TEI is too metadata!

Yesterday, Dorothea Salo, at Caveat Lector, claimed that "TEI is not metadata!"  Now, while I have absolutely no desire to go toe-to-toe with Dorothea in an area in which she is clearly more qualified than me I am anyway.

She did back down a bit from her initial "is completely bogus" to say that the claim that TEI is metadata "requires more thought."  That I was happy to see, and I agree.  I also think I fully understand the issue she has with the claim.  But I’d also like to see a bit more on why. 

But first things first.  What is your working definition of metadata Dorothea?  I have no doubt that it is not that completely inane, "data about data" crap.

I’ll offer a rather loose definition, although I have no doubt that there may be better ones.  There certainly are more restrictive ones.

Metadata is here used to mean structured information about an information resource of any media type or format. This definition is mute on whether the structured information is electronic or not, or whether the resource described is electronic, network-accessible, or web-accessible. It also does not care whether the metadata is intended for human or machine consumption. However, it does place two constraints on what qualifies as metadata. First, the information must be structured, which is to say it cannot be a randomly accumulated or represented set of data elements, but must be recorded in accordance with some documented metadata scheme.

Second, the metadata must describe an information resource.

Caplan, Priscilla. Metadata Fundamentals for All Librarians. Chicago: ALA, 2003. p. 3

Hmmm.  Now, granted TEI is primarily for document markup.  But this markup works exactly as described above.  And while rich textual markup is the primary function of TEI, I just used TEI as a metadata format to encode bibliographic citations because it has a very rich bibliographic tag set.  Not a single bit of text markup in my files; it’s all metadata.

MODS, EAD, VRA Core are all also completely different beasts than MARC.  For instance, I doubt that the archival community would appreciate the suggestion that catalogers could just come in and do proper archival description and encoding.  Might give you MODS as easy for catalogers to learn for the somewhat obvious reason.  I also used it, and I got to say that I loved the way my XML editor would tell me exactly which MARC field and subfield(s) a specific tag matched. 

For beginning catalogers they all ought to be about equally easy to learn as MARC.  But for some, maybe many, experienced catalogers it’s going to be a completely different matter.  Of course, it really boils down to individual attitude towards learning.  I’m taking back the 1st sentence because it is a vastly different thing to describe "typical" library resources vs. archival resources vs. visual resources.  Might not be harder for beginners to learn, but besides the obvious differences between encoding formats, the "what" of what is being encoded is vastly different and requires a different way of thinking about the resource (and a different kind of education from basic cataloging).

Maybe I misused TEI to encode bib citations, but it was all metadata all the time for my project. 

And even if you claim it was misuse, fine.  I still maintain that structured text markup is metadata.  Perhaps text markup and cataloging are both just subsets of metadata.

If you think I’m full of it, fine.  I may well be; but give me a definition of metadata that excludes TEI.  Pulling out a Sesame Street comparison skit is not going to convince me I’m wrong.  Because I agree that, in at least one sense, TEI is not like the others.  But then I could pull out a sense in which each one is not like the others.  They all are used to describe vastly different entities.  TEI just happens to describe information within an information resource (generally), and not the resource itself, or the aboutness of the resource.  I have a hard time seeing that as a fundamental difference, though.

So I guess what I’m asking for Dorothea is the why of why you think the claim that TEI is metadata "requires more thought."

Oh, and in case I don’t sound like it, I am trying to be lighthearted here.  I really don’t think Dorthea and I even disagree.  We’re just approaching it from different ends; unless she has a vastly different working definition of metadata.

And I hope you get to feeling better already!

5 thoughts on “TEI is too metadata!

  1. “Now, while I have absolutely no desire to go toe-to-toe with Dorothea in an area in which she is clearly more qualified than me I am anyway.”

    You crack me up.

  2. Pingback: ...the thoughts are broken...

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