Advancing Data Excellence: A New Era for the BHL Cataloging and Metadata Committee

2023 proved to be a transformative year of growth, increased collaboration, and heightened dedication to advancing biodiversity knowledge for the BHL Cataloging and Metadata Committee. Last year, the Committee achieved significant milestones in committee governance, professional development opportunities, data quality updates, and the ratification of consortia-wide data policies, accompanied by comprehensive documentation.

Cataloging & Metadata Committee Milestones with graphic visuals of a team pointing to charts

On the governance front, the former “Cataloging working group” completed a Committee Charter to elevate the group’s status to an official BHL Committee. Approval of the Committee at the 2023 BHL Annual Meeting by the Executive Committee and BHL Partners, as well as the formal codification in the BHL Bylaws, solidifies Cataloging and Metadata as a permanent standing BHL Committee.

Pictures of new committee co chairs Elizabeth McKinley (leading a tour of patrons) and Daniel Euphrat (sitting in front of digitization equipment)

In 2023, the Committee held its inaugural Chair Election which signified a notable transition for the former working group. We are excited to welcome Daniel Euphrat of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives and Elizabeth McKinley of the Chicago Field Museum as the co-chairs for 2024. Additionally, we extend our gratitude and appreciation to former chairs Suzanne Pilsk of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives and Diana Duncan of the Chicago Field Museum, who will continue to provide valuable mentorship during this transitional period. A warm welcome and congratulations to Daniel Euphrat and Elizabeth McKinley on becoming the inaugural co-chairs in 2024.

The Committee membership grew with the addition of advisors, retired staff as observers, and new members:

  • Siobhan Leachman, Committee Advisor and Independent Wikimedian
  • Elizabeth McKinley, Committee Co-Chair and Cataloging & Metadata Librarian at the Chicago Field Museum
  • Briana Giasullo, Committee Member and Cataloging and Digital Resources Librarian at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
  • Sandra Lee Parker Provenzano, Committee Member and Head Cataloger at Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University

As a newly formalized Committee, this coming year will see some fresh perspectives and ideas to drive progress on BHL Strategic Goals and the Committee’s formal charge.

Empowering BHL Staff with Wiki Education’s Wikidata Certificate Course

A tangible benefit of Committee membership includes access to broader professional development opportunities through BHL. Early in 2023, committee members celebrated the completion and final project wrap-up of a six-week professional certificate course sponsored by BHL and the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives (SLA). This specialized course was facilitated by Wiki Education, a non-profit that focuses exclusively on supporting students, faculty, and subject area specialists with their Wikimedia work. The program provided BHL and SLA staff with a unique opportunity to hone advanced skills in SPARQL queries, visualizations, and data modeling.

Three SPARQL visualizations with varying colors and sizes of circles clustered together

Left to right: SPARQL visualizations of BHL Authors by Occupation; BHL Female Authors by Occupation; BHL Male Authors by Occupation. The course provided participants with the opportunity to experiment with linked data and visualizations produced by the Wikidata Query Service.

The custom curriculum, led by the knowledgeable Will Kent aka “Wikidata Will” and SLA co-facilitators JJ Dearborn, Richard Naples, Suzanne Pilsk, and Jackie Shieh engaged a cohort of 25 participants in a tailored, immersive experience exploring topics like SPARQL queries, visualizations, federation, data modeling, bulk data loading, and editing tools.

Grid of 20 black and white video screens of committee members on a video conference call

Participants added BHL partner nodes as items and linked them up with BHL using the Wikidata in partnership property:

GIF of before and after visualization of BHL knowledge graph with entities clustered and connected by arrows

The BEFORE is what BHL’s Partner Knowledge Graph looked like and AFTER the course, one can see how BHL’s network has grown in Wikidata!

Enriching our Committee’s technical expertise has not only opened new avenues for exploration within the Wikimedia project ecosystem but has also laid the foundation for the newly formed BHL-WIKI working group, set to launch this year under the distinguished leadership of Wikimedia Laureate and long-time BHL advocate, Siobhan Leachman. Under Siobhan’s guidance, BHL is embarking on a dedicated effort to convert its legacy data into 5-star linked open data, facilitating expanded global access to biodiversity knowledge for all.

For a more in-depth understanding of BHL’s symbiotic relationship with the Wikimedia ecosystem, we encourage readers to explore related post “BHL is Round Tripping Persistent Identifiers with the Wikidata Query Service,” and the white paper titled “Unifying Biodiversity Knowledge to Support Life on a Sustainable Planet.

Comprehensive BHL Metadata Requirements for our Global Consortium

Conformant metadata in BHL is the linchpin that allows BHL to manage diverse global sources of metadata across 588+ contributors. A guiding document is paramount to fostering metadata harmonization from a globally disparate network and empowers BHL technical staff in maintaining data consistency and ensuring interoperability across the consortium. The new BHL metadata requirements facilitates effective searching, browsing, discovery, and identification for BHL’s end-users, enabling broader access and engagement with biodiversity knowledge on a global scale.

The journey to finalize BHL’s Metadata Requirements was a lengthy endeavor and bringing together once-disparate guidelines into a unified framework is the culmination of many years of work. After a Metadata Requirements Summit in 2023 and multiple rounds of Committee peer review, the first version of comprehensive BHL Metadata Requirements has been published and incorporated into BHL’s Collection Development Policy.

BHL Metadata requirements include data disclaimer, a statement on remediation of harmful language in library metadata, partner meta app, FAQ, schema mappings, updated schema tables, digitization workflow decision map

Additionally, embedded within these requirements is the BHL Cataloging and Metadata Committee’s formal Statement on Remediation of Harmful Language in Library Metadata, which serves as a commitment to address harmful language in library metadata, recognizing the impact of legacy language and knowledge organization systems can have on perpetuating biases. BHL actively champions inclusivity, encouraging contributors to realign vocabulary terms to ensure diverse user access. Rejecting censorship, BHL acknowledges and commends the ongoing efforts by contributing institutions in remediating outdated metadata terms. This commitment not only aligns with our dedication to diversity but also reinforces our mission to provide a comprehensive and inclusive perspective on biodiversity knowledge for a global audience.

Across the BHL Consortium, we consistently unite to uphold excellence in metadata management and recognize the individual needs of our digitization partners, encompassing factors such as staff, technical expertise, funding, and local facilities. Having comprehensive Metadata Requirements reflects the tenacious and collaborative spirit across the BHL Consortium to come together in unity and further our collective mission to provide free, worldwide access to knowledge about life on Earth.

BHL Cataloging and Metadata Committee Charge

The BHL Cataloging and Metadata Committee possesses advanced expertise in metadata standards, remediation, mapping, and cross-walking workflows. The committee is responsible for overall BHL metadata advising, curation, and validation with the overarching goal of sharing the highest quality bibliographic data outputs broadly with the bioinformatics community and the world. The task of harmonizing hundreds of years of metadata from diverse sources is a continuous, iterative activity. The Cataloging and Metadata Committee directly supports the following strategic goals:

  • Ensures reliability and accuracy of the collections by curating the BHL collection 
  • Defines the BHL collection as a data resource as well as a digital library to support big data approaches
  • Extends and deepens metadata parsing and validation 

In closing, the Committee eagerly anticipates a year ahead filled with continued efforts to enhance BHL’s metadata quality and further integrate diverse information into the growing network of biodiversity knowledge. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the group with your feedback. Your input will be invaluable as we strive to advance our mission and better serve our community. Thank you for your ongoing support and engagement.

Avatar for JJ Dearborn
Written by

JJ Dearborn joined the Biodiversity Heritage Library as Data Manager in 2022 and works to open-up BHL data to the larger biodiversity community and the world. As a longtime advocate for the free-culture movement, she has worked on open access projects for the Peabody Essex Museum, Harvard University’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the City of Boston, and the State of Massachusetts.