metadata providing a high
-
level description of an aggregation of individual items”
(
Macgregor, 2003, p. 248
)



as means of providing context for the digital items harvested
from distributed

collections. However, virtually no research to date
has evaluated and
compared the collection
-
level metadata in digital aggregations.

In discussions of metadata, the terms “richness,” “detailed description,” “level of
description” or “quality” of metadata

seem to be used interchangeably (e.g., Arms, 1998;
Duval, Hodgins, Sutton, & Weibel, 2002). The three most important metadata quality criteria
are accuracy, consistency, and completeness (Park, 2009; Park & Tosaka, 2010). Metadata
accuracy is measured as
the degree to which the metadata values match characteristics of the
2


described object (e.g., Stvilia, Gasser, Twidale, & Smith, 2007). Metadata consistency is
further subdivided into semantic and structural consistency (Park, 2009). Semantic
consistency re
fers to an extent to which the same values or elements are used for representing
similar concepts, while structural consistency is evaluated as a degree to which the same
structure is followed in representing information in certain metadata elements (Bruce

&
Hillmann, 2004). Metadata completeness is evaluated as an extent to which objects are
described using all applicable metadata elements to their full access capacity. Some of the
assessment criteria used to evaluate metadata completeness (Moen, Stewart,
& McClure,
1998) include the number of metadata elements per record, practice of presenting blank (i.e.,
nonpopulated but displayed) metadata elements, utilization and selected characteristics of
mandatory and optional elements.

While evaluation of metada
ta in digital libraries, which has not yet become a common
practice, gains more and more importance to ensure metadata quality (Hillmann, 2008),
almost no research to date has attempted to evaluate collection
-
level metadata. Zavalina,
Palmer, Jackson, and
Han (2008) started addressing this research gap by assessing collection
-
level metadata in the Digital Collections and Content registry of IMLS
-
funded digital
collections. However, because that study focused on a single digital library, generalizabilty of
i
ts results is limited.

To produce more generalizable results,
Zavalina (2011) study examined

and
compared the free
-
text collection
-
level subject metadata (i.e., data values in
Description
metadata element) across multiple digital libraries, and found that

a variety of information
about a digital collection is included in free
-
text collection
-
level
Description
metadata
element. This includes both subject
-
specific (topical, geographic and temporal coverage, and
types/genres of objects in a digital collection
) and non
-
subject
-
specific information: title,
size, provenance, collection development, copyright, audience, navigation and functionality,
language of items in a digital collection, frequency of additions, institutions that host a digital
collection or co
ntribute to it, funding sources, item creators, importance, uniqueness, and
comprehensiveness of a digital collection. T
he study presented in this paper extends the
comparative analysis reported in Zavalina (2011) study by comparing the data values in free
-
text
Description
and four controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata fields in three

large
-
scale
digital libraries.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS

Three large
-
scale cultural heritage digital
libraries

were selected for analysis:
American Memory
1

developed by t
he United States Library of Congress, Opening History
2

developed by the University of Illinois at Urbana
-
Champaign, and The European Library
3

that aggregates digital collections created by the national libraries in the European Union.
Among these three dig
ital libraries, only the Opening History displays its entire human
-
readable collection
-
level metadata records. American Memory and The European Library
keep most of collection
-
level metadata (except for the
Title

and free
-
text
Description

elements) behind
the scenes to support search and faceted browse functions. For this study,
the XML files with complete collection metadata records were obtained from the developers
of The European Library and American Memory.

The systematic sample of collection
-
level met
adata records in the three digital
libraries was analyzed: 39 records from American Memory, 33 records from Opening



1

http://memory.loc.gov
.

2

http://imlsdcc.grainger.uiuc.edu/history
.

3

http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org
.

3


History, and 27 records from The European Library. The resulting 99 collection
-
level
metadata records were
subjected to detailed manual
qual
itative

content analysis

to determine

how the
data values

in different collection
-
level subject metadata elements within a record
relate to each other
. These relations were categorized in three categories:

one
-
way or two
-
way complementarity,
and
redundancy
.

The findings of the study are presented below.

FINDINGS


A significant proportion of collection metadata records in the sample included cases
of
one
-
way complementarity
, when information in one collection
-
level subject metadata
elements complemented information in one or more other metadata elements, by providing
additional details absent elsewhere. The highest occurrence of one
-
way complementarity
between collection
-
lev
el subject metadata elements was observed in Opening History. In 76%
of collection metadata records analyzed in this study it was the free
-
text
Description
metadata
element that complemented information found in one or more of the controlled
-
vocabulary
subject metadata elements
: Subjects
,
Geographic Coverage
,

Temporal Coverage
,

and
Objects
.

As seen in the Figure 1, the free
-
text
Description
metadata element
data
values most

often (76% of records overall: 86% in American Memory, 76% in Opening History, an
d 70%
in The European Library) complemented topical information found in the
Subjects

element.
Representative examples include: “Spanish cartographer, … history, urbanism, public works
and agriculture from a strictly geographic point of view” in
Descriptio
n

vs. “900 History and
geography, 911 Historical geography” in
Subjects
; “interior design, … homes of U.S.
presidents” in
Description
, with these topics not mentioned in
Subjects
; “early developments
in the National Park, … landscape and park facilities” i
n
Description

vs. “Great Basin, Social
studies, State history” in
Subjects
.


FIGURE 1. Mutual complementarity between collection
-
level subject metadata elements

Objects
metadata element was the second most often complemented by object
-
type
-

or genre
-
speci
fic information in
Description
field (49% overall: 70% in American Memory,
44% in The European Library, and 30% in Opening History). Representative examples
included: “uniform books, ego documents, photographs and sketches” in
Description

vs.
“images” in
O
bjects
; “digital pre
-
print originals and online publications” in
Description

while
Objects
field was missing; “historical photographs, … portraits, … aerial shots” in
Description
vs. “photographs/slides/negatives” in
Objects
; “rare books, government
docume
nts, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings” in
Description
vs. “software, multimedia” in
Objects
.

4


Data values in

Temporal Coverage

metadata element
were

also often complemented
by
Description
(46% overall: 67% in Opening History,

51% in American Memory, and 15%
in The European Library). Representative examples included: “16
th

century, 17
th

century, 18
th

century, 19
th

century, 20
th

century” in
Temporal Coverage
vs. “Since the Eighty Years’ War”
in
Description
; “from 1895
-
1920s” in
Description
vs. “1850
-
1899, 1900
-
1929” in
Temporal
Coverage
field.

Geographic Coverage

data values
w
ere

complemented by
Description

metadata
element the least often (29% overall: 39% in Opening History, 33% in The European Library,
and 19% in American Mem
ory). Representative examples included: “Hispanic America …
Spanish territories in America and Oceania” in
Description

vs. “Hispanic America” in
Geographic Coverage
;

“Hungary or the Central European region” in
Description

vs.
machine
-
readable “hu” in
Geogr
aphic Coverage
; “American states, the District of Columbia,
and London, England” in
Description
vs. “United States” in
Geographic Coverage
; “Baja
California, Mexico in an area south
-
east of Ensenada” vs. “Mexico (nation)” in
Geographic
Coverage.

In additio
n, t
he cases of
data values in
free
-
text
Description
metadata element
complementing
information contained in
several controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata
elements in the same collection
-
level

metadata record were observed. In the example in
Figure 2,
Des
cription
includes keywords that complement both
Subjects
and
Objects

with
topical information
(“foodways, religious traditions, Native American culture, maritime
traditions, ethnic folk culture, material culture”)
, genre information (“
children’s lore,”
“oc
cupational lore,” “performances,” “interviews,” “surveys”
), and occupational subject
information (“musicians, craftpersons, storytellers, folklife interpreters”), while also
specifying the dates encoded in
Temporal Coverage
field.

In fact, in 22% of collec
tion
metadata records in the sample (45% in Opening History, 11% in The European Library, and
10% in American Memory)
Description
field complemented two or more controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata fields.


FIGURE

2
.
Example of multiple
complementarities

Data values

in controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata elements also complemented
data values

in free
-
text
Description
(Figure 1). For example, in this same collection metadata
5


record (Figure 4),
Geographic Coverage

provided spatial inform
ation absent in
Description

(“United States (nation), Southern U.S. (general region), Florida (state)”), while
Subjects

listed additional topics (e.g., “Architecture”) not covered by
Description
.

The
Subjects
metadata element was found to complement
Descr
iption

(Figure 1) the
most often


in 52% of collection metadata records overall (70% in Opening History, 60% in
The European Library, and 30% in American Memory). Representative examples included:
“860 Spanish and Portuguese literatures” in
Subjects
when
this topic was not mentioned at all
in
Description
; “Tennessee Valley Authority, African Americans, forestry” in
Subjects

when
these topics were not mentioned at all in
Description;

15 specific subject strings (e.g., “North
Carolina

African
-
Americans, Nort
h Carolina

Agriculture, North Carolina

Economics
and Business” in
Subjects
vs. much broader topical and spatial coverage in
Description
(“North Carolina, … story of the Tar Heel State”)
.

The
Temporal Coverage
metadata element was found to complement
Description

in
43% of collection metadata records (72 % in The European Library and 67% in Opening
History, but only 3% in American Memory). Representative examples included: “1400s
-
1699, 1700
-
1799, 1800
-
1849, 1850
-
1899, 1900
-
1929, 1930
-
1949, 1950
-
1969, 19
70
-
1999,
2000 to present, Pre
-
1400” in
Temporal Coverage

when no time information was provided in
Description
; “1783
-
1789” in
Temporal Coverage

when no time information was provided in
Description
; “1200
-
1900” in
Temporal Coverage
vs. “European age of chiv
alry” in
Description.

The
Geographic Coverage

metadata element was found to complement
Description

much more often than the
Description

complemented
Geographic Coverage

(Figure 1), or in
43% of collection metadata records overall (56% in The European Libra
ry, 55% in Opening
History, and 24% in American Memory). Representative examples included: “Poland,
Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus” in
Geographic Coverage

vs. “Poland” in
Description
;
“Germany” in
Geographic Coverage
when

no geographic information was provide
d at all in
Description
;

“Europe, Italy, Great Britain” in
Geographic Coverage

vs. “US and abroad” in
Description
; “United States (nation), Midwest U.S. (general region), Illinois (state),
Randolph (county), Knox (county)” in
Geographic Coverage

vs. “Rando
lph County, Illinois”
in
Description
.

The

Objects
metadata element values also often complemented information found in
Description
in two digital libraries


Opening History (52%) and American Memory (14%)


for 23% of analyzed collection metadata records overall. No such trend was observed in
The European Library, which can be explained by inconsistent application of
Objects
metadata

element in this digital library: in 59% of collection metadata records in The
European Library sample the
Objects

metadata element was blank or missing, while in the
remaining 41% this field contained a broad single
-
word term (e.g., “images,” “maps”).
Rep
resentative examples of the
Objects

metadata element values complementing
Description
included: “Film transparencies

Color, Cityscape photographs” in
Objects
vs. “photographs”
in
Description
; “Gelatin silver prints, Safety film negatives, Nitrate negatives
” in
Objects
vs.
“original negatives and photographic prints” in
Description
; “books and pamphlets,
photographs / slides / negatives, newspapers, posters and broadsides, periodicals, prints and
drawings” in
Objects

vs. “
manuscripts, photographs, ephemera a
nd published materials
” in
Description
.

In addition, one
-
way complementarity between
different
controlled
-
vocabulary
metadata elements was also observed. In particular, geographical subdivisions (as in
“Japanese Americans

California

Manzanar”) and temporal

qualifiers (as in “World War,
1914
-
1918”) in
Subjects

metadata element included information that complemented
6


Temporal

Coverage
and
Geographic

Coverage

values. In Opening History,
Subjects
complemented

Geographic Coverage
in 12% of collection metadata rec
ords and
Temporal

Coverage
in 18% of the records in the sample.

The cases of
two
-
way complementarity

between the two collection
-
level subject
metadata element
s

were less numerous than cases of one
-
way complementarity. No cases of
two
-
way complementarity we
re observed between the two or more controlled
-
vocabulary
subject metadata element
s
. Two
-
way complementarity between the free
-
text (
Description
)
and controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata element
s
, in contrast, occurred in 40% of
collection
-
level

metadata
records overall. Two
-
way complementarity was widespread in
Opening History (79% of records), but occurred less often in The European Library (41%)
and significantly less often in American Memory (8%). Most often two
-
way complemenarity
was observed between
Description

and
Subjects

elements (29% of collection metadata
records overall: 58% in Opening History, 30% in The European Library, and 5% in American
Memory). Two
-
way complementarity between
Description
and
Temporal Coverage
was
observed only in Opening H
istory (39% in Opening History or 13% overall). Two
-
way
complementarity between
Description

and
Geographic Coverage

was observed in 11% of the
records overall: 24% in Opening History, 11% in The European Library, but
in
none of the
American Memory collecti
on metadata records. The least overall two
-
way complementarity
was observed between
Description

and
Objects

metadata element (7% overall: 18% in
Opening History, 3% in American Memory and 0% in The European Library).
Representative examples of two
-
way comp
lementarity included:




“letters” in
Description

v
s. “autograph albums” in
Subjects
(taken together, the values
in two fields provide more comprehensive genre information).




“dance instruction manuals, anti
-
dance manuals, histories, treatises on etiquette” in
Description

vs. “Ballroom dancing

United States” in
Subjects

(
Subjects

information
specifies
Description

information from “dance” to “ballroom dancing” and adds
geographi
c coverage information, while
Description

adds information on specific
aspects of dancing


“etiquette”


and genre of materials in collection not covered
by any other metadata field in this record).



“towns of Coal City, Braidwood, and Wilmington” in
Descr
iption

vs. “Illinois (state),
Grundy (county)” in
Geographic Coverage
(state and county information in
Geographic Coverage
and town information in
Description
complement each other for
a more specific geographic representation).



“contemporary, … European
age of chivalry, … prior to 1900” in
Description
vs.
“1200
-
1900” in

Temporal Coverage
(while
Temporal Coverage

specifies the lower
limit of the “prior to 1900” range of years


“1200”


and provides the time frame
for “European age of chivalry,”
Descriptio
n

introduces another


“contemporary”


time period not covered by
Temporal Coverage
).




newspaper photographs” in
Description
vs. “photographs/slides/negatives, archival
finding aids” in
Objects
(
Description

specifies genre information in
Objects
from

gene
ral “photographs” to “newspaper photographs, while
Objects
adds another genre
not mentioned in
Description


“archival finding aids”).

Among the digital libraries examined in this study, only The European Library had a
noticeable proportion (19%) of
redun
dancy

between the values in different collection
-
level
subject metadata elements. Very little redundancy was observed in the Opening History and
American Memory collection metadata records. Examples of redundancy include restating of
identical geographic i
nformation (e.g., “Estonia,” “Netherlands,” “Ljubljana” in both
Description
and
Geographic Coverage
metadata element), temporal information (e.g.,
7


“1763” in both
Description
and
Temporal Coverage
), and genre information (e.g.,
“photographs” in both
Descrip
tion
and
Subjects
).


DISCUSSION AND
CONCLUSION
S


The findings presented in this paper demonstrate high level of mutual
complementarity between free
-
text and controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata in collection
-
level metadata records in three large
-
scale digital libraries that aggregate cultural heritage
digital collections: American Memory and Opening History in the United States of America,
and The European Library in Europe.
Quite predictably, t
he data values in free
-
text
Description

metadata element, due to its natural language values and higher length
, often
complemented information in controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata elements. However, it
was also observed in this study that data values in controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata
elements, especially
Geographic

Coverage
, complemented information e
ncoded in
Description

quite often. Both one
-
way complementarity and two
-
way complementarity was
observed, with little redundancy. Results of this study empirically demonstrate that more
detailed collection
-
level metadata records which include both free
-
te
xt and controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata allow more fully representing intellectual content of information
objects and ultimately improving subject access for the users.

Completeness of metadata records


an extent to which objects are described using

all applicable metadata elements to their full access capacity


has long been emphasized as
one of the most important metadata quality criteria (e.g., Moen, Stewart, & McClure, 1998;
Bruce & Hillmann, 2004; Park, 2009; Park & Tosaka, 2010). Findings of t
he user studies
conducted both decades ago
,

with card catalogs and early computerized library catalogs,

(e.g.,
studies

summarized by Krikelas, 1972)
,
and
more

recently
, with various online
information retrieval systems,

(e.g.,
Wang & Soergel,1998; Drori, 2
003; Crystal &
Greenberg, 2006;
Smith
-
Yoshimura et al., 2010) demonstrate that users

perceive both the
free
-
text
subject metadata

(e.g., the data values in MARC 5XX fields or Dublin Core
Description
element)

and controlled
-
vocabulary subject headings
, such

as the data values in
65X MARC fields or Dublin Core
Subject

and
Coverage

metadata elements,

to be among
the most useful metadata elements to judge the relevance of retrieved documents

Item
-
level
metadata records in digital libraries usually meet these
user expectations by providing both
free
-
text and controlled
-
vocabulary subject metadata.
However, most newly
-
created digital
libraries limit their collection
-
level metadata to free
-
text
Title

and
Description

elements for
various reasons: lack of resources

needed to create detailed
collection
-
level
metadata records,
limitations introduced by the default settings in popular content management systems such as
DSpace, or even a belief that full
-
text indexing and keyword searching make controlled
-
vocabulary sub
ject metadata redundant. Lack of best practice guidelines for creation of
collection
-
level metadata arguably contributes to this situation.

Results of this study indicate that
including
mutually
-
complementary subject
information in free
-
text and controlled
-
vocabulary collection
-
level

metadata elements is
already a common practice among some of the large
-
scale digital libraries, and possibly is
recognized by
digital library developers

as a benchmark in crafting rich collection
-
level
metadata.
The findings of

this study could be instrumental in developing best practice
recommendations for creating collection
-
level

metadata, including

subject metadata, which
are not currently available. These guidelines can be incorporated in the
next edition of the
Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections
(NISO Framework Working
Group, 2007)
and/
or
the
Guidelines for Digital Libraries

that are currently being prepared by
the IFLA working group jointly with the World Digital Library Project
.


8


This
exploratory study focused on collection
-
level subject metadata in domain
-
specific digital libraries of one domain (aggregations of cultural heritage digital collections
that are created for history scholars, educators, and enthusiasts) and of two scales


national
and international. The task of developing best practice guidelines warrants more extensive
content analysis of collection
-
level subject metadata
, including those

in domain
-
specific
digital libraries with a subject focus other than
history

(e.g.,
National Science Digital
Library) or non
-
domain
-
specific digital libraries
with wide subject coverage
(e.g., IMLS
Digital Collections and Content Collection Registry),
with

different scale (e.g., state
-
level
aggregations
such as

Missouri Digital Heritage o
r regional
-
level aggregations
such as

Mountain West Digital Library, Documenting the American South etc.), and representing
geographic areas beyond Europe and North America (e.g., New Zealand Digital Library).

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The author wishes to thank d
evelopers of The European Library
,
American Memory
,
and

Opening History

digital libraries

for providing collection
-
level metadata for this analysis.
Special thanks to Drs. Carole L. Palmer, Allen Renear, and Kathryn La Barre at the
University of Illinois
(
USA)
and Dr. Dietmar Wolfram at the University of Wisconsin
(USA)
for valuable feedback on this study.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Dr. Oksana L. Zavalina is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Library and
Information Sciences, College of Information, at the

University of North Texas in the USA.
She was born, raised and received undergraduate library and information science
(LIS)
training in Kiev, Ukraine. Dr. Zavalina’s two graduate degrees in LIS come from the
University of Illinois at Urbana
-
Champaign (UIU
C): MLIS in 2002 and Ph.D. in 2010. Her
previous positions included being a bibliographer at the National Parliamentary Library of
Ukraine, a solo librarian at the Kiev School of Economics, an intern at Yale University
Sterling Memorial Library, an origina
l cataloger at the UIUC Library (including with Google
Digitization Project), and a research assistant with the Center for Informatics Research in
Science and Scholarship in Illinois. Dr. Zavalina has been teaching graduate
-
level courses in
library catalo
ging and classification since 2007, in metadata and in information organization
since 2011. Her research focuses on subject metadata and its role in subject access in digital
libraries.

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