The Secret Life of Images

by Smithsonian Digital Library

This space age ceiling fixture was created by the Edward F. Caldwell Lighting Company between 1932 and 1940 for the Rockefeller Center and can be found in the Libraries digital collection, Shedding Light on New York, Edward F. Caldwell & Co.

What happens if a design teacher visits the website and downloads the image to use in research and forgets where it came from or the image ends up on flickr? If the image has no associated embedded metadata, well, then it basically has lost its identity.

Luckily for the photo and for the Libraries it has embedded metadata to show what it is and where it came from. Embedded metadata is now included in basically all digital files, from Word documents to digital photographs. When embedded metadata is automatically created by a scanner or camera it is usually technical in nature, and in the case of most cameras or phones includes geospatial information. Embedded metadata can also be added using tools like Adobe Bridge to help describe what the file is and who created it.

Across the Smithsonian, from the library to the many archives and museums, thousands of images are created and generated weekly. In spring 2009, the Embedded Metadata Working Group (EMDaWG) was created out of a grass roots effort that quickly became pan-institutional for the express purpose of creating best practices for the embedding of metadata in images. The best practices were developed to help determine core descriptive metadata and to help describe what an image is or is about and where the image came from. The embedded metadata helps to identify images that travel outside of the Smithsonian’s many image databases, as well as makes the image self-describing as it makes its way through the many channels within the Smithsonian.

The full paper about this project, along with the best practices can be found in the Smithsonian Libraries SRO.

Doug Dunlop

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