The two collection databases chosen were from the Getty and theMetropolitan Museum of Art.  Four object types were selected to evaluate the descriptive comparisons, which included:

1. Manuscript:  Psalter

2. Statue: Greek Kouros

3. Decorative Arts: 18th Century European Bed

4. Painting: Edouard Manet

The Getty:

I have to give a hand to the Getty because I truly believe this institution attempts to gear their online collection to the layperson and visitor.  There are pros and cons to that position, of course, but simply for access and legibility, the Getty does a fine job in the ability to quickly access and view what is available in the online collection.  Suffice it to say, it does not include everything and is more representative.  Also, the Getty collection cannot compare to the number of objects that are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the genres it collects have traditionally been based on what J.Paul Getty liked and instituted (but they are making expansions such as photography, etc.).  However, it is a good robust collection and worthy of comparison.  Again, note the name of the Getty’s collections database.  It is called “Explore Art” and this is placed in an active context.  On the “Explore Art” screen, the collection can be searched via the following categories:

Artists by Initial

Types of Art (this is object type or medium)

  • Architecture and Room Elements
  • Decorative Objects and Vases
  • Drawings
  • Furniture
  • Implements and Costume
  • Manuscripts
  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Sculpture


  • How We Live
  • Mythology
  • Natural World
  • People and Occupations
  • Religion
  • Science and Industry
  • Where We Live

(and then one can view a collections highlight as well as new acquisitions).

Again, these categories are easy to use but can verge on simplistic.  These artifacts are not categorized by theme, by era, by location, by period, by defined collection.  Subject classification (“Where We Live, People and Occupations”) appears to be too broad, undefined, and a bit too “preschool” for those searching collection databases.  One could keep these “friendly” categories but truly real and helpful subject classifications would be helpful.

The Getty developed an international documentation standard for cultural objects called “Object ID” in 1993.  In Robin Thorne’s Introduction to Object ID: Guidelines for Making Records that Describe Art, Antiques, and Antiquities from the Getty Information Institute define these as the minimum information needed to identify cultural objects.  The critical components of Object ID are:

  • To assist museums, police and custom agencies, art trade, insurance industry, and appraisers of art and antiques.
  • “Documentation standard that establishes the minimum level of information needed to identify an object.
  • Key building block in the development of information networks that will allow organizations around the world to exchange dexcriptions of objects rapidly.
  • Checklist of information required to identify stolen or missing objects.”

These minimum data field types include:

Type of Object

Materials and Techniques


Inscriptions and Markings

Distinguishing Features



Date or Period



Additional recommended category fields include:

Inventory Number (accession, catalog or registration number)

Related Written Material

Place of Origin/Discovery

Cross Reference to Related Objects

Date Documented

Object ID minimum standards ties in nicely with the Getty’s CDWA – Categories for the Descriptions of Works of Art.  Published by the Getty Trust and available online:  CDWA includes 532 categories and subcategories of content standards and guidelines.  One example are the standards set simply for the title field:

Core CDWA metadata elements include:


Catalog Level
Object/Work Type
Classification Term
Title or Name
Measurements Description
Materials and Techniques Description
Creator Description
Creator Identity
Creator Role
Creation Date
Earliest Date
Latest Date
Subject Matter Indexing Terms
Current Location Repository Name/Geographic Location
Current Repository Numbers

Brief Citation
Full Citation

Display Biography
Birth Date
Death Date
Life Roles

Place Name
Place Type
Broader Context

Broader Context
Scope Note

Subject Name
Broader Context

These metadata element sets can be matched/crosswalked to other metadata standards and elements.  The XML schema, CDWA Lite, offers a core set of standards based on CDWA and CCO.  CCO (Cataloging Cultural Objects) are cultural object descriptive guidelines, rules and examples for core CDWA and VRA (Visual Resource Association) categories.  In addition, the Getty is introducing CONA – Cultural Objects Name Authority – as a new vocabulary standard:

It will include “records for cultural works, including architecture and movable works such as paintings,sculpture, prints, manuscripts, photographs and other visual media, performance art, archaeological artifacts, and various functional objects that are from the realm of material culture and of the type collected by museums. The focus of CONA is works cataloged in scholarly literature, museum collections, visual resources collections, archives, libraries and indexing projects with a primary emphasis on art, architecture and archaeology. The coverage is global, from prehistory through the present.”  Unfortunately, it does not cover records for science and natural history museums.

Below is an example of a CONA record (the Hagia Sophia):

Paste in Image

So after all this intensive discourse regarding standards for these metadata fields, I come to the assignment itself.  What this shows is that the Getty in particular does not show very many data fields.  Perhaps these are hidden for the user, but for the user, these some of these core metadata elements are missing.  We’ll see more of these in the MET collection database.  Perhaps the Getty thought these fields might be superfluous for the user, but for researchers, academics and historians, these additional fields would be of import.  I could see an advanced or more selection to access those fields.

1. Manuscript: Psalter

The Getty has a nice selection of medieval illuminated manuscripts.  Here is the record for a psalter (devotional book of psalms):

Getty Psalter Page

Note that there are no category or field descriptions (i.e. title, date/period, artist, description)

Oddly, title is only provided as “Psalter.”  It would be nice if the title was more descriptive.  Assumption by analysis is made in the creator field that the artist of the piece is the “Master of the Ingeborg Psalter” and as such, anonymous.  I was slightly confused by not named descriptive fields and assumed that this was called the Ingeborg Psalter. Period/Date is combined with Location: France, after 1250.  Materials are clearly defined.  Measurement of the leaf are listed as well as a numbering system.  The Getty also offers whether the object is on view or not.  One of the best fields that the Getty is pretty good about are Descriptions.  These fields seem to be well-covered and very well-written.

There is a link to view more pages of the Psalter, and the titles for these are folios with names.

2.  Statue: Greek Kouros


The Getty is known for its Roman and Greek statuary and artifact collection (Getty Villa).  Here we have a Greek statue of a youth (Kouros).  The main title given is “Statue of a Kouros.”  The creator field is listed as “Unknown.”   Again, the fields location and period are combined.  Material, dimensions, ID number, description and view status are provided.   It is interesting to see the commentary in the location/date field as “or modern forgery.”  It seems they cannot tell if this is a fake or not.

3. 19th Century European Bed

The similar data fields again for this lovely 18th century French bed are:

  1. Title
  2. Creator
  3. Materials
  4. Measurements/Dimensions
  5. I.D. Number
  6. Viewability
  7. Description

4. Painting:


We see similar fields for the painting artifact but now we actually have an artist’s name in the Creator field.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Piotr Adamczyk, Met analyst and GSLIS graduate, noted in our LEEP course that the entire Met collection database was pretty old and was undergoing a massive design overhaul.  It needs it.  The Met is the exemplar museum institution of the United States and its online presence and collection should reflect that.  Again, there are pros and cons to how the collection database and fields are set up.  Definitely in comparison to the Getty, the Met collection database is definitely applying “insider” terminology.  There’s no friendly Getty “Explore Art” but its literal translation “Collection Database.”  I don’t know but even for hard-core art historians I find the term database too “scary-techie.”  The Collection Database screen itself is a bit intimidating and the Met doesn’t let up by providing this caveat: “Due to the extremely large number of objects in the Museum’s permanent collection, not all artworks are currently available in the Collection Database. Furthermore, information contained in the database records is, in some cases, incomplete, and all information is subject to change according to ongoing research and new acquisitions.”  Let’s see – “extremely large,” “not all are currently available,” “in some cases incomplete,” and subject to change” – are intimidating and can make a user turn away already from the search, but at least they do mention that the online collection is only representative.  In addition, the Met attempts to explain to the user what the collection database is, except again to describe it, they use “database” again to define the database…  All that introductory text does not get me excited, interested or comforted.  Also on the Collection Database screen, there are already objects that are showing up.  When you look at the count, it shows Works 1-20 of 155,410.  155,410!  That’s enough to make me run from this collections screen.  Items are searchable by department (an added bonus I believe the Getty should include in their collections database), by curatorial highlights and by keyword.  That’s it.  I hope the newly redesigned Met collection database includes more categories, particularly hierarchical results.

The museum items are categorized under:


Title of Work or Type of Object

Artist or Maker

Date number

Accession Number

Again, the Met is using the insider museum lexicon when looking at a a primary category – “Accession Number.”  For the non-museum professional and layperson, that terminology is again intimidating.  It has no meaning for the user.  However, “ID or Catalog Number” would make more sense.  Despite some of its blatant insider terminology, the Met offers greater number of fields and categorizations than the Getty.

1. Manuscript – Psalter

The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan, has one of the most significant collections of illuminated manuscripts in the world.  I would suspect that the research on these items would be heavily documented and suffice to say, they were.

However, I found it difficult to search for what I wanted, or should I say, I had to know exactly what I wanted.  The comparative manuscript to the Getty’s was another psalter, this one being titled: Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg.

Psalter Graphic.

The data fields include:

Probably (likely meaning Creator, Maker, Artist)



Geography (compared to Getty, Met breaks out these two categories – geography and culture)

Culture (in Getty, culture and geography were not broken out but combined with date)


Dimensions (a significant number of measurements offered here)

Classification (an important element missing from the Getty, as well as significantly missing from the Met searchable collection database)

Credit Line

Accession Number


Description (descriptions are not as detailed as those from Getty but are right to the point.

Additional Views (multiple views and page by page views of manuscript)

Provenance (also missing from Getty and an important category from the art historian/curator/collector perspective – where the work originated, who owned it, who it passed hands to until this point)

Provenance Graphic

2. Statue: Greek Kouros

Met Kouros Graphic

Here some fields have been eliminated – Creator, Classification, Credit Line, Geography.  I find it odd that the classification field was eliminated.  It could use it.  It has added the field “Period” for the “Archaic Period,” a particularly defined period of Greek art (such as Japan’s Edo Period).  Additional views are helpful for a statue that was not present for the Getty Kouros.  Provenance and Description are still here.

An additional data field is input here: “Selected Biography” that provides some detailed bibliographic references to this Kouros statue.  That is helpful for researchers.  This was not made available at the Getty, again stressing how the Getty collection database was considerably more accessible and legible, but low on a detailed systematic classification and categorization.

3.  Decorative Arts: 18th Century European Bed

The selection from the Met includes an actual entire bedroom – “Bedroom from the Sagredo Palace, Venice.”

Here, there are some modifications to the data fields.

“Bedroom from the Sagredo Palace, Venice” fills the title field but now we also have something called “Object Name” with it being classified as “Period Room.”  OK, I wouldn’t have even known that this would even be considered an object.  Creator fields are defined as “stuccowork probably by… and “probably after a model by.”  Also, instead of description, we have the data field “label.”  I don’t know why it is not called “description” and again it must be some insider terminology.

4.  Painting: Edouard Manet

For Manet’s painting, we have some straightforward fields that we haven’t seen before – mainly being the Artist field and a true title – “Young Lady in 1866.”  Now here we have some additional and fields that haven’t shown up in the other Met artifacts:

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings
  • Exhibition History
  • References

These new fields demonstrate how different artifacts may require different fields as in the case of tracking paintings, and modern paintings seen in the “Exhibition History” field.


In the Getty publication, Introduction to Metadata – Pathways to Digital Information edited by Murtha Baca, it is noted that the term metadata itself is not a user-friendly term.  However, it goes on to say that metadata can be explained in it being “simply meaningful data describing another discrete data object.”  I like the word “meaningful.”  And I take this further for if we can have all the metadata and numerous descriptive content fields we want, but if it is not meaningful, what is its point.  Tony Gill has defined metadata additionally in the updated online version of Introduction to Metadata as “structured description of the essential attributes of an information object.”  “Essential” is a good word too.

We have seen by looking at these two collection databases that there are quite a number of differences in quantities and types of data fields.  In the very legible discourse on descriptive metadata for LAMS by Gunter Waibel and Mary Elings in “Metadata for All: Descriptive Standards and Metadata Sharing across Libraries, Archives and Museums,” the present metadata and standards graphically as the data structure as a bottle or container, the data content as that which fills the bottle, the data format as the packaging for the data, and data exchange as a milkman who carries the data.  So, suffice it to say that these data content fields and data structures should be meaningful.  It is also noted in this article that we may have by LAMs becoming a combination of themselves (a museum may have an item that fits in archives standards or a book that fits in library standards) as well as sharing data, a greater need for additional metadata and fields because of this hybridization of materials and communities, and thus make this data more meaningful.  It would also be nice to see more ways of making the collection elements more meaningful as seen in other avenues, such as tagging, keywords, commentary, videos or podcasts, related links, collection, and artifacts.

As Clifford Lynch states in “Digital Collections, Digital Libraries and the Digitization of Cultural Heritage Information, there is a “growing and persistent demand for more and more digital content” and that there is a sense that when one digitizes and marks up, that it is complete.  But he states, and emphatically so, that we are “going to need to revisit this mark-up periodically as our understanding of mark-up evolves, and our capabilities to apply mark-up economically also evolve…  Needless to say, he illustrates that the metadata, the fields, and the markup may change and we must change with it.  It brings up the dilemma again of Meissner and Greene’s More Product and Less Process.  Do we want more items in the collection versus the work involved in creating the details, in processing, and such?  Is there somewhere in between?  In the end, I believe it comes down to making the fields of the collection artifact or object meaningful.   I know I have used that word repetitively in this conclusion, but its a good one… a meaningful one!


Digital Collections, Digital Libraries and the Digitization of Cultural Heritage Information by Clifford Lynch
First Monday, volume 7, number 5 (May 2002),

Introduction to Metadata by Murtha Baca,
Getty Publications, J. Paul Getty Trust (2008)


Metadata for All: Descriptive Standards and Metadata Sharing across Libraries, Archives and Museums by Mary W. Elings and Günter Waibel
First Monday, volume 12, number 3 (March 2007),

More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th-Century Collections by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming,  American Archivist (2005)

Baca, Murtha, et al. Cataloging Cultural Objects: A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images. Chicago: American Library Association, 2006.

Thornes, Robin, et al.  Object ID: Guidelines for Making Records that Describe Art, Antiques, and Antiquities.  United States: The J.Paul Getty Trust, 1999.