By Dustin Wees, Director of Metadata and Cataloging

At cocktail parties and in the checkout line at Whole Foods, I’m often asked to explain the difference between data and metadata. I first try “You know the difference between physics and metaphysics, don’t you? Metadata is a lot more philosophical than data.” When that flops—and it usually does—I then try a more prosaic answer: “Metadata is data about data.” In terms of the ARTstor Digital Library, I think of the image as data, and the metadata is the information about the image.

ARTstor’s metadata is an additive aggregation of heterogeneous bits—the equivalent of yellow stickies and typed lists. But we refer to differing schemas and databases, and it comes from various places and in a variety of forms. Typically, our contributors have already created the metadata for their own uses, frequently tailoring the requirements to their point of view. Describing old master paintings, say, uses categories of information that differ from those describing arrowheads or autograph letters.