Metadata Formats

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While metadata can be initially recorded in a notebook just as well as in a Shoebox database, it must eventually be converted to a format that is machine readable and in keeping with the recommendations of best practice. This data must be intelligible to future generations of researchers as well as current generations across disparate subfields. Using XML ensures that the data is both human and machine readable, and the OLAC Repository Editor enables users to easily create an XML metadata document. By linking the document to a standard ontology, the data will be rendered transparent to a wide range of researchers.


Metadata should be encoded in a standardized XML format that can be harvested by digital library systems. XML is both computer and human readable, so it can be searched by a computer engine as well as understood by researchers.

XML uses descriptive tags to mark up data, which makes it more portable than other mark-up languages that use tags to format data. Using these tags, linguists can describe the data being presented in a hierarchal manner. This way the data is human readable and, if the tags used are consistent with generally accepted standards, the data can be universally understood.


The E-MELD project recommends that you create metadata in OLAC (qualified Dublin Core) format, or a format which has been mapped to OLAC, such as the ISLE MetaData Initiative (IMDI).

OLAC/IMDI metadata comparison table

More on IMDI

More on ISLE

Creating metadata in an approved format

Creating OLAC metadata is very easy, particularly with ORE (the OLAC Repository Editor). With ORE, linguists can create an XML document that describes their resource by simply completing a series of online forms. Once the forms have been completed, ORE converts the data into the XML format which the OLAC search engine can then read. This is a simple, hassle-free way to create metadata for any dataset, and it does not require upload of the actual data itself. Therefore, information about the data, including how it is to be located, is searchable without the actual data itself being made available.

More on ORE

Alternatively, it is also possible to directly create free-standing metadata files in XML. OLAC offers a validation and formatting service for this purpose. This method is especially suitable for larger projects with no pre-existing catalog database.

More on free-standing metadata creation

Making metadata transparent

All materials should be linked to a common ontology so that data is comprehensible to a variety of subdisciplines. Referencing a single ontology supports the long-term intelligibility of data, since the concepts in the ontology are precisely defined and generally understood. This does not mean that a single ontology must be used by all linguists but, instead, that linguists should relate their preferred terminology to concepts defined in a standard ontology.

More on ontologies

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