ETL 505 Assignment 1 Part A

Value: 50%

Due date: 24-Aug-2015

Return date: 14-Sep-2015

Part A: Essay (1600 words, + or – 10%) (20 marks)

Undertake a discussion and analysis of key concepts and principles in information resource description, in order to show your understanding of, and ability to explain and contextualise concepts and principles of information resource description.

Drawing upon the knowledge and understanding of key concepts and principles in information resource description gained through modules one to three of your subject material (including the first seven chapters of your textbook) give considered and informed responses to the following questions.


There is a lot to consider when addressing information resource description. There are many key concepts and principles that need to be addressed so that the users of information agencies can adequately find, identify, select and obtain their desired resource. Such factors include information organisation and metadata standards, both of which play a huge role in the users overall outcome in information retrieval.

To understand what information organisation is and why we need it, first we need to understand what an information resource is. Quite simply, an information resource is a resource that contains information. It comes in many forms e.g. DVDs, websites, books, maps etc. And in school libraries it also stretches to the world of literature. Therefore information resource description is the way in which all of these resources are described in order to locate them proficiently.

Information organisation is quite simply, the way in which information (better referred to these days as resources) is organised. It is the process of ordering and describing information or information objects. Resources can be organised in various ways. The way in which it is organised will have implications to retrieval, interaction and personal information management. Information organisation involves the assignment of metadata to documents that serve specific roles, or creation of indexes and databases that serve the primary tasks of ordering and description.

Organising information, which includes the description of that information (metadata), is most effective when contextual factors are considered. To maximise access to school library collections, the “characteristics of the user, the technology, the information resources and other environmental factors” (Hider, 2012, p.8) are taken into consideration when organising information and making decisions about the four aspects of metadata: elements, values, format and transmission. Hider posits that there can be a difference between the user of the metadata itself and the users of the resources represents (2012, p.16). For example the user of the metadata might be a teacher or parent looking for a resources in the collection that might appropriate and used by a student. In any case, understanding those who are using the metadata and their purposes, can lead to creating metadata that is more effective (Hider, 2012, p.16).

It is necessary for information agencies to organise information simply to enable the information searcher to find information required within the shortest time-frame. Time is a precious resource for all and if information is not easily accessible due to poor organisation, it would be mean failure on the part of the information agency to provide good service.

Information resource description aids information organisation because it essentially provides information about different aspects of the resource, otherwise known as ‘data elements’. Data elements may relate to the nature of the information itself (content – e.g. subject, language etc.) and/or to the carrier or container of this information of this information (e.g. size, format, labelling information such as statements appearing on the title page, etc.) (Hider, 2012, p.4). Information resource description or data about data is often referred to as ‘metadata’ and is “commonly defined as ‘structured’ data (about data)” (Hider, 2012, p5).

But who writes the description in order for users to be able to locate the desired resource? Descriptions of information resources are written by a variety of people, with various agendas and reasons for doing so (e.g. a librarian might wish to improve their patron’s knowledge while publishers may be focused on sales) and this will have an impact on the nature of the description (Hider, 2012, p.3). Teacher librarians need to know more than how to download such records into a catalogue.

The teacher librarian’s input can determine if the catalogue is used and appreciated as an effective and friendly tool for locating needed resources; or if the most noticeable feature about the catalogue is the number of users who bypass it. Hider puts it simply when he states that in order for information professionals to improve access to information resources requires “first-hand knowledge of the domain in which they work” (2012, p.62).

With such a wide range of resources now available due to the digital revolution, information agencies are now dealing with more than just books; digital, pictorial and auditory resources now need to be included and considered. So therefore, the way in which information is organised has also evolved. In the traditional library realm, organisation tasks include annotation of documents directly, print or electronic resources being organised in the form of catalogue records, abstracts, and digital libraries, and the physical or virtual ordering or grouping of resources using the processes of categorisation and classification. But depending on the teacher librarian and the users of the library will determine how their resources are catalogued and ultimately organised within their library. Whilst there are no “set rules” as such on how you organise the information, there are cataloguing/metadata standards that are to be followed to ensure consistency amongst information agencies.

There are many key tools used in school libraries for organising information. Arrangements are designed to help people look for information resources and navigate resource collections. As there are numerous ways in which information resources can be arranged it is imperative for effective access to them. Labels may be utilised to identify individual items and/or group items by categories such as subject matter or by a designated section of the collection (e.g. non-fiction). Symbols such as colour may be utilised on labels to group resources. Labels that indicate the items location within the collection are very useful (e.g. details such as call number, author’s name, Dewey classification, etc. may appear on the spine label of a physical resource). In digital environments, labels are used on hyperlinks in the form of brief descriptions. Indexes are “essentially arrangements of labels connected conceptually, rather than physically, to their resources” (Hider, 2012, p.35).

Library catalogues is an obvious tool of information organisation. They are used as a way to ascertain what is in the library collection and as a retrieval tool. Online library catalogues (e.g. OPAC – online public access catalogue) have superseded the old card cataloguing system, although both are similar in their descriptions. Online catalogues can provide users with numerous records from which to make their selection. Some even allow for users to input metadata (social metadata) such as tagging, ratings and reviewing items.

Federated search systems are a tool that has enhanced the ease to which users are able to search and locate information. Creating federated search applications that allow the sharing of metadata between information retrieval systems (interoperability) can be complex as different systems may not be compatible in terms of metadata elements or not support the same functions (Hider, 2012, p.47). While standardisation is needed to address this issue, it is somewhat idealistic given the varying purposes of different databases.

Hider (2012, p21-23) stressed the importance of a common standard to be adopted for describing information resources. Only with proper input standards would there be consistent output that makes information retrieval systems effective. Once common standards are in place for various information resources, the exchange of information with various information agencies internationally can be easily achieved. Adopting common standards will enable easy sharing and import of bibliographic data resulting in cost savings and time. This will eventually bring about overall service benefits provided by information centres especially those that cannot afford the services of an expert cataloguer. Hider (2012) shared that if universal bibliographic control can be successfully achieved every unique information resource need only be catalogued once and other libraries can pay for the record if needed. This ideal state would result in time-savings and greater information retrieval efficiency. By doing so, a Teacher Librarian’s time and expertise can be better spent collaborating with teachers to design resource-based and project-based lessons where students will apply information literacy and research skills taught. This supports Herring’s (2007), notion that a school library should be a centre of learning first and a centre for resources second.

Metadata is an essential consideration when discussing information organisation. It is important as it can support effective access to information. Metadata is simply the data that describes an information resource, it is data about data. It describes the nature and content of information and forms the elements that are used to find, locate and obtain it (Tech Terms, 2014). This usually takes the form of a structured set of elements that describe the information resource and assists in the identification, location and retrieval of it by users, while facilitating content and access management. Metadata is made up of a number of elements that can be categorised into the different functions they support. A metadata standard will normally support a number of defined functions, and will specify elements that make these possible.

While metadata may be useful for providing information about a single resource, it can also be useful for providing “an overview of a collection of resources by grouping like resources together (otherwise known as collocation), allowing users to navigate it” (Hider, 2012, p.7).

The consistency of metadata records enables the metadata to be used in different information retrieval systems, which enables it to be shared by a variety of information institutions. The sharing of metadata is made possible not only through standardisation of content, format and vocabulary but also through standardisation of transmission of this information according to standard protocols (Hider, 2012, p.93).

There are a large number of metadata standards that address the needs of a particular user or users. The Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR) was the main source of standards before Resource Access Description was implemented. It is organised in two parts: description (e.g. from general rules related to all resources such as how and what to describe to rules specific to particular types of material) and headings (e.g. choice of access points, headings for persons, geographic names, etc.) The International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) was originally developed for catalogue cards but consolidated editions are still being published (e.g. 2011). It prescribes the elements for cataloguers to include in their description of library resources and stipulates how this description is to be presented (e.g. order, punctuation etc.) The most current and used set of standards is the Resource Access Description (RDA) which focuses on content (e.g. elements and their values). It accommodates ISBD-based descriptions as well as descriptions that might be schematic in nature (e.g. RDF/XML) which makes it more useful in the online world. It is more relevant to a variety of information agencies beyond the library sector as it is not limited to the ISBD elements (more broad). In essence RDA is a process that allows for the creation of metadata which meets users’ needs for data content and also facilitates machine manipulation of that data for searching and display. It utilizes the four user tasks of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) to present information in multiple forms to users in ways that are meaningful (National Library of Australia (NLA), 2014). While the average Teacher Librarian may not need to create metadata following such intricate cataloguing requires it is important that they have an understanding of how the RDA process works. This is of particular importance given the changing nature of information and how users access it.

The format standard can best be explained by looking at the MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloguing) system. Library catalogue records (metadata of information resources) were originally distributed in the form of library catalogue cards. Today, computerised systems have revolutionised this system by allowing the distribution of electronic records over the Internet. These files usually have a standardised format, MARC (Machine Readable Cataloguing). “The MARC format not only allows computer systems to import copies of catalogue records from other systems, it also indicates how the data in the records should be indexed and displayed, in other words, how the record should be processed, or ‘read’, by the computer system” (Hider, 2012, p.97). MARC is commonly used in the library domain and while other formats that make bibliographical data more interoperable exist, the cost in conversion to another format may see considerable data lost.

Transmission standards are required for the sharing of catalogue files as computers need to be able to not only process records such as MARC, but be able to receive it. Some users of bibliographic records will allow their computer to search for records, which may include searching several different online catalogues. As a result, many library management systems have applications designed for this purpose, applying a client-user-protocol. These are often configured by specialists who must consider how to make retrieval effective given the different ways in which databases can be searched and ways in which records can be indexed.

Therefore, along with user consideration, the application of information resource description standards is of particular importance. Oliver (2010, p. 6) argues metadata standards ensure interoperability, resource sharing, and seamless metadata exchange highlighting how standards help provide structure to information organisation and access. Witten & Bainbridge (2010, p. 329) suggest standards such as name authority control and subject authority control improve user experiences thereby linking standards to users and emphasising the importance of metadata to library systems.

While metadata and vocabularies are currently fundamental to our library systems, consideration must be given to the impact of future and changing technologies. While content-based retrieval and social metadata have appeal, the primary role of school libraries is to support school curriculum and, as Mitchell (2013) suggests, school users have specific literacy and maturity considerations. As Hider, (2012, p.188) argues, metadata schema such as RDA and vocabularies provide structures that support collection navigation and information seeking in ways that content-based retrieval and folksonomies cannot.

In conclusion, over the years there have been many advancements in the way information resources have been composed (now more digitised), described and organised. The need for agencies to organise these information resources is quite clear. Information agencies are there to support their users in information retrieval for varying reasons. Regardless of why a user is there, it is expected that they shall be able to find, identify, select and obtain a resource with ease and success. Organising such information entails several factors to support effective access to information. This relies on the quality of metadata, the application of standards and consideration of the end user is central to information resource description and ultimately, effective information access and retrieval. It also highlighted that to maintain relevance, school libraries must consider their information context and modify the systems and tools they utilise to best serve the needs of their users in providing effective access to information.


Herring, J. (2007). Teacher Librarians and the School Library. In S. Ferguson (Ed.) Libraries in the twenty-first century: charting new directions in information (pp.27-42).

Hider, P. (2012). Information resource description: Creating and managing metadata. London: Facet

Mitchell, P. (2013) The future of the school library catalogue. In Connections (87). Retrieved 7 October 2014, from

National Library of Australia, (2014). Resource Description and Access. Retrieved from

Oliver, C. (2010). Introducing RDA: A guide to the basics. Chicago: American Library Association. Retrieved Charles Sturt University website

Tech Terms (2014). Metadata Definition. Retrieved from

Witten, I.H, & Bainbridge, D. (2010). How to build a digital library. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann

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