Is content packaging just metadata?

According to Andy Powell (Eduserve), yes, it is. And at a technical workshop on content packaging for complex objects organised by the Repositories Research Team last week, he put forward a case for the potential of the Dublin Core Abstract Model to be used for packaging complex objects. ( A quick overview of his thinking is available from the eduserve blog). Along side the DCAM, presentations were given on MPEG21 DIDL, METS, IEEE RAMLET, IMS Content Packaging.

The objectives of the day were to reach a better understanding of the use of some content packaging standards and models to describe complex objects and to compare and evaluate the appropriateness of each in the context of digital repositories.

So what were the outcomes – were there any clear winners or losers? Is content packaging really just metadata? For me, I’d have to say. . . maybe. The elegance of the DC solution is perhaps, at this point in time, just a bit removed from some of the realities of certain packaging scenarios – particularly those relating to teaching and learning when you start to think about the differences between storing an package and then being able to run it. At a more fundamental level, and one that was brought up during the discussion, how should a repository deal with complex objects and their related standards/models – what should they injest, expose, make available to users? Answers on a postcard please 🙂

The IEEE RAMLET (resource aggregration model for learning education and training) model is starting to address some of these issues by providing mappings in the form of an OWL ontology which will allow a system to perfom transforms from a number of specifications ( METS, MPEG21, IETF Atom have been idenfitied so far). But there’s no implementation yet, so how this will actually work remains to be seen.

Personally I found it really interesting to get an overview of each of the areas. Both MPEG 21 and the DC approach seemed to be quite similar in terms of each of them offering a great deal of flexibility in the ability to define and describe relationships between items. METS and IMS seemed to have a bit more strength in terms of describing structure. I think at this stage, it’s all still a bit horses for courses when deciding what standard to use/support, but I have no doubt that whatever the solution, metadata will play quite a big part in it.

Copies of the presentations from the day and a summary report comparing the appropriateness of the various approaches for digital repositories will be available from the RRT wiki soon.

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