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Digital items are only as good as their metadata

by Jeremy Myntti

I was browsing through some photographs in the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts’ Larson Studio Negative Collection yesterday and noticed that over 1600 of these photographs were titled either “Unknown Woman” or “Unknown Man.” As I reviewed some of these, I kept thinking to myself that these are real people with names that have families somewhere that probably don’t even know that these photos are online since they are currently unidentified. The more I looked through these photographs, I started to wonder what we might be able to do to identify some of the people when out jumped the following image.

The photo was labeled as “Unknown Woman”, but I knew her! This is a picture of my mother-in-law, Shirley Van Cott. I quickly shared this photograph on my family’s Facebook page so everyone could see it. Once my father-in-law saw this, he let me know that the photo was taken not long after they were married while they were both still in high school (they eloped in 1955, but that’s a story for another day!).

With this information, I was able to update the metadata for that item and now this photo of Shirley Van Cott is now discoverable rather than being lost in a sea of unidentified photos. In looking through many of the other photos around this one, it began to look like a set of photographs taken for a high school yearbook. Now I want to pull out the yearbook from Provo High School and Brigham Young High School from the mid-1950s and see if they match up with other photos in this collection.

This also made me wonder what other family members might have a photo in this collection. I started searching a bit more and found some photos of my father-in-law’s brothers, sister, and a couple of their kids. Most of these photographs had the correct people identified, but I was able to update a few more records for photos where children’s names were missing (Tuffy and Tommy), my wife’s aunt was identified by her father’s name rather than her own (Marsha Baum), or another of my wife’s aunts was only identified by her husband’s name (Mary Alice Baum).

Tuffy Baum and Tommy BaumMarsha Baum

If you ever notice any metadata record within our digital library that could be improved, please let us know so we can have more accurate metadata and make sure these items are discoverable. Without good metadata, digital items are as good as lost.

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