Colorful image of different lines including pink, green, yellow, red, and orange swirls.

Our Cataloging, Processing & Metadata (CMP) unit creates metadata for all kinds of unique collections.  Metadata creation is the first step in making items discoverable by our users.  What is our formula for good metadata?

Getting Started

Picking the right metadata fields to describe a collection is essential.  What are the important details about a particular collection?  Author, title, dates, publisher, summary and media type are usually recorded.  But details like dimensions (ie: number of pages, length of recording), location, chairperson, photographer and method of recording can also be important, depending on what kinds of items are in the collection.  Schemas like MARC, RDA, Dublin Core, and MODS each have a set of fields to choose from.  They also have a particular syntax that they prescribe for how words are entered into those fields.  If similar items are described using the same words in the same order, that improves discoverability.

Controlled Vocabulary 

Using the same wording for the same things can help remove confusion and improve searches.  For example, if you use the word ‘Mercury’, do you mean the planet, the element, or the ancient Roman god?  Using controlled vocabulary for subject headings, terms, keywords and personal names is helpful when creating metadata for a collection.  Some controlled vocabularies are meant to be used with all kinds of items, like the Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH).  There are also controlled vocabularies that have been created for a specific subject area.  For example Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) was created for those wishing to describe architectural objects.

Digital Collections

Our digital collections can include physical and electronic items.  We create metadata records for both.  Some electric items are scans of the original item which is housed in Special Collections.  Some are “born digital” which means they were originally created in a digital format.  Digital collections, like our Ivan Doig Collection, include one-of-a-kind historical documents, letters, note cards, photographs, audio and visual recordings of interviews, speeches and even bird songs like those in the Acoustic Atlas.  It’s fun interacting with these unique items while we’re writing summaries and picking out subject headings! 


MSU students’ Electronic Theses, Dissertations and professional papers (ETDs) are housed in a digital collection we call  ScholarWorks.  We create metadata for these ETDs so they are discoverable world-wide.  Some items in this collection were written as early as 1901.  Before graphics were easy to create, students included photographs, slides and hand-drawn color pictures.  This collection also includes CDs, slides, architectural drawings, large maps, and posters.  One cataloger in our department has created almost 3,000 ETD records!