Book and Reading News

Streamlining book metadata, but not for readers

TeleRead points to a new white paper, “Streamlining Book Metadata Workflow,” from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which discusses how to make the collection, curation and dissemination of book metadata more efficient. Its an interesting paper, but one that demonstrates a glaring problem with most of the technical discussions surrounding e-books: Readers are not described as “stakeholders” in the metadata process, even though “enabl[ing] readers to identify and acquire books online” is the focus of the paper.

Readers will be the creators of the most important metadata describing books. Period, there is no second-guessing that conclusion, which has been proved again and again in every hypertext environment in human history. Defining the problem of book metadata without treating the reader as the fulcrum of the process is missing the point, which is a common problem in technical discussions of semantic and intellectual work. The problem of coding and building a system is daunting, but made much easier by assuming the final user of the technology will be passive consumers.

The paper is interesting as a discussion of the various existing bibliographical metadata systems used to move books around and inventory them within bookstores and libraries. It is even useful within the publishing and distribution value chain. However, it misses the mark in the most fundamental way possible, by defining the reader out of the metadata workflow.