Week 1 Lab Activity – Digital Collections and Metadata


Collections of primary sources are categorized and described by archivists, librarians, and sometimes the general public through crowdsourcing projects. The information about primary sources (aka metadata) is presented cleanly, but how was that information gathered and processed? What choices were made to standardize the data/metadata? And what do those choices mean for people who want to use those data/metadata?

In this assignment, you will create a digital collection of objects. You’ll learn about and work with the Dublin Core metadata standard, an international standard for describing items in structured, systematized ways. 


  • Conduct a structured interview and create metadata for a digital items.
  • Reflect on the practice of categorizing information and what that means for how we understand data and primary sources more broadly.

Before the Lab: 

  • Read about Dublin Core:
  • Select 2 personal items. Pick things that have some backstory (how/where you got it, what it’s made out of, sentimental meaning), but please don’t choose something precious or deeply personal that is uncomfortable to show or discuss with others.
  • Ask a friend or family to participate in a short interview (~15-30 minutes). They will need to select 1 item or object to talk to you about. Same guidelines for you apply to your interviewee: ask them to pick something with a backstory, but nothing too personal that might be uncomfortable for them to share.

For the Lab: 

Open the Google Sheet for this assignment. You’ll see that it is pre-populated with the 15 core fields. Save your own copy of the spreadsheet — you will not be able to edit this file. If you’re unsure what the options are to save your own copy, check out this guide.

In the spreadsheet with 15 core fields:

  1. Fill in the information for the 2 items/objects you selected. Try to fill in all 15 fields for each item. Entries should be as short but fully descriptive as possible.
  2. Refer back to 15 core fields (or elements) to describe something whenever you need clarification on what info belongs in which field.

Open the Google Doc with the set of basic interview questions — this will be the set of questions used in every interview. Save your own copy of the document.

In your questions document:

  1. Thinking about what it was like to fill in the spreadsheet for your items, add questions that might help gather all the required metadata for the 15 core fields spreadsheet.
  2. Alter the wording of questions to help interviewees feel comfortable and understand the questions clearly. 
  3. Using the edited set of questions, interview your friend or family member about the object they chose. Take notes as they talk on the same question sheet — this will help you keep track of what questions you’ve asked. Understand that people may start to answer a question on when the item was created and then start talking about the person who created it. This is why note-taking while the interviewee is talking is so important and will help you avoid asking questions that they’ve already answered.
  4. Review the answers from the interview and add them to the same spreadsheet


Answer the following questions and save as a Word doc, PDF, or Google Doc.

  • How easy was it to find and fill out the information for all fields?
  • What fields were easy to enter data for, and which ones were more complex?
  • Thinking about museum collections or datasets — what does this experience tell you? What advice would you have for someone responsible for data and metadata gathering and description? What is one research question for this digital collection?

Turn in to D2L:

  1. Your spreadsheet filled out for 3 items (2 of yours, 1 from the interviewee). Save this as a CSV file to upload to the assignment submission.
  2. Your write-up, saved and uploaded as a Word doc or PDF or shared as a Google Doc link. If you share it as a Google Doc link, then please make me an editor.