Digital Objects as Objects: The Problem of Metadata
The metadata exercise was particularly illuminating in this sense. As Daniel Powell points out in his metadata assignment (which, interestingly, discusses his research in early modern print culture and the textual "strangeness" and "chaotic nature of printing norms" in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), the processes of attributing metadata to digital objects is far from simple, and the failure to follow a model for doing so can facilitate the creation of ephemeral yet enduring objects "lost" but always reappearing in digital space. Noting that the metadata should, in theory, "be different for the physical edition of Nicholas Udall's play held in Eton College Library, published in 1566 and for a PDF version scanned from a microfilm copy held by most universities in North America and available digitally via Early Electronic Books Online," Powell underlines Dublin Core's limited capacity to express the difference between digital objects in terms of how they exist online in and of themselves (which have, as Kirschenbaum explains, their own form of materiality in terms of the server space they reside on, the physical and monetary efforts that went into their creation, and the hardware that stores the series of 0s and 1s that create the front-facing digital object) and the material objects they represent.
Is the Dublin Core "creator" of a facsimile from an earlier printed version of Nicholas Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister Udall, the creator of the original document from which the microfilm was taken, or Powell, who uploaded the PNG image into Scalar? Not only does the creation of a different version of the same object create clutter that quickly becomes unmanageable, but, when metadata is the same for different versions of the same object, finding the object you are actually looking for—particularly if you are interested in its material history—can prove problematic.
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