Metadata and Street Art

Metadata and street art.  These are very distinct "things," if you will, each with their own importance and meaning to those who are familiar with them, yet they exist in worlds that do not often crossover with each other, unless of course, you are an art librarian with a penchant for cataloguing.  Metadata, for the uninitiated (or those who have not yet had the pleasure of taking Information Organization) is data about data.  It doesn't usually intrude upon our daily lives, but it's vital in the work of librarians and those dedicated to making information accessible.

When you're looking for that thing that you want to know about on Google and you just can't come up with what you're looking for, it's because you likely haven't hit upon the right kind of keywords (which are part of metadata) to describe what you're looking for, and thus make it appear.
A friend from college, the wonderfully eloquent Laurenellen McCann, recently discussed this at a TEDxWDC talk entitled "Making Cyberspace for Public Art."  in the context of trying to find out about a piece of street art she passed daily on her way to work.  She describes how she wanted to set about finding out what the piece of work she was seeing was called, but quickly realized that if she typed in the words that immediately came to mind, she would likely come up with all sorts of "unsavory" search results.  But her enthusiasm for observing the world around her and her penchant for public art has led directly to a project dedicated to crowdsourcing information about public artwork and collecting metadata about it in the hopes that it makes it easier for people to learn about the art that surrounds them (the project is appropriately enough entitled "theartaround.us").
This project is limited to DC, but it got me thinking about a blog post for all you librarians-to-be out there.  Go out and walk around your city. If you're already in Boston, there's tons of public art all over the place.  Vibrant murals spring unexpectedly from the sides of buildings and peek out from alleyways, sculptures and public monuments and statues abound, from the easily identifiable (Abigail Adams at the Boston Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue) to the more obscure (the statues of people around Davis Square).  Make an effort to pay attention to the art, take pictures of that which particularly catches your eye or strikes your fancy, and then go online and see what you can learn about it.  Make it an exercise in not only getting to know your city better, but to investigate how metadata and information retrieval works before you're confronted with these topics in an academic context.  Most of all, have fun.  There's a wide world out there, and if we take the time to meander through it on foot, we may be unexpectedly delighted by what we find.

Libraries | People


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