The Dublin Core metadata guidelines started in 1995 in Dublin, Ohio, which is why they are called the Dublin Core. The beginning was actually in the basement of the OCLC building, in March of 1995. In April of 1996, the Dublin Core advocates went to Warwick, England, where they had another conference. So there are Warwick Conventions for the Dublin Core. So there’s no mystery about the names; these things are just named after the places where they started.

The conferences led to the standard Z39.85 in 2007, which was adopted as an ISO standard in 2009. It was hotly debated, and the Internet Engineering Task Force adopted it as a Request for Comment document as well. It commanded attention.

The Dublin Core standard has 15 major elements, and people sort of agree on what they mean. Then there are 18 elements in the Qualified Core and the schema, and additional type qualifiers for it at this point.

It is a fairly simple framework. At the time it was developed, a lot of people said that it was the same as the Dialog data set. And it was kind of like MARC cataloging meets online databases. That is really what it was. It was an attempt to make it so that all of the complex library records with their 680 MARC fields could be digested down to a fairly simple list. And it still works that way at the heart of it.

So, in the illustrations below, there are the elements from Version 1.1, and the qualifiers are listed as well.

The qualifier properties are fairly definite. The way the wording sequences are written was hotly debated. I think you will find, when you try to apply them, that they are not very specific. If you are trying to apply Dublin Core as a standard, as a ‘check off the pieces’ so that you know that you have it exactly right for Dublin Core, Dublin Core won’t do that for you. It is not a yes or no, black or white standard. It guides you to a way that you can look at the information.

There has been a lot of work with it, a lot of additional things added in the last years. It raised a lot of questions at the start, and it has kept a lot of questions over all that time – 17 years later – as to whether it was really a standard or a guide. That boils down to “Is it measurable?”

Can you say if this database record is Dublin Core or if this is not Dublin Core? You can’t. Should the number of elements be expanded? Are there enough? Are there too many? A lot of different questions but the real question was this: Can people use it reliably? Can we measure it with a yardstick? That’s where Dublin Core has suddenly sprung to life again in that they are writing a lot of functional requirements that serve as yardsticks, which they did not have in the past.

Marjorie M.K. Hlava President Access Innovations


Note: The above posting is one of a series based on a presentation, The Theory of Knowledge, given at the Data Harmony Users Group meeting in February of 2011. The presentation covered the theory of knowledge as it relates to search and taxonomies.