In terms of image indexing, this piece is quite venerable – from 1999 – but still has useful advice for today’s metadata specialists. The author begins by noting the vast increase of the number of images seen and consumed in the last few decades, and argues that it is important that these images be made easily findable on the Internet. A particular need identified to make finding these easier is that of subject access, information that (especially then, but often now too) is rarely sufficiently provided. This problem happens for a number of reasons, such as a perceived lack of importance, as well as difficulty indexers face in defining subjects. This second reason stems partly from different levels of analysis needed to come up with subjects for a picture. The most basic, “ofness,” simply states what is actually in the picture. But pictures often can represent other things than what they strictly contain – what their “aboutness” is. The article’s illustration of this point is a picture of two wineglasses being clinked together. The “ofness” subject is “glasses,” but the “aboutness” is “celebration.” Assigning “aboutness” requires human interpretation and judgment. In order to achieve this, the author suggests several strategies to help encourage good subject indexing. These include familiarity with intended audiences, strict vocabulary control, consistency with the level of “aboutness” indexing, and the encouragement of experimentation and evaluation.

This article reminded me how recent digital image indexing is, and how experimental it was within my own lifetime. It also gave useful subject area advice for if/when I help develop indexing guidelines in my professional life.