Learning from Emblematica Online

            When I placed “Descriptive Metadata, Iconclass, and Digitized Emblem Literature” on my reading list for this project I had no idea, or I had forgotten, that it was written by librarians directly involved with Emblematica Online. Basically, the article discusses issues that they ran into while making the site, and digitising and marking-up the emblems. It also explains the choices they made, such as why they picked Iconclass (it allows for multi-lingual access to the tags [112], and it has a controlled vocabulary [113]). In short their goal was “increased knowledge” about emblem books, and as such the emblems had to be marked-up individually, rather than just digitised. Against the issues I had with David L. Hoover (see this post), the Emblematica Online team recognised that given the “heterogeneous” nature of emblems, determining where an emblem began and ended, as well as “labeling its components requires analysis and interpretation” (114). Humans, specifically librarians and emblem scholars, collaborated on the emblem-level metadata (114). Given that assurance of expertise and reasoning, I am much more confident in the quality of the metadata I wish to use, both Iconclass and bibliographical.

            Cole, Han and Vannoy’s introduction to this paper was quite helpful for my understanding of emblem books; it widened my period of study from just the Renaissance into the Baroque period, covering the years 1531-c. 1750 (111). The trio also discuss the language emblem books were written in, giving credence to my suspicion that the language metadata could indicate where a book was published; in fact, they assure, the vernacular was more common than Latin (111). They also list possible broad sources that inspired the emblem creators: fables, mythology, the Bible, etc. (11). Not that I was unaware of that fact, but it is nice to have a citable source.

            The paper introduced a new term to me: “granularity.” Granularity refers to the “scale or level of detail present in a set of data” (Google definition – the OED failed me on this one; their definition has not been updated, apparently). Basically, the Emblematica Online team dealt with emblem books at different levels of detail: book-level (providing bibliographic details of a full book), emblem-level (112), and even pictura-, inscriptio-, and subscriptio-level (the parts of the emblema triplex [113]). My concern, as I have discovered while using the site, is the transferable access of metadata through different granular levels. Unfortunately, if one uses Iconclass notation as one’s search term, one will only get a listing of applicable emblems; the site does not indicate how many books have emblems meeting that criteria. That means, from a user standpoint, a lot of clicking, counting and copy-pasting; especially since the bibliographic information is locked into the book-level, and does not repeat on the pages at the emblem-level.

            It seems, perhaps, that the type of quantitative project I am undertaking was not originally considered by the team behind Emblimatica Online. Fair enough! It would be impossible to predict every user’s wishes ahead of time. Still, I am encouraged that the librarian trio ended their paper noting that “Collaboration [with Emblem Scholars] is Key” (119). Though this last section seems to say that the scholar is there to ‘fill up’ the metadata information, it also indicates that emblem scholars have helped delineate how “resources” were “sub-divided, identified and made accessible” (119-20). Perhaps I am offering a new problem for the librarians, scholars, and IT personnel to discuss and work to solve.


Works Cited

Cole, Timothy W., Myung-Ja K. Han, and Jordan A. Vannoy. “Descriptive Metadata, Iconclass, and Digitized Emblem Literature.” Proceedings of the 12th ACM/IEEE-CS joint conference on Digital Libraries. New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 2012. 111-20. ACM Digital Library. Web. 28 Jun. 2015.

“granular, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 17 February 2016.

“granularity, n.” Google. Web. 17 February 2016.

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