Why Metadata is like Pizza

Meta what? That was my reaction when I read the course description for my Information Organization class and first encountered the word METADATA.  The classic definition seems to be “data about data” which is about as useful as …well, nothing.  There are many better definitions out there, but I don’t want to spoil your fun as you learn about them, so for now, I will call it the stuff that describes a resource…sort of like the stuff that goes on a pizza. When you ask your husband to bring home a pizza (because you have a project due in two days and you are freaking out), you don’t just say, “Honey, please get a pizza.”  You describe the pizza.   Pizza metadata could include thin crust, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, feta cheese, pepperoni, red peppers, mushrooms, etc.

And you have to decide what to describe.  Should you specify crust, sauce type, size, toppings, where to get it, and how much to spend?  There are different ways to describe the pizza just as there are different metadata schemas to describe an information resource. What I tell my husband might be different from what you tell your husband, and if Joe’s pizza parlor and Tony’s pizzeria don’t agree on what constitutes peppers (are they green or red, sweet or hot?), you just might not get the pizza you wanted. Welcome to the world of Metadata.

When you stop and think about it, the way we organize information and describe it is amazing. Whether we are in search of an online edition of Anne of Green Gables or the best Marguerite pizza north of Boston, metadata helps us find it.  As a beginner, I know I am oversimplifying it, but I can’t wait to learn more about the complex world of metadata and how it helps us to retrieve just what we are looking for.  Before I started this class, I never really thought about it…and now I can’t stop thinking about it…or the next pizza!

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