May 31st, 2012
Most discussions about the value of metadata move quickly to proclaim that metadata is essential to discoverability. Discoverability is rarely defined: we’re left with the vague sense suggested by its root word “discover”. Most people know that there are too many books and too much information so the idea that it’s challenging to find a book resonates — we’ve all faced the challenge. Certainly everyone who’s part of the publishing supply chain, whether author, publisher or reseller, is well aware of the problem. They know that just because a book is very good doesn’t mean it will ever be found.
I’m immersed in a project (with Renée Register) to write and publish a handbook about metadata for book publishers so of course I’m giving lots of thought to the hows and whys of metadata. I’d already embraced the discoverability faith. But having reached that part of the book where I explain to authors and publishers the why of metadata I find that “discoverability” is being used carelessly and doesn’t provide ready answers. Metadata’s first task is mere findability – and the distinction is important.
For argument’s sake let’s assume that half of the books purchased or borrowed from libraries are searched for by title or by author. Those books must be found, not discovered. It’s the other half that will be discovered, whether by wandering through the stacks at the library or strolling the aisles of a bookstore (or the online approximate but inadequate equivalent).
Discoverability is the process by which a book appears in front of you at a point where you were not looking for that specific title (although you are looking for something other than a pound of butter).
Marketing a book involves reaching out to a community that should be interested in that particular title and bringing it into focus in a way that captures their attention.
Metadata plays an important role in all of these tasks, although the role it plays is substantially different in each.