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Artificial Intelligence Blog Series: Metadata Generation for Digital Content


March 26, 2024 | 4 min read |

Special collections are often the gem of a library and deserve to be easily accessible to library patrons. At Ex Libris, part of Clarivate, we are prioritizing this vision as we work on metadata generation enrichment via AI for digital resources.


Special collections include unique material in a variety of formats, from rare historical documents to contemporary records and photographs and everything in between, such as books, newspapers and articles. For advanced scholars, local historians, journalists or even people tracing their family genealogy, these collections hold valuable insights and information.   


Libraries are increasingly making the effort to digitize these collections, in part to preserve fragile, irreplaceable materials but also as part of a process to make them more discoverable and accessible to users who are primarily online. That process, however, can be complex and labor intensive, especially for catalogers tasked with manually identifying and inputting vast amounts of critical metadata, whether for this digitized material or “born-digital” content such as photographs and more.  


At Ex Libris, we are committed to helping libraries harness innovative technologies, so they are better able to connect their communities with the vital information they seek. This commitment includes a vision for incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into the process to enhance metadata generation and elevate usability – and usage – of digital special collections and other digital content. 


What could an AI-enhanced digital cataloging tool do?  


We’re currently working with beta testers from our passionate user community to better understand the challenges of special collection librarians and catalogers at academic institutions and to help develop a forward-looking solution that can make their work easier and more robust. 


For example, AI has strong capabilities when it comes to identifying the faces of people in pictures – this technology is a popular feature on Apple, Google and social media platforms. Now, imagine if a cataloger could leverage this ability for organizing hundreds or thousands of photos in digital collections, quickly and with a high degree of accuracy. 


We envision a not-too-distant future where a cataloging tool enhanced with AI could handle such metadata generation, as opposed to the traditionally time-consuming and nearly unmanageable task so library catalogers can free up time to focus on aspects of their work where AI is weaker, such as studying and understanding handwritten content and providing deeper insights into digital resources. When it comes to digitized materials like handwritten marginalia in books and articles or letters, human intervention is imperative and could now more easily be prioritized.  


This article is the fifth in our series on AI developments at Ex Libris. Last month we shared our developments with Our AI Metadata Generator, and the profound impact this scalable technology will have on metadata generation, catalogers, library staff, and library users.  


At Ex Libris integrated library system, the use of AI technology is always done to solve the real challenges of real users, librarians and libraries. We respect the need for privacy and intellectual property considerations, and above all, we understand the importance of using trusted scholarly content to drive learning outcomes and increase library impact.     


Academic libraries are vital for accessing trustworthy scholarly material. Download this whitepaper to learn how new methods and technologies, like Generative AI, can enhance the library’s discovery experience and align it with dynamic user expectations.