Who is the creator?

I am currentphoto of quill pensly working on an exciting new Linked Data project, looking at exposing the Archives Hub metadata in a different way, that could provide great potential for new uses of the data. More on that in future posts. But it has got me thinking about the thorny issue of ‘Name of creator(s)’, as ISAD(G) says. The ‘creator’ of the archive. In RDF modelling (required for Linked Data output) we need to think about how data elements relate to eachother and be explicit about the data elements and the relationships between concepts.

Dublin Core has a widely used ‘createdBy’ element – it would be nice and easy to use that to define the relationship between the person and the archive. The ‘Sir Ernest Shakleton Collection’ createdBy Sir Ernest Shakleton. There is our statement. For RDF we’ll want to identify the names of things with URIs, but leaving that for now, what I’m interested in here is the predicate – the collection was created by Sir Ernest Shakleton, an Arctic explorer whose papers are represented on the Hub.

The only trouble with this is that the collection was not created by him. Well, it was and it wasn’t. The ‘collection’ as a group of things was created by him. That particular group of things would not exist otherwise. But people will usually take ‘created by’ to mean ‘authored by’. It is quite possible that none of the items in the collection were authored by Sir Ernest Shakleton. ISAD(G) refers to the ‘creation, accumulation and maintenance’ and uses ‘creator’ as shorthand for these three different activities. EAD uses ‘origination’ for the ‘individual or organisation responsible for the creation, accumulation or assembly of the described materials’. Maybe that definition is more accurate because it says ‘or assembly’. The idea of an originator appears to get nimbly around the fact that the person or organisation we attribute the archive to is not necessarily the author – they did not necessary create any of the records. But the OED defines the originator as the person who originates something, the creator.

It all seems to hang upon whether the creator can reasonably mean the creator of this archive collection – they are responsible for this collection of materials coming together. The trouble is, even if we go with that, it might work within an archival context – we all agree that this is what we mean – but it doesn’t work so well in a general context. If our Linked Data statement is that the Sir Ernest Shakleton collection ‘was created by’ Sir Ernest Shakleton then this is going to be seen, semantically, as the bog-standard meaning of creator, especially if we use a vocabulary that usually defines creator as author. Dublin Core has dc:creator. Dublin Core does not really have the concept of an archival originator, and I suspect that there are no other vocabularies that have addressed this need.

I would like to end this post with an insightful solution…but none such is coming to me at present. I suppose the most accurate one word description of the role of this person or organisation is ‘accumulator’ or ‘gatherer’. But something doesn’t sound quite right when you start talking about the accumulator. Sounds a bit like a Hollywood movie. Maybe gives it a certain air of mystery, but for representing data in RDF we need clarity and consistency in the use of terms.