Using VRA Core 4.0
This chapter describes the history, development, and use of the Visual Resources Association (VRA) Core 4.0 metadata language, which is especially useful for the description of digital images. The structure of VRA Core and the content standards used with it are discussed, as well as its compatibility with XML. Also considered is how VRA Core is designed to embody the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) user tasks and its adherence to the one-to-one principle. The chapter discusses the vocabularies that can be used with VRA Core. Included are detailed descriptions of the elements of VRA Core, and exercises for practising the use of the standard.
Image collections provide the most compelling case for quality metadata. Search and discovery remains predominantly a language-based enterprise, so images need textual surrogates to represent them for these purposes. Ideally, the surrogate will support the FRBR tasks of finding, identifying, selecting, and obtaining; and aid cultural heritage institutions in outreach and interpretation, as well as discovery and retrieval (Elings, 2007, p. 10). A metadata record serves as an image’s textual surrogate, and can aid in all these tasks.
At the conceptual level, VRA Core provides a basic element set to consider when designing descriptive metadata fields for a database model (Eklund, 2007, p. 46). The Visual Resources Association created VRA Core to be a single element set that can be applied as many times as necessary to create records to describe works of visual culture, as well as the images that document them. VRA facilitates the sharing of information among visual resources collections about works and images.
Users of VRA Core are visual resource professionals such as slide librarians, museum librarians, and art historians. The original developers of VRA Core were slide librarians who had surrogates of famous artistic works in their collections, but rarely the original work. While their users might be looking for the Mona Lisa, the slide librarians realized a subtle distinction. What was actually in their collections, what they needed to describe, was an image of the Mona Lisa, rather than the original. The librarians could add a catalog record for the Mona Lisa to their database, but it would be more correct to say that they owned an image of the Mona Lisa. However, at the same time, the users of their libraries needed information about both the original artwork and the surrogate in the slide collection that they would actually use. The visual resources community realized early on that they needed to catalog both the original work and the image held in their collection.
VRA Core closely obeys the one-to-one principle developed by the Dublin Core community (Miller, 2011b, p. 216), which states, “Only one object or resource may be described within a single metadata set” (Visual Resources Association, n.d.a, N. pag.). However, in many cases the image being described does not itself conform to the one-to-one principle. Photographs of museum exhibits often depict the multiple works found in the exhibit. If the exhibit is considered a piece of art in itself, then one photograph may only contain a portion of the whole “work.” There may be many images of a single work (how many reproductions of the Mona Lisa must there be?). A building may be considered an important architectural work of art, and perhaps a famous photographer took a photograph of that building – and maybe your textbook has a reproduction of that photograph. All of these works of art and reproductions have complex relationships to each other, and VRA Core attempts to make these relationships clear.
Eklund points out that “Cultural works are as individual as the artists who create them and the scholars who write about them” (2007, p. 45), and that much of the data we have about cultural works comes from scholars, who can vary in opinion on the specifics of a work of art. Therefore, regularizing data about cultural objects can be a significant challenge. The VRA Core aims to be flexible yet provide sufficient structure to accommodate this challenge.
VRA Core 4.0 intentionally aims to address the FRBR User Tasks. These basic tasks are to find, identify, select, and obtain (International Federation of Library Associations, 2009). These tasks are good touchstones for evaluating the success of our metadata. Further, if the purpose of metadata is to make the user successful in these tasks, we can see how consistent, quality metadata creation is vital to images especially, since they don’t have inherent descriptive text.
Finding the right image requires that the metadata inform the user that the image potentially conveys the specific work, the subject matter, or relation to a certain entity, like an artist or named collection, that they seek. The metadata must be specific enough for the user to select the best resource among possible candidates within a result set, and the metadata records must be distinct enough to identify the desired resource. Once the user has found, chosen, and identified the resource, successful metadata then facilitates the obtaining of it.
VRA Core has been evolving since the introduction of VRA Core 1.0 in the late 1990s. VRA Core operates with the content standard CCO, and is often used in conjunction with the Getty vocabularies AAT, TGN, and ULAN. For those familiar with library cataloging, think of VRA as MARC (the tags), CCO as AACR2 (the content or semantics), AAT and TGN as the Library of Congress subject headings (the controlled vocabulary), and ULAN as the Library of Congress Name Authority File. VRA Core has been mapped to Dublin Core, so transferring VRA metadata across systems is viable, and the VRA elements have been built in as a metadata scheme option in the popular digital asset management platform CONTENTdm.
Versions 1.0–3.0 started out with an element (or category) set, but no structure or encoding (XML). These elements are (Table 6.1):
|Record Type||ID Number|
While you can see a resemblance to Dublin Core in many of the categories and in its simplicity, you can also see accommodations for unique aspects of art and/or museum objects. The concept of relation to other works addressed a need that was wanting in library cataloging standards for non-serial objects. All the elements in VRA Core 1.0–3.0 are repeatable and can be given in any order (Miller, 2011, p. 216).
VRA Core 4.0 was introduced in 2007. Two primary catalysts inspired the revision of VRA Core 3.0: the VRA-sponsored CCO project and the emergence of XML as the data exchange format of choice (Eklund, 2007, p. 45). The development of CCO gave the community a standard for the content of the data entered into VRA Core, and XML provided a structure for the data and a standardized and highly interoperable means for transferring metadata records. The revision also took into account the growing importance of FRBR in the library community. VRA 4.0 became a standard that addressed more community needs and improved data sharing, yet still was a core standard, able to be adapted to the needs of individual institutions.
There are a few key differences in VRA 4.0 that users of previous versions of VRA Core will notice. The primary difference is the change in structuring element qualifiers. In order to work within the XML encoding structure, the element qualifiers found in previous versions had to be restructured into sub-elements and attributes. The other changes concern the elements themselves. The Record Types “image” and “work” are expanded to include “collection” to further describe how museum collections organize resources. It also changes “Creator” (a term inherited from Dublin Core) and instead uses “Agent” to separate the element from a statement of contribution to the intellectual content of the work (donors can be “agents,” but not “creators”). Under the element “agent,” a sub-element, “role,” specifies the contribution of the named person or entity to the record (Miller, 2011, p. 219). These elements support usage of terms familiar to users of art collections.
Much of the information in this section is taken from the 2007 article, Herding Cats: CCO, XML, and the VRA Core, and the VRA Core 4.0 Element Description, both of which were authored by Janice Eklund. These are excellent resources for learning about the proper usage of VRA Core 4.0, and users should turn to them for detailed information on the intricacies of VRA Core 4.0. The information here aims to give you a foundation to begin working with this element set.
The VRA Core XML schema has 19 elements and 23 sub-elements. Some of these elements and sub-elements have attributes that make the data in an element more specific. VRA Core 4.0 also has nine global attributes that may be applied to any element or sub-element as needed, and two sub-elements called display and notes that are optional for each element set.
There are two versions of VRA Core 4.0: restricted and unrestricted. In the restricted version, the date formats and the values that can be entered in the type attributes are mandated. The standardization of these values allows increased interoperability when data is being aggregated or shared. The unrestricted version allows dates to be entered in any format, and any values can be entered into the type attributes.
In the list below, the elements are marked by bold print, the sub-elements are in regular font, and the attributes are in italics. The global attributes are listed below the elements. In addition to the sub-elements listed under each element, one display and one notes sub-element may be added to any element set as needed. Repeatable elements that allow multiple index values are contained, along with the display and notes sub-elements, within the <elementSet></elementSet> tags (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 1).
The only thing that is required in a VRA Core 4.0 record is an indication of whether the item being described is a work, an image, or a collection. The words work, image, and collection may mean different things to different institutions, but there are very clear definitions for each within the context of VRA Core 4.0:
A work is a unique entity such as an object or event. Examples include a painting, sculpture, or photograph; a building or other construction in the built environment; an object of material culture, or a performance. Works may be simple or complex. Works may have component parts that are cataloged as works themselves but related to the larger work in a whole/part or hierarchical fashion via the RELATION element.
An image is a visual representation of a work in either whole or part. The representation serves to provide access to the work when the work itself cannot be experienced first-hand. In image collections, such representations typically are found in the form of slides, photographs, and/or digital files.
A collection is an aggregate of work or image records. A collection may comprise multiple items that are conceptually or physically arranged together for the purpose of cataloging or retrieval. This record type can also be used to record an archival group that shares a common provenance or a series that encompasses multiple individual titles.
In the XML structure of VRA Core 4.0, this element (work, image, or collection) is considered the top level element, because without a resource to describe there is no need for any of the other elements. When a VRA Core 4.0 record is displayed in XML, you can see that all the other descriptive elements are nested within the top level element.
For a more in-depth example of how VRA Core elements nest within the top element, please refer back to the example work and image records in Chapter 2.
|Work record||Image record|
Below are the definitions for each element in VRA Core 4.0. These definitions are broad indications of how the elements should be used. For more detailed instructions about formatting the data, VRA Core 4.0 users generally turn to the content standard CCO, although AACR2 could also be used.
Description: The names, appellations, or other identifiers assigned to an individual, group, or corporate body that has contributed to the design, creation, production, manufacture, or alteration of the work or image. When more than one agent is cited, the extent attribute may be used to qualify the role sub-element for one or both names. In the case of a named individual, group, or corporate body, the culture sub-element refers to the nationality or culture of the individual, group, or corporate body in the name sub-element. In cases where no identifiable individual, group, or corporate body can be named, creation responsibility is assumed by the culture sub-element. To record the cultural context within which a work, collection, or image was created, independent of the nationality or culture of the creator, use the CULTURAL CONTEXT element (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 3). It is recommended that a controlled vocabulary, such as LCNAF or ULAN, be used whenever possible.
Description: The name of the culture, people (ethnonym), or adjectival form of a country name from which a Work, Collection, or Image originates, or the cultural context with which the Work, Collection, or Image has been associated (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 6). The use of a controlled vocabulary, such as the ULAN Editorial Guidelines Chapter 4.7 Appendix G, Nationalities and Places, AAT, or LCSH is recommended where possible.
Description: Date or range of dates associated with the creation, design, production, presentation, performance, construction, or alteration, etc. of the work or image. Dates may be expressed as free text or numerical. The Boolean circa attribute may be added to either sub-element to indicate an approximate date. For image records, the date element refers to the view date, if known (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 7). It is recommended that values be entered according to ISO 8601 standards for data content (http:llwww.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/iso-time.html), i.e. YYYY, YYYY-MM, or YYYY-MM-DD. Dates before the Common Era (BCE or BC) should be entered with a minus sign (−) in the form ‒YYYY, whenever possible.
Description: A free-text note about the Work, Collection, or Image, including comments, description, or interpretation, that gives additional information not recorded in other categories. For element-specific notes, use the optional notes sub-element (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 10).
Description: All marks or written words added to the object at the time of production or in its subsequent history, including signatures, dates, dedications, texts, and colophons, as well as marks, such as the stamps of silversmiths, publishers, or printers. The location of this text or symbol may be specified by the position sub-element. If a translation of the text into the language of the catalog record is also provided, include in a repeated element with the text type of translation (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 11).
Description: The geographic location and/or name of the repository, building, site, or other entity whose boundaries include the Work or Image. Inclusion of a type attribute distinguishes between different kinds of locations, e.g. repository locations, creation locations, discovery locations, etc. The optional extent attribute may also be used here to further specify or disambiguate geographic term types. Note that repository id numbers (museum or private collection accession or inventory numbers), formerly contained in the Core 3 ID Number element, are here mapped to the Location refid sub-element. Inclusion of these alphanumeric strings that pinpoint a particular work within a particular location serves to disambiguate identically titled works by the same artist held by the same repository (e.g. Raphael, “Madonna and Child.”) Repeatable sub-elements allow the inclusion of multiple museum inventory numbers if an object id number has changed over time. For id numbers that are independent of repository, such as catalog raisonne numbers, use the TEXTREF element (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 14). It is recommended that a controlled vocabulary such as TGN, the BHA Index, the Grove Dictionary of Art Location Appendix, or LCSH is used whenever possible.
Description: The substance of which a work or an image is composed (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 18). The use of a controlled vocabulary such as AAT is recommended when possible.
Restricted values: area, base, bit-depth, circumference, count, depth, diameter, distanceBetween, duration, fileSize, height, length, resolution, runningTime, scale, size, target, weight, width, other
Restricted values: Refer to ISO standard for units and measures: http://ts.nist.gov/WeightsAndMeasures/Publications/appxc.cfm. Values should follow standard 2-letter abbreviations without punctuation (Example: cm)
Description: The physical size, shape, scale, dimensions, or format of the Work or Image. Dimensions may include such measurements as volume, weight, area, or running time. If the measurements do not describe the entire work or image, use the extent attribute to specify the part of the work being measured. The unit used in the measurement must be specified (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 19).
Description: Terms or phrases describing the identity of the related work and the relationship between the work being cataloged and the related work or image. Use this element to relate work records to other work or collection records, or image records to work or collection records. If full relational reciprocity is not explicitly recorded in a local database (e.g. only the part to whole relationship is recorded, and not whole to part), it is recommended that the data exporter add the reciprocal value, based on a controlled set of terms (see Table 6.3).
|Relationship Type||Reciprocal Relationship Type|
|<general - default>|
|<hierarchical - group/collection/series to parts>|
|<a work and its components>|
|<works that are related as steps in the creation process>|
|<works designed to be displayed together>|
|<works copied after or depicting other works>|
|<work to image relationships>|
Source: Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 24.
Description: Information about the copyright status and the rights holder for a work, collection, or image. The optional notes sub-element may include justifications, conditions, or restraints on use, contact or licensing information, or other intellectual property statements as may be desired. The global href attribute may be used to hold a hypertext link to a website containing rights and/or contact information (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 25).
Description: A reference to the source of the information recorded about the work or the image. For a work record, this may be a citation to the sole source of the information recorded in a catalog record. For an image, it may be used to provide information about the supplying agency, vendor, or individual. In the case of copy photography, it can be used to record a bibliographic citation or other description of the image source. In all cases, names and source identification numbers may be included. If all information recorded about a work, image, or collection comes from a single source, it should be recorded here. However, each individual element of the Core may include a source attribute to reflect an information source pertaining specifically to that element within a work, image, or collection (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 26). MLA rules for bibliographic citation recommended when necessary.
Description: The identifying number and/or name assigned to the state or edition of a work that exists in more than one form and the placement of that work in the context of prior or later issuances of multiples of the same work. For published volumes, such as books, portfolios, series, or sets, the edition is usually expressed as a number in relation to other editions printed. In other cases, a scholar may have identified a series of editions, which have then been numbered sequentially. A state or edition may also be identified by a name or phrase. If the data is derived from a secondary source, such as a catalog raisonne, it should be included in a source attribute (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 27).
Description: The identifying number and/or name assigned to the state or edition of a work that exists in more than one form and the placement of that work in the context of prior or later issuances of multiples of the same work. For published volumes, such as books, portfolios, series, or sets, the edition is usually expressed as a number in relation to other editions printed. In other cases, a scholar may have identified a series of editions, which have then been numbered sequentially. A state or edition may also be identified by a name or phrase. If the data is derived from a secondary source, such as a catalog raisonné, it should be included in a source attribute (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 29). Use of a controlled vocabulary such as AAT is recommended when possible.
Description: Terms or phrases that describe, identify, or interpret the Work or Image and what it depicts or expresses. These may include generic terms that describe the work and the elements that it comprises, terms that identify particular people, geographic places, narrative and iconographic themes, or terms that refer to broader concepts or interpretations. Use of a Subject Authority, from which these data values may be derived, is recommended. The global source attribute may be used to isolate local collection or user-supplied terminology that is not controlled by any authority (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 30). The use of a controlled vocabulary such as AAT, TGN, TGM, Iconclass, LCSH, LCNAF, or the Sears Subject Headings is recommended when possible.
Description: The production or manufacturing processes, techniques, and methods incorporated in the fabrication or alteration of the work or image (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 32).
Description: Contains the name of a related textual reference and any type of unique identifier that text assigns to a Work or Collection that is independent of any repository. Refid examples include exhibition and catalog raisonné numbers, or identification numbers assigned to works of art in the scholarly literature that are commonly included in scholarly discussion to further identify a work, such as Bartsch or Beazley numbers. The global source attribute may be used to cite a scholarly source from which the number was derived, if the unique identifier was not recorded from the primary source cited in the name sub-element. The global href attribute may be used to contain an actionable hypertext reference to an online source for the cited text or reference identifier (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 33).
Description: Contains the name of a related textual reference and any type of unique identifier that text assigns to a Work or Collection that is independent of any repository. Refid examples include exhibition and catalog raisonné numbers, or identification numbers assigned to works of art in the scholarly literature that are commonly included in scholarly discussion to further identify a work, such as Bartsch or Beazley numbers. The global source attribute may be used to cite a scholarly source from which the number was derived, if the unique identifier was not recorded from the primary source cited in the name sub-element. The global href attribute may be used to contain an actionable hypertext reference to an online source for the cited text or reference identifier (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 35).
Definition: Identifies the specific type of WORK, COLLECTION, or IMAGE being described in the record (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 37).
While work type has no restricted values, it is recommended that terms from AAT be used for work and collection type, and that the following terms from AAT are used for i mage type: black-and-white transparency, color transparency (for slides or positive transparencies), black-and-white negative, color negative (for negative transparencies), photographic print (for photographic prints), or digital image.
source refers to the local, print, or electronic source from which information is derived for a specific element (e.g. Grove Dictionary of Art). Please note: SOURCE is also used as an element and should be used when you want to record a single print or electronic source for information pertaining to the entire record rather than pertaining to individual elements.
xml:lang refers to the language in which the information is recorded in the system (e.g. English, French) (Visual Resources Association, 2007, p. 1).
Another option for museum and art collection professionals is the CDWA, a product of the AITF, which encouraged dialog between art historians, art repositories, and information providers so that together they could develop guidelines for describing works of art, architecture, groups of objects, and visual and textual surrogates (see Chapter 5).
See Figure 6.2.
Description: Image of a pueblo in front of a large hill or mountain. Older database indicates that the verso of the image states that it is a Taos Indian Pueblo in New Mexico, that the item is “Distributed and copyrighted by J. R. Willis, Box 665, Albuquerque, New Mexico,” and that it is a “Genuine Curteich-Chicago ‘C. T. Art-Colortone’ Post Card.”
Rights type=“copyrighted”: Copyright NMSU Board of Regents, Please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Each of the following exercises presents a surrogate of an original work (Figure 6.1, 6.3 and 6.4), held by the New Mexico State University Library, along with the information available to the metadata cataloger. Each image should have an accompanying work and image record. The last exercise may have more than one work record associated with the image record.
Description: Handwritten captions on image read “Booth of Casey-Ranch” and “Winner of 5-Blue-Ribbons, 1 Second + Diploma, Roswell Apple Show. Oct, 5, 6, 7, 1911, copyright 1912 by L.W. Adams.” Image shows a decorative produce display showcasing a variety of produce. Much of the produce is displayed in arranged crates. Identification signs among the crates read “Bellflower”, “Vandi Ver Pippin”, “R.I. Greening”, “Keiffer Pears”, “Apple-Commerce”, “Gano”, and “Blacktwig.”
Rights: Copyright, NMSU Board of Regents. Please send questions to: email@example.com
Description: Image of a decorative produce display at the Roswell Apple Show. Display contains arranged crates showcasing a number of different types of apples. Identification signs among the crates read “Bellflower”, “Vandi Ver Pippin”, “R.I. Greening”, “Keiffer Pears”, “Apple-Commerce”, “Gano”, and “Blacktwig.”
Rights type=“copyrighted”: Copyright NMSU Board of Regents, Please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Rights type=“copyrighted”: Copyright NMSU Board of Regents, Please send questions to email@example.com