Carnegie Mellon University
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Why can’t I manage academic papers like MP3s? The evolution and intent of metadata standards

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journal contribution
posted on 2004-01-01, 00:00 authored by James Howison, Abby Goodrum

This paper considers the deceptively simple question: Why can’t downloaded academic papers be managed in the simple and effective manner in which digital music files are managed? We make the case that the answer is different treatments of metadata. Two key differences are identified: Firstly, digital music metadata is standardized and moves with the content file, while academic metadata is not and does not. Secondly digital music metadata lookup services are collaborative and automate the movement from a digital file to the appropriate metadata, while academic metadata services do not.

To understand why these differences exist we examine the divergent evolution of metadata standards for digital music and academic papers. It is observed that the processes differ in interesting ways according to their intent. Specifically music metadata was developed primarily for personal file management, while the focus of academic metadata has been on information retrieval. 

We argue that lessons from MP3 metadata can assist individual academics facing their growing personal document management challenges. Our focus therefore is not on metadata for the academic publishing industry or institutional resource sharing, it is limited to the personal libraries growing on our hard-drives. This bottom-up approach to document management combined with p2p distribution radically altered the music landscape. Might such an approach have a similar impact on academic publishing? This paper outlines plans for improving the personal management of academic papers—doing academic metadata and file management the MP3 way—and considers the likelihood of success.


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