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Leicester Special Collections


University of Leicester coat of arms

So That They May Have Life Project.

This exhibition marks the Heritage Lottery Funded Project that took place in 2019 -2021.  It shows how the original plan had to be altered to become a virtual online project as a consequence of restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  There emerged two distinct strands: the Research group, who undertook specific topics of research and the Metadata group, who enhanced the searching capabilities for the digitised photographic collection.  Members of the Metadata group have prepared this exhibition.


Metadata: what is it? Why do we need it?

Metadata is something that has existed for a long time and can be found everywhere, but few people know what it is and how important it might be to them.  Every time you search for something on a search engine like Google or tag a friend in a Facebook photograph, you are in fact using metadata.  The dictionary definition says that it is “data about data”, which means terms used to describe other data and to provide information about an item and it’s contents to a searcher. In the 21st century it is typically used to describe digital forms – websites, images and so on.  However traditional card catalogues also contain metadata since they hold information about books: the title, author, subject, date of publication are all pieces of metadata that allow a user to see whether this might be useful without actually handling the book itself.  Much metadata is generated by automated information processing, but creating it manually tends to make it more accurate.  Metadata about images, whether paintings or photographs, will also describe not just whether it is in colour or black and white, how big it is, but will also describe what it contains – a landscape, people, what is happening.  In short metadata is the key to searching and retrieval.

We can guess what the following images might be, but with metadata we can record what they represent in terms of the University's history and help others to find them.


 Heritage Lottery Project and metadata

The University Archive contains many images and staff are frequently asked by researchers to provide an image to complement the text they are producing.  A photograph will then be scanned and a copy can be sent to the enquirer.  A digital copy will then also be kept as an addition to the Archive and metadata added to the record for this digital copy. Quite often the original description information might be found on a list within the box, from a label in a photograph album or written on the back of the photograph itself.  It may give a lot of information but sometimes it is fairly brief and vague, or even incorrect.  The Covid-19 pandemic meant that access to the archives wasn’t possible, but teams of volunteers could improve the metadata of the digitised photograph collection by adding further details to the titles and descriptions in the metadata.

Editing image descriptions in metadata Excel spreadsheets 2.JPG

Volunteer researching metadata.

 How did the volunteers work on the metadata? 

Volunteers were sent spreadsheets containing a number of records for photographs with links to the images themselves.  A set of instructions were provided by the Archivist, which showed the importance of adding a new title and a much fuller description of what is happening in the image.  There was also a chance to add new details of where the image was taken by adding geolocation coordinates that were obtained from Google maps.  There were online sources available to check details, such as the University’s Annual Reports and Prospectuses.  However, there were not complete runs of these and the images covered were from the earliest in 1921 up to the 2000s.  There was therefore a need to use other resources where possible.  Describing what is happening in an image in a concise, correct and consistent way is a definite skill.  It is particularly difficult because there is no way of knowing who might be wanting to search the images and what they might be interested in.  For example one title might say “Students on lawn” – are they named students?  Are they protesting or just relaxing? When was it taken, any particular building in the shot? Is there something happening in the background? What is it telling about what the University experience was like for students then? Once completed the records in the spreadsheets were returned to the Archives Project team.  They were then proof read and checked ready to be uploaded to the database.

The following pages are case studies by members of the  Metadata Group volunteers.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.