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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by transcript Verlag June 15, 2021

The Diversity Paradox

Conflicting Demands on Metadata Production in Cultural Heritage Collections.

Anna Dahlgren and Karin Hansson
From the journal Digital Culture & Society


At the core of museum practice is the notion of diversity. However, as this analysis of different types of metadata production shows, contradictory ideas and ideals pervade both metadata production among information specialists (i.e. archivists, metadata managers, curators working in the heritage institutions), and the systems for, and practices of, participatory metadata production. While the discourse on metadata standards is permeated by ideas of objectivity and interoperability the field is, in practice, far from coherent, being marked by a great variety as regards templates, formats and vocabularies. Conversely, the discourse on digital participation in the cultural heritage is permeated with notions of diversity, as means to increase democracy and support variety. In practice, however, the available crowdsourcing platforms are often formulaic offering few possibilities for the crowd to add individual interpretations and their own agenda. This analysis of the practice of producing descriptive metadata reveals the complex, multifaceted implications of notions of diversity for the cultural heritage. Diversity, meaning great variety, is then not solely a positive end in itself but can in fact hinder the distribution and linkability of information and thereby the creation and building of new knowledge. Likewise, participatory activities where heritage institutions reach out to the crowd do not automatically generate diversity as there is no direct correlation between the magnitude of the group and variability. To understand this complexity and acknowledge the, sometimes, contradictory demands and effects related to the notion and norms of diversity is at the core of the making and preservation of our cultural heritage.

Published Online: 2021-06-15
Published in Print: 2020-12-01

© 2021 by transcript Verlag