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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday October 28, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Beth Daley

Beth Daley

Editorial Adviser , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Henning Scholz

Henning Scholz

Partner & Operations Manager , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Valentine Charles

Valentine Charles

Data Services Director , Europeana Foundation

Developing a metadata standard for digital culture: the story of the Europeana Publishing Framework

With partners of the Europeana Creative project (2013-2015), we identified a problem - a real need for more consistent and better quality material in Europeana Collections. We had an idea. We talked to our partners. We looked into how data specialists work. And into what users want. Four years ago, we came up with a quality standard for digital content - the Europeana Publishing Framework. Then we kept working and in 2019 added the complementary missing part - a quality standard for metadata. Today, it’s possible to measure the quality of any record in Europeana Collections. Here’s an insight into just some of the activities that have helped us to reach this point.

Triptych with Virgin and Child - an example of a high-quality record
Triptych with Virgin and Child with Saints (center), male Donor with Saint Martin (left, inner wing), female Donor with Saint Cunera (right, inner wing), and the Annunciation (outer wings)
The Netherlands

A team effort

The Europeana Foundation worked with aggregators and the Data Quality Committee (a Europeana Network Association and EuropeanaTech Working Group) to develop the ideas behind the metadata component of the Framework. 

Implementing the Framework meant even more teamwork - various teams from the Europeana Foundation were involved in changing the Europeana Data Model so that the various ‘tiers’ could be represented in the data, in making sure that our in-house data processing system, Metis, could process and calculate the new tiers and lastly in making sure our API could publish the tiers data.

Defining metadata quality

Identifying what metadata quality meant in the context of Europeana was an exercise of great significance for us.

First of all, we wanted to know what difference better metadata makes to the people who use Europeana Collections. This resulted in a series of usage scenarios that showed us a range of ways people search for and retrieve information. These scenarios were based on ‘personas’ (example people with specific needs and backgrounds) that had been developed by the Europeana Foundation to help guide the design process for Europeana’s products. These personas and scenarios provide us with information about who uses Europeana Collections, why and how, so that we (with the Data Quality Committee) could develop a Framework that connected metadata quality with a better user experience.

Next, we needed to look at how to define our quality requirements in a clear way so that institutions sharing collections with Europeana could provide the appropriate metadata.

A lot of discussions took place around making more metadata elements mandatory for all records. The conclusion was that mandatoriness does not always entail good data quality: the required elements are not necessarily in the source metadata, and so incorrect or duplicate information may be added with a view to fulfilling the criteria rather than with a view to enhancing experience.  

Instead, the DQC agreed on two new ways of categorising the current metadata elements: mandatory elements and enabling elements. Mandatory elements are required as a fundamental minimum for all metadata descriptions. Enabling elements are desirable but optional - including them supports functionalities for a specific set of usage scenarios. The enabling elements are now a key component of the metadata tiers. 

Metadata Quality Tiers

The metadata tiers components are based on three criteria: language, enabling elements and contextual classes. 

We encourage the use of language tags to show which language is being used, which means that more automatic linking and translation processes can be implemented to develop multilingual services. We also recommend the use of ‘enabling elements’ in the metadata to allow for greater information retrieval and service improvement. And finally, we encourage the inclusion of a range of contextual information such as place names, dates and subjects either as metadata elements or as links to contextual vocabularies that will also improve the findability and accuracy of objects in Europeana.  

The more language information, enabling elements and context is provided, the higher up the tiers you go. Higher tiers provide more benefits and more potential for your collections to be found, promoted and reused.

Europeana Publishing Framework metadata tiers
Europeana Foundation
Europeana Foundation
The Netherlands

For more details on the content tiers see the article 'Presenting the Europeana Publishing Framework'. 

Technical implementation of the metadata and content tiers

In order to output the calculated tiers as part of the records data, we needed to extend the Europeana Data Model (EDM) with a new data pattern. The tiers are represented as annotations reusing the constructs described by the W3C Data Quality Vocabulary. This pattern allows the representation of the tiers calculation separately from the source data. Content tiers and metadata tiers are represented as separate annotations within the same record as shown below: 

<rdf:RDF xml:base="">

    <edm:EuropeanaAggregation  rdf:about="">
        <dqv:hasQualityAnnotation rdf:resource="#metadataTier"/>
        <dqv:hasQualityAnnotation rdf:resource="#contentTier"/>

    <dqv:QualityAnnotation rdf:about="#metadataTier">
        <dcterms:created>2019-10-13T13:00:00Z </dcterms:created>
        <oa:hasBody rdf:resource=""/>
        <oa:hasTarget rdf:resource=""/>  

    <dqv:QualityAnnotation rdf:about="#contentTier">
        <oa:hasBody rdf:resource=""/>
        <oa:hasTarget rdf:resource=""/> 


Jochen Vermeulen, Senior Software Developer at Europeana Foundation, says, 'As a software developer for Metis it was up to me to implement the tier calculations. I enjoyed working together with my colleagues here at Europeana to make this happen. I’m excited to have made a real, positive difference by contributing to the enhancement and the increased exposure of this fascinating content from all over Europe.'

Now it’s over to you

Of course, creating a standard isn’t enough. It has to be used to have any real value. So, what can you do? 

If you work with metadata… 

Use the Publishing Framework to improve the quality of the content and metadata you deliver to Europeana. Practical information on how to achieve this can be found in the Europeana Publishing Guide, which outlines the submission criteria for content and metadata, and offers detailed information about the tiers.

Embrace the Publishing Framework as a tool that can help you to better understand how your metadata supports users’ digital needs and to design new curation strategies according to it. The Europeana Publishing Framework defines what good quality is in the context of Europeana but we also hope it can inspire you to design better standards for your own services and your own audiences. 

If you don’t work with metadata...

Share the Publishing Framework with the leadership of your institution, and with the data specialists.

Support the ongoing implementation of the Europeana Publishing Framework by translating it into your own language. Please contact us if you’re interested in doing this.