METS: The Metadata Encoding Transmission Standard

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Merrilee Proffitt

    Research Libraries Group

  2. 2. Alexander Egger


  3. 3. Thornton Staples

    University of Virginia

Work text
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METS: The Metadata Encoding Transmission Standard




MetaE Project


MetaE Project


University of Virginia


University of Tübingen







METS is a generalized metadata framework, developed to encode the structural
metadata for objects within a digital library and related descriptive and
administrative metadata. Those currently involved with or planning
digitization will want to hear about METS, which can help to structure data
for presentation and/or archiving.
Expressed using the XML schema language of the World Wide Web Consortium,
METS provides for the responsible management and transfer of digital library
objects by bundling and storing appropriate metadata along with the digital
objects. The use of a single, flexible means of encoding can simplify both
the exchange of objects between repositories and the development of software
tools for search and display of those objects. Additionally, METS encoding
will provide a coherent means for archiving digital objects and their
metadata. The METS initiative has two major components. On the technical
side, the initiative seeks to provide a single, standard mechanism for
encoding all forms of metadata for digital library objects. On the
organizational side, the group looks towards developing mechanisms for
maintenance and further development of the format, including establishing a
METS testbed and METS tools.
The first paper will provide a basic introduction to METS and will outline
the objectives and progress and of the METS initiative to date. The second
two papers will be reports from the field. Each project will give
organizational background and context to their work, and will explain how
METS may help the projects meet their objectives.

Introduction to METS
Merrilee Proffitt

METS is a generalized metadata framework, developed to encode the
structural metadata for objects within a digital library and
related descriptive and administrative metadata. METS provides
for the responsible management and transfer of digital library
objects by bundling and storing appropriate metadata along with
the digital objects.
METS is expressed using XML, which means that METS data is stored
according to platform and software independent encoding
standards, such as UTF-8 (Unicode), ISO-8859-1, etc. One
important application of METS may be as an implementation of the
Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model and as
such can function as a Submission Information Package (SIP) for
use as a transfer syntax; a Dissemination Information Package
(DIP) for display or other applications; and an Archival
Information Package (AIP) for storing and managing information

METS had its beginnings as a project that identified metadata and
architecture problems as an area of critical need for digital
libraries. As more and more institutions created digital images
and other files, there was growing concern about sensible
storage for the digital objects (defined as digital files plus
associated metadata). It was the beginning of a serious
discussion, tying together many important aspects of digital
library research. The Making of America 2 (MOA2) project
sponsored by the Digital Library Federation (DLF) in the early
stages and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities
was the project that resulted from these discussions. New York
Public Library and the libraries of Cornell, Penn State, and
Stanford collaborated under the leadership of the University of
California, Berkeley Library, contributing images and data
towards an investigation of structural and administrative
metadata for digital objects. The MOA2 Document Type Definition
(DTD), which was the direct predecessor of METS, was developed
for the MOA2 project to encapsulate what were then seen as the
required metadata elements.
The MOA2 project was completed in early 2000, the Council on
Library and Information Resources (CLIR) published the group's
findings, and the MOA2 DTD was circulated for assessment and
discussion. While MOA2 aroused considerable interest within the
library community, the MOA2 DTD was too restrictive in some
respects and lacked some basic functionality, especially for
time-based media such as audio and video. A meeting was held in
February 2001 for the various parties interested in advancing
the MOA2 DTD to the next stage. Following this meeting, METS was

The METS Initiative: Technical Underpinnings
The technical component of the METS initiative has completed a
draft schema for the encoding format and made it publicly
available for review. The METS schema tries to support the dual
and sometimes competing requirements of ensuring
interoperability and exchange of documents between different
institutions while also allowing for significant flexibility in
local practice with regards to descriptive and administrative
metadata standards.
METS has a very simple structure with just four major components:
descriptive metadata, administrative metadata, file inventory,
and structural map. Only the file inventory and structural map
are required.
The descriptive metadata is optional. A METS object
can contain a Metadata Reference or a Metadata Wrapper.
A Metadata Reference is a link to external descriptive
metadata. A Metadata Wrapper is for descriptive metadata
that is internal to the METS object, as either Base64
encoded binary data or XML. METS does not require a
particular scheme for description, so the implementer
can choose the most appropriate descriptive scheme.
The administrative metadata, also optional, has four
optional subcomponents for technical metadata, rights
metadata, source metadata, and preservation metadata.
Each of these subsections act like the descriptive
section in that the metadata can be encoded ("wrapped")
within the METS document or pointed to in an external
location ("referenced").
The file inventory allows for listing all the files
associated with a digital object. Files can be grouped;
some groupings might include master files, thumbnails,
etc. The files may be pointed to or can be contained
internally as Base64 encoded binary data.
The structural map forms a simple or complex tree
structure that describes the digital object. The
structural map permits the definition of a digital
object that has either parallel or sequential modes and
also allows for the coding of particular regions or
zones of a file as part of the document.

The METS Initiative: Organizational
The standard is currently maintained in the Network Development
and MARC Standards Office of the Library of Congress. Having
played a key role in moving this initiative forward and serving
as the work coordinator, the DLF has helped to bring the METS
work to the forefront. RLG has recently taken over as the new
coordinator. This is a natural step for a number of reasons. The
METS standard will be applicable to RLG's member community of
libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies. METS
fits in nicely with much of RLG's ongoing work in digital
preservation. Finally, RLG has always advocated community
standards such as EAD and Z39.50, and METS is viewed as such a
standard. For the next six to eight months, in partnership with
the METS editorial board, RLG will continue the process of
education, information dissemination, and gathering of feedback
on METS. The process of review and evaluation based on use will
continue during this time.


METS homepage:

MOA2 homepage:

DLF homepage:

RLG homepage:






The Making of America II Testbed Project: A
Digital Library Service Model


Also availalbe at:

Birgit Stehno
Alexander Egger

METAe is a research and development project co-funded by the
European commission (5th Framework, IST Programme, area "Digital
Heritage and Cultural Content") and aims at the development of
an application software for digital archives and libraries. This
software package, the METAe-engine, will automate the structural
encoding of digitized material by introducing layout and
document analysis as basic features. In analogy to OCR engines,
where pure text is generated from image files, the METAe engine
will extract layout and logical elements such as page numbers,
pictures, captions, titles, subtitles, footnotes and document
structures such as prefaces, chapters, subchapters, issues,
contributions, etc. by analyzing the digitized pages of printed
documents. The output of the METAe engine will be an 'archival
information package' (OAIS) - ready for further processing and
integration into digital library applications.
This approach should guarantee that a huge amount of work which
up to now has to be done manually will be done automatically. A
central issue related to automated document understanding is the
choice of the mark-up language. As the METAe project aims to
produce a highly flexible output, existing guidelines and
standards have been analyzed with regard to the needs of
automated metadata capturing and encoding. The team decided to
follow the METS working group.

Structural mark-up with automated layout analysis and document
In contrast to text encoding performed by humans, automated
capturing of structural metadata, i.e. the automated recognition
of the physical and logical structure, requires not only a
representation model (DTD), but also a recognition model which
supports the automated identification of logical elements such
as titles, chapters, footnotes, etc. (Cfr. Brugger, 1998; Dori
et al., 2000, p. 424f.) As up to now artificial intelligence is
not able to identify logical units by understanding their
textual contents, recognition models have to represent rules and
principles which allow the extraction of logical units on the
basis of their component elements, of their physical (layout)
characteristics and their syntactic relations. Having this
information encoded in a model, the physical structure (physical
blocks and sets of blocks) of a scanned image can be mapped onto
the logical one.
The model used in the METAe project has been generated by hand on
the basis of a detailed analysis of monographs and journals and
is represented by 'Augmented Transition Networks' (Woods, 1970),
a formal grammar used normally within the field of natural
language parsing. (Stehno/Retti).
Since TEI is conceived as a "common encoding scheme for complex
textual structures" meeting "the varied encoding requirements of
any discipline or application" (Sperberg-McQueen/Burnard, 1999)
our plan was to integrate the TEI encoding scheme in our
recognition model as well as in the presentation model. However,
this approach turned out to be problematic, since TEI - though
it represents an advanced mark-up language - is not designed for
automated document understanding and encoding. TEI offers just a
very inexplicit set of rules for the hierarchical structuring of
the elements.
The METAe engine creates an extensive set of descriptive and
administrative metadata on the document and its parts. A lot of
different metadata standards (e.g. MARC, Dublin Core, or DIG35)
will be used depending on the type of metadata and on the kind
of element the metadata is linked to. TEI provides the
possibility of adding metadata, mostly bibliographic metadata,
in the TEI header as well as in the attributes of some of its
elements. For the purpose of METAe the set of elements and
attributes of TEI is not extensive enough. The METAe engine
requires the possibility to add a set of descriptive and
administrative metadata in any metadata format to any of the
elements created by the engine.
Moreover TEI never was designed to encode layout characteristics
and physical structure of printed objects in a detailed and
exhaustive way. By the help of the 'rend'-attributes,
typographical information like <head
rend='italics'> can be encoded in some cases, but the
detailed description of pages, page spaces, text blocks and
lines or strings is not possible. Within automated document
analysis and understanding, all this physical information is
available because it is needed for the identification of logical
units. E.g., titles of different levels nearly always are
expressed by different font styles and sizes, margin notes
appear on the outer margin of pages, the font size of epigraphs
is smaller than the default one, etc. Once disposing of this
information, it should be encoded and thus conserved, in order
to allow the recoverability of the original respectively an
electronic representation which presents the source text with
high fidelity.
Considering these arguments, we decided to use the METS schema
within the METAe project. The METS schema allows to encode the
bibliographical, administrative and structural metadata
separately providing the possibility to encode the physical as
well as the logical structure within the 'structural maps'. By
this way it is possible to describe the hierarchical layout of
each page, i.e. the decomposition of a page into page spaces
(print space and outer/inner/top/bottom margin), and physical
blocks (text/image/composed blocks). In the METAe project this
information is assembled in an XML file named "ALTO" ('Analysed
layout and text object'). The physical and logical structures
are encoded by linking and grouping layout elements out of the
ALO file using 'div' tags of the structural maps. The physical
structure is linked also to the image files of the pages. Each
physical and logical element can be assigned an arbitrary set of

METAe: Organizational
The METAe project comprises 14 partners from Europe and the US
among them universities, libraries, and software companies. The
METAe engine will be a collaborative product with input from all
partners. The software development is carried out by the German
software company CCS and the University of Florence. The
University of Innsbruck is responsible for the recognition model
and the structural mark-up. A first prototype of the METAe
engine will be available for demonstration purposes in spring



Eine statistische Methode zur Erkennung von

PhD thesis

University of Fribourg

Also available at: (visited 05/11/2001)








The Representation of Document Structure: A
Generic Object- Process Analysis



Handbook of Character Recognition and Document

World Scientific Publishing Company
1997, Reprint 2000

Library of Congress, Network Development
and MARC Standards Office

MARC21 Concise Format for Bibliographic Data


(visited 9/11/2001)

METAe Project, University of Innsbruck:


METS. Official homepage at the Library of




The Association for Literary and Linguistic
Computing (ALLC) Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and
Interchange. TEI P3
Revised Reprint, Oxford, May 1999

Chicago, Oxford
Text Encoding Initiative

(visited 05/11/2001)



Modelling the logical structure of books and
journals using augmented transition network grammars



Transition Network Grammars for Natural
Language Analysis

Communications of the ACM


Thornton Staples

The University of Virginia Library has been building digital
collections since 1992. We have amassed a large collection that
includes a variety of SGML encoded etexts, digital still images,
video and audio files, and social science and geographic data sets
that are being served to the public from a collection of independent
web sites that have very little cross-integration.
We began searching in 1998 for a digital library management system
that could effectively meet both our current and future digital
content needs. Like many other libraries, we initially sought a
vertical vendor solution that provided a complete, self-contained
package for delivering and managing all digital content needs.
Finding nothing available that would meet our needs, we decided to
embark on an in-house development effort. Modularity and use of
open-system standards is fundamental to our design strategy. Such
modularity is essential for future evolution through component
replacement. We are convinced that an object-oriented design is most
appropriate, allowing us maximum flexibility, scalability and,
eventually, interoperability with other repositories. We are also
convinced that the Library should be providing tools to our users to
give them sophisticated access to our collections and to help them
manage their own collections.
In the summer of 1999, early in our design process, we discovered a
paper about the Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository
Architecture (FEDORA) written by Carl Lagoze and Sandra Payette at
Cornell's Digital Library Research Group, describing the
architecture that they had designed. FEDORA is a modular
architecture built on the principle that interoperability and
extensibility is best achieved by the clean separation of data,
interfaces, and mechanisms (i.e., executable programs). A FEDORA
Repository provides a general-purpose management layer for digital
objects. In their simplest form, digital objects are containers that
aggregate mime-typed streams of data (e.g., digital images, XML
files, metadata), known as datastreams. It should be noted that
datastreams can be references to external data - either
disseminations of other FEDORA digital objects, or service requests
to remote data sources. This capability allows FEDORA digital
objects to serve as aggregators and value-added surrogates for
existing on-line digital content.
In addition to behaving in a generic manner, digital objects must be
able to mirror real-world entities by providing access methods that
make an object behave in a content-specific manner. For example, a
natural behavior for a book would be "Get Table of Contents." FEDORA
allows the association of rich and extensible behaviors with digital
objects by "plugging in" generic components known as disseminators.
Each disseminator aggregates references to: (1) a formally defined
behavior interface that defines a set of methods for a particular
kind of digital library resource (e.g. a Book interface), (2) an
executable mechanism that runs these methods, and (3) the
datastreams that the execution mechanism should use to fulfill
specific method requests. These interfaces and mechanisms can,
themselves, be stored as digital objects, laying the foundation for
unlimited extensibility of the architecture.
The Digital Library Research and Development group implemented the
FEDORA architecture, using an SQL database and a single Java
servlet. We implemented a variety of different testbeds, ultimately
scale-testing a repository with 10,000,000 objects in it, simulating
a very heavy user load, with excellent results. In September of 2001
we received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will
enable the University of Virginia Library, in collaboration with
Cornell University, to build a sophisticated digital object
repository system based on FEDORA that can be the basis for a
variety of information management schemes.
We will form two teams to carry out this project. First, a
development team composed of people from Virginia and Cornell that
will pursue a three-phase project with the goal of producing an
open-source reference implementation, which will be available to
other libraries and practitioners as they construct digital library
systems. The first phase involves taking a strong proof of concept
(already done) and producing a package that can be distributed and
used in a variety of settings. The later phases will extend system
by adding important functions that a sophisticated digital library
system needs.
The second team will deploy the software package at each of their own
sites, using it to deliver testbeds of their own digital resources.
That group includes: the Digital Library group at Indiana
University; the Humanities Computing group at New York University;
the Digital Collections and Archives Department at Tufts University;
the Humanities Computing group at Kings College, London; the Refugee
Studies Center at Oxford University; and the Motion Picture
Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division at the Library of Congress;
and a library/academic computing team from Northwestern University.
As the development team started to review the Virginia
implementation, we discussed the possibility of building the objects
as XML files, then using these files to build the necessary indexes
in SQL databases. By doing this we are able to build the management
interface against the XML, simplifying that effort, while separating
the backend of the repository to make it easy to experiment with
other indexing schemes. Ultimately, that should make it easy for us
to experiment with a full-XML based repository, which we suspect
will allow us to scale up to required levels.
As we started to redesign the implementation, we looked at the
Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS) schema to see if
it would work for describing the objects. It turned out that most of
what we needed to describe a FEDORA object was readily available in
METS. The only thing really missing was a way to handle the
disseminators that FEDORA uses to give the object behaviors. We made
a proposal to the METS working group that resulted in a new
top-level section being added for behavioral metadata that will be
optional. That section can be used to associate an object with a
behavior definition object and a corresponding behavior mechanism
object. This presentation will discuss the use of METS to build a
variety of different types of FEDORA objects, including the two
types of behavior objects.

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Conference Info

In review

"New Directions in Humanities Computing"

Hosted at Universität Tübingen (University of Tubingen / Tuebingen)

Tübingen, Germany

July 23, 2002 - July 28, 2008

72 works by 136 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (29), ACH/ICCH (22), ACH/ALLC (14)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None