I wonder when I first heard the word. I suppose I understood “metadata” as a fancy term for the cataloging I’d learned in library school, or the indexing I’d done at NLM. A trendy, computer-y word for a very old concept. Here I’d been “applying metadata” for all of my professional life and hadn’t even known it!
These days you can’t take a step and a half in the world of scholarly communication without tripping over the word. And there’s another word I see cropping up more frequently. Metaphorically, we speak of that world of scholarly communication as an "ecosystem". Where scientific knowledge once existed in discrete bits and the scutwork of scientific research was laboriously unearthing the connections between them in order to establish frameworks and platforms on which to build new discoveries, we now see an interconnected system of articles and data and loosely defined “research outputs.” Or at least we see the potential for such a system. Its infrastructure is metadata.
The Metadata 2020 initiative is a crucial step in moving the community from the metaphorical image of what an ecosystem might be to a vibrant, effective, usable and efficient system of interconnection. I use the word “community” advisedly, because the critical foundational insight of Metadata 2020 is that progress and realization will require a broad community effort. As a librarian, I may think of metadata as derived from traditional tools for describing books & articles. But a publisher sees it differently. A data scientist has their own approach and sensibility. The people working for funding agencies have their unique angle. We all have different priorities regarding which flavor of metadata we think is most important.
As Ginny Hendricks points out, each of the groups that cares about metadata has approached it in their own way, developing approaches to solutions that meet their own needs. Great progress has been made, but as long as we continue in this piecemeal fractured fashion we'll fall short of the interconnected vision we all should share.
The goal of Metadata 2020 is to bring these various approaches into closer alignment, to foster the necessary conversations and collaborations. You can sign up here to receive occasional news and updates. You have an important role to play.
Imagine a world in which you can move from reference to reference, object to object, gathering new insights, discovering new connections and new collaborators, revealing unanticipated patterns, all without running into the roadblocks and blind alleys and rabbit holes that waste our time and deliver frustration. If you've bothered to read this far, you know how important this is. And you almost certainly have expertise to contribute. Make it happen.