Expanding Metadata for Better Accessibility: Lab Tour for 5th Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities


Electronic Literature Lab Tour at the 5th Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities
by Dene Grigar and Holly Slocum, Electronic Literature Lab, Washington State University Vancouver

“Humans have contours;  so should their data.”–The ELL Team, October 2020

The Electronic Literature Lab is a media archaeology lab with a mission, since its founding in 2012, focused on human-centered 1) preservation and archiving, 2) curation, 3) documentation, and 4) production. It undertakes a lot of projects relating to those four areas, but the one we are quickly mentioning today is the development and maintenance the Electronic Literature Organization’s Electronic Literature Repository, 25 collections amounting to 2106 works of born-digital literature dating back to the mid-1980s. Phase 1 of the project, which saw its initial development, was funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Phase 2 is the build out of all of page templates, which will be completed December 5, 2020. Phase 3 is the creation of all 2140 pages and the migration of the content and metadata for those pages, which will be completed on May 15, 2021. Phase 4, the production of a custom dashboard and the refinement of the metadata for each of the 2106 works, begins on June 1, 2021. 

The metadata schema used for the repository is the Library of Congress’ Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS). However, because the works collected in the repository are participatory, interactive, and experiential, we encountered many limitations in using it for describing them. Thus, we expanded MODS to include the ELO’s Consortium on Electronic Literature taxonomies, a classification system specific to born-digital literature that provides a common approach that “reflects  the current state of research in the field.” This expansion allows us to include 3D modeler, for example, as a role in a work’s production and list a work’s software version and ways in which users experience it. In other words, it alerts readers to literary qualities, procedural modalities, mechanisms, and formats needed to access a work technologically.

Missing from both MODS and the CELL taxonomies is metadata relating to the sensory modalities a work requires its readers to apply in order for a human body to access it physically. Put simply, we provide metadata that would alert a reader wanting to access Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries Samsung, for example, that the work involves a crucial sonic component. That a work, like Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse’s Between Page and Screen, requires readers to hold a print book of QR Codes in front of a computer camera in order for animations to be triggered on the book’s pages and so is not easily accessible to those who can use of both hands. Other modalities, such as sight, gesture, touch figure into the need for metadata relating to this form of accessibility.

If indeed the purpose of metadata schemas is to provide “a common understanding of what data are composed of (that is, its elements or attributes) for the purpose of describing data,” then ELL’s expanded MODS––what we call ELMS––addresses the need for an approach for describing the kind of technological and physical accessibility works require.

Dene Grigar is Director and Professor of the CMDC Program. She specializes in electronic literature, emerging technologies and cognition, and ephemera.