Most people in publishing have realized by now that no matter how good their content is, and how wonderful the products they create for delivering it, they’re not getting the most value from it unless their publishing metadata is in good shape.
But just saying “metadata” is about as meaningful these days as saying “XML.” Those who know me know it’s a pet peeve of mine that terms like XML, digitization, indexing, and content management mean so many different things to so many people that they become almost meaningless. Saying “XML” tells you almost nothing unless you know what XML model is being used, how it is being used (the specification), and how well it is being used. The same goes for publishing metadata.
Most book publishers in the US first think of BISAC, which is the way they designate the subjects of their books. But as publishing becomes more global, they may need to be aware of the other such subject code systems in use in other countries—and especially of Thema, the international scheme.
The library world thinks in terms of Library of Congress Subject Headings. It’s all metadata, but it’s not all the same. And MARC records—what are those?
One thing that’s become pretty standard is how book publishing metadata is distributed: via ONIX. But what exactly does “standard” mean in that context? ONIX is an extremely rich, expressive format and vocabulary. The result is that hardly any two ONIX feeds are exactly the same. More complexity!
And we haven’t even gotten to identifiers yet. No, there is no such thing as an eISBN! Yes, you need a different ISBN for each format you distribute. And now we have identifiers for people and organizations, too—ORCiD in the scholarly realm, ISNI more generally.
This is all very complicated, but all very important. One helpful suggestion I could make: Laura Dawson conducts a six-week online course on metadata in the book supply chain. Take a look at her website for upcoming session dates. She’s one of the most knowledgeable people in this field, and she’s an engaging teacher. This is a really good way for folks to learn the ins and outs of metadata.