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August 30, 2016

Why you need great publishing metadata for your content

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.

hand writing metadata on a chalkboard.

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.

Apex is also available to start a discussion with you on how to improve metadata. Contact us anytime.

About Bill Kasdorf

Bill Kasdorf, kasdorf.bill@gmail.com, is Principal of Kasdorf & Associates, LLC, a publishing consultancy focusing on accessibility, XML/HTML/EPUB modeling, information infrastructure, and workflow. Bill is active in the W3C Publishing Business Group, Publishing Working Group, and EPUB 3 Community Group; chairs the Content Structure Committee of the Book Industry Study Group and is co-editor of the BISG Guide to Accessible Publishing; and is Past President of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP). He is a recipient of SSP’s Distinguished Service Award, the IDEAlliance/DEER Luminaire Award, and the Book Industry Study Group’s Industry Champion Award. Bill has written and spoken widely for organizations such as SSP, IPDF, BISG, DBW, IPTC, O’Reilly TOC, NISO, AAP, AAUP, ALPSP, and STM. General Editor of The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing and Guest Editor of the January 2018 issue of the Learned Publishing journal devoted to accessibility, he is the author of the chapter on EPUB metadata and packaging for O’Reilly’s EPUB 3 Best Practices and the chapter on EPUB in the book The Critical Component: Standards in Information Distribution, published by the ALA in collaboration with NISO. He serves on the editorial boards of Learned Publishing and the Journal of Electronic Publishing. In his consulting practice, Bill has served clients globally, including large international publishers such as Pearson, Cengage, Wolters Kluwer, Kaplan, and Sage; scholarly presses and societies such as Harvard, MIT, Toronto, Taylor & Francis, Cambridge, and IEEE; aggregators such as VitalSource; and global publishing and library organizations such as the World Bank, the British Library, the Asian Development Bank, OCLC, and the European Union.

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