Taxonomy of Keywords & Their Importance

As the world becomes increasingly digitized, there is a new need for standardization of digital media files. The ways in which these files are stored are important, but even more so are the ways in which metadata is applied to allow one to search for a file once it has been placed within a content management system.

While looking at metadata standards, it is important to think about image capture standards as well. Images, especially those captured digitally, must meet certain criteria in order to be stored over a period of time, as well as allow for multiple uses. One example of image capture standards is the Digital Image Submission Criteria (DISC) standards provided by the IDEAlliance. DISC gives advice on how to store images for maximum reproduction in print and other media, while also lending itself to proper archival storage of digital images and files.

The DISC standards allow for digital media creators and publishers to deal with common problems found within a digital workflow. By following image standards, the digital file creator is able to determine the minimum quality level for digital images for printed output. Such standards also provide a way of creating a contract between the creator of the file and the acceptor, by creating guidelines specifying how images will be accepted or rejected. The DISC surveys also determine what format images should be submitted in. For example, in our Xinet project it was determined that images would be submitted as tiff files, using LAB color space and be at least 8 bit depth. A final aspect is how images should be labeled so that they fit within the digital workflow. This allows the image takers to create a standard to reach towards when outputting their work to the collective (Dougherty 2).

When images are rejected, it is understood that it is because the files did not meet the requirements laid out by the image standards. It is common for photographers and other digital file creators to not even receive payment for their work in the digital workflow world if their files do not follow the standards set forth by the receiving digital workflow. In a way, standards for image capture serves as a contract for both parties involved in the digital workflow.

Metadata is often utilized within the DISC standards. One aspect of metadata is the use of keywords to allow files to be searched. An important part of this includes the use of keywords. Keywords are part of an access structure, which “relates content types or publication pages to each other or to an external set of concepts that can be used to get to a particular content type” (Boiko par 40). Keywords fall within the indexing structure of metadata in the ranking of access structures making it the one of the most important fields. Keyword entry may come in different forms, for example in the IPTC Core, in which there is a spot for keywords. Similarly, within some museum systems there is a “Subject Matter—Description…A description of the work in terms of the generic elements of the image or images depicted in, on, or by it,” which may also hold keywords (Harpring par 10).

It is important when using keywords that taxonomy is applied to them. Since keywords may be free text, it is important to have a standard when using them (Dougherty 6). Taxonomy allows for  “an orderly classification that explicitly expresses the relationships, usually hierarchical (e.g., genus/species, whole/part, class/instance), between and among the things being classified” (Gill par 80). It is also important to keep in mind that many times keywords are known as open lists so you must “make sure that you trust users to add new items responsibly” (Boiko 10). When creating keywords, you must keep in mind the result – an extensible series of categories for organizing digital assets into meaningful sets (Bock 4).

“Using a taxonomy, we know how to relate one term in the information hierarchy to another” (Bock 5). If we look at this from the perspective of a cataloger of an art museum, it may take place in three steps. The first is where keywords entered may be generic, such as “nude” or “woman”, which are elements that would be easily observable to any person that is viewing the work. The next level would be identification, providing information that is generally more specific, such as “Birth of Venus.” Finally, the last set of keywords would deal with an even more specific set of terms that allow for interpretation, for example “Sandro Botticelli Classiest representation of Venus Birth” (Harpring par 20).

In respect to my experience with Xinet for a classproject, the keywords were chosen in a similar fashion to the hierarchy described in Introduction to Art Image Access, Issues, Tools, Standards, and Strategies. The first level of keywords for the images represents an overall knowledge of the subject matter. For example, the topic chosen for the images was baked goods, so the first keyword to be entered was “food” since this is a general term for anything editable (and the baked goods are food). Next, a keyword identifying the type of food was added – bakery. Since the baked goods came from a specific store, it was also added so that someone searching for the bakery name would be able to find it, along with “menu” to denote that this may be found year round in their store. In addition, “sweets” was added to show the type of baked good in the photo. Finally, the specific name of the baked good was added, “vanilla bean slice”.

It is important to use taxonomy within any type of database when dealing with digital media, as it allows users of all occupations and knowledge bases to easily search for images in a timely manner while preserving the original intent of the digital media.




Bock, G. E. (2005, October). Designing Metadata An Implementers Guide for Organizing and Using Digital Assets. Bock and Company, 1, 21.


Boiko, Bob. (2005). Content management bible, 2nd edition.

[Books24x7 version] Available from.


Dougherty, J., & Lam, K. w. (2007, May). DISC 2007 Specifications and Guidelines. Graphic Arts Monthly, 1, 9.


Gill, T., Gilliland, A. J., Whalen, M., & Woodley, M. S. (n.d.). Introduction to Metadata (Research at the Getty). The Getty. Retrieved January 1, 2011, from web.


Layne, S. S., Harpring, P., Hourihane, C., & Sundt, C. L. (n.d.). Introduction to Art Image Access (Research at the Getty). The Getty. Retrieved January 1, 2011, from web.


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