Indrek Ibrus

Metadata as a ‘cultural modeling system’: A new rationale to study audiovisual heritage metadata systems

Paper Presentations IIAnalysis and discovery models for audiovisual materials

This paper reports on a recently launched 4-year research project that studies the evolution of AV heritage metadata and their uses and effects to cultural memory formation. The project investigates these questions within a specific national context – that of Estonia, a country that finalized its 6-year plan to digitize most of its audiovisual cultural heritage and to grant public access to it. This is paralleled by the ongoing development of a new and elaborate meta-description system by Estonian Film Database ( for turning everything about the heritage films findable.

The project is investigating the effects of audiovisual heritage metadata standards and data management systems on ways how the externalized audiovisual memories are structured and mediated and what does this imply for the new uses of heritage. The project is larger with different sub-studies. This paper reports on the sub-study on how the standards and database structuration could be understood to affect the formation of cultural memory. For this purpose the project combines two conceptual approaches – the media archaeology approach and the cultural semiotics approach. The first has an established track record on interpreting how ‘power is embedded’ in architectures of software and in the organisation of digital media platforms and the second has tools for analyzing how different kinds of texts, including metadata systems ‘model’ culture and therefore affect ways to perceive and ‘use’ culture including its past and its geneaologies. For investigating the cultural modeling process we will develop a new method combining the techniques of corpus analysis, content analysis and network (link) analysis to interpret the ways in which cultural sub-systems are demarcated (or ‘modeled’) by the means of metadata (index corpuses). The whole idea is to understand how the masses of metadata become functioning as a rather powerful ‘metalanguge’ for culture. This would presume the understanding if and how via complex interlinking the data becomes self-reflective in complex ways facilitating also the emergence of its multiple autopoietically functioning sub-systems. With the new method the aim is to understand how such emergent ‘system of interlinked sub-systems’ models culture for the users of databases and what could be, therefore, the further effects on the reproduction of culture by these users. We will apply this method to interpret the functions of EFIS and the archives of Estonian Public Broadcasting.