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Bureau Metadata Technical Support Team

Statement of the problem

Metadata in its various forms is generally recognized as a crucial component of the Bureau's data integration efforts. Some parts of the organization have been able to create and manage metadata (chiefly geospatial) well, but at every gathering of IT, GIS, publications, research, and data management personnel, we always hear at least one person express anxiety or despair at their inability to solve specific problems relating to metadata creation, maintenance, or interchange.

When situations like this have arisen before, the Bureau has established cross-organizational technical support teams with modest funding to enable those who are able to help solve these problems do so without stressing their existing job functions. Examples include the Bureau Windows Technical Support Team, the Bureau Unix Technical Support Team, and the Enterprise GIS Arc-Help group.

It is important to note that this is not specifically a GIS problem. Many scientific data resources are not managed in GIS, and many data systems that may exchange metadata are not closely linked to GIS software. Consequently it would be inadequate to presume that this problem can be solved solely by the GIS community.

Likewise this issue should not be expanded to subsume data management generally. The issues and applications surrounding metadata lie within data management but are recognizably distinct.

Proposed solution

We propose that, under the aegis of CDI, the Bureau create a project to

  • field questions and problems specific to metadata creation and maintenance
  • create web-accessible documentation in a centralized and visible place
  • identify and reduce barriers to effective interchange of metadata among the information systems that use them
  • assess the need for improvement in existing metadata resources (for example, incomplete or improperly formatted metadata found within publications that are currently on the web)

The project would not generally create metadata for individual researchers, projects, or programs.

The project would fund modest amounts of work time for six to eight people and provide travel for a few consulting meetings per year.

While the problem identified here will never go away, the level of funding needed may vary over time. Funding will not decline monotonically because occasional changes in technology or standards cause the need for problem-solving services to fluctuate dramatically.

A number of people can contribute directly to this effort already. Examples include

One early task is a coordinating meeting of metadata practitioners from across the science strategies to discuss best practices and map out a set of coordinating activities for the year to come. This group would become a Community of Practice, supported in part by the Metadata Support Team.

Metadata interchange

Interchange of metadata among systems will require programming capability and will be carried out using diverse software technologies.

Some situations in which metadata generated in one system can be (or are) used in another:

Shared vocabulary in metadata interchange

Effective use of shared vocabularies is one of the common sources of angst among metadata creators. This technical support team might be directed to

  • coordinate access to a variety of terminological resources
  • facilitate discussion and improvement of shared vocabularies
  • develop crosswalks of shared vocabularies that facilitate data fusion efforts
  • facilitate the effective use of shared vocabularies in information systems that use metadata

(Shared vocabularies here is generally synonymous with Controlled vocabularies such as formal thesauri and authority lists.)

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