Appropriate Terminology and Inclusive Metadata

It is important that we are using appropriate terminology when creating OER, and that we create quality metadata records that are “informative, accessible, respectful, accurate and empowering,” (McCulloch, 2019).


  • Credit all contributors, reviewers, editors and translators.
  • Ensure that all references to people, groups, populations, categories, conditions and disabilities use the appropriate verbiage and do not contain any derogatory, colloquial, inappropriate, or otherwise incorrect language.
  • For historical uses that should remain in place, consider adding context, such as “a widely used term at the time.” Ensure that quotations or paraphrases using outdated terms are attributed, contextualised, and limited.
  • While the content itself is the primary element to consider, the back matter and other metadata, such as an index, keywords, abstract or subject headings do signal priorities and importance; they can show how important a particular topic/issue is. Without creating any superficial or misleading sense of coverage, consider the relevance and connection of these elements in relation to inclusivity.
  • Ensure reusability and revisability of content.

Actions and Considerations

  • Credit all contributors, reviewers, editors and translators.
  • Identify any outmoded or incorrect terminology and suggest the correct replacement or re-framing.
  • For historical references, if needed insert context, attribution, and/or quotations.
  • Since terminology changes regularly, and acceptability is not universal, do your best to identify and use the best terminology at the time.
  • Analyse index/keyword lists and identify core terms that are not represented or highlighted.
  • Consider adding keywords that specifically highlight issues important to underrepresented groups.
  • Ensure others can download editable files of your OER.

Inclusive OER Information for Authors

The level of information that you can share about your OER will depend on where you are hosting your OER. However, authors of OER should consider the following:

  • crediting all contributors, reviewers, editors, translators etc
  • where a controlled vocabulary is used (drop-down selector), ensuring the most appropriate and accurate language
  • when adding free-text keywords and/or an abstract or book description, using keywords that specifically highlight issues important to underrepresented groups

Inclusive Metadata for Librarians

‘The current trend is that there is no trend in describing or cataloguing OER!’ – Georgia Southern University panel discussion.

“If you care about social justice and representation you need to care about library metadata and how it is controlled.” – Hugh Rundle.

The primary purposes for organising OER resources with the appropriate metadata are 1) to enable educators and students to locate desired resources efficiently and accurately and 2) to ensure that information about learning resources and their usage is captured, collated, and correlated to other educational data systems (interoperability). OER aggregators such as OER Commons, Curriki, and Ck12 have committed to using metadata elements.

Alissa McCulloch (2019) defines a ‘quality’ record as “informative, accessible, respectful, accurate and empowering.” She goes on to say, “you won’t find these ideals in RDA, or in the MARC standards, or in BIBFRAME. You’ll find them in your community. Those of you who work in libraries should have an idea of the kinds of materials your patrons are looking for, and how your library might provide them. Is your metadata a help or a hindrance? Are you describing materials the way your patrons might describe them?”

She further acknowledges:

Metadata is not fixed. Metadata is never ‘finished’. Metadata is contextual. Contested. Iterative. Always changing. ‘Corrections’ are not, and can never be, universal. An accepted term today might be a rejected term in thirty years’ time, and the process will begin again. The Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) for ‘People with disabilities’ is now on its fourth iteration, as the preferred language has changed over time. Previous versions of this heading used terms that would now be considered quite offensive.

We all need to look out for these things. Have new concepts arisen for which your library has no standardised heading? Has a word shifted meaning, such that it has ceased to be meaningful? Are users looking for resources by name, but finding nothing in our collections?

These are all points we need to consider when creating records for OER. Other considerations include:

  • Using alternative controlled vocabs to LCSH, including Austlang or a domain-specific vocabulary
  • A comprehensive table of contents and/or summary fields, using the keyword advice discussed above
  • Ensuring the record includes the term ‘Open educational resources’ as an indexed field

OER Discovery

Discoverability and reusability of your OER content are central to being open and can prove to be challenging for OER creators (Amiel, 2013; Ovadia, 2019). OER delivery mechanisms can be divided into three categories:

  • Repository: A centralised site that stores the OER locally (e.g., an institutional repository)
  • Referatory: a portal or directory that links to the OER and provides the metadata to help locate these resources (e.g., Open Textbook Library)
  • A combination of the two (Brahmin, Khribi, and Jemni, 2018; McGreal, 2017).

Wherever your OER is hosted no platform is neutral and no platform is universal. Remember that the hosting platform, whether local or external, can inadvertently create a barrier to access (e.g., needs too much bandwidth, the material is hard to download or discover), so consider those issues as you select your platform.

The following resources contain tips on optimising OER discovery.

  • OER Metadata Rosetta Stone, devised by the OER Discovery Working Group (convened by SPARC): This document is the technical specification of core and contextual elements for Open Educational Resources using an existing schema to create a Metadata Application Profile. It provides a list of relevant classes and properties used in OER metadata records at the institutional and repository level.
  • SEO for Open Textbook Creators – tips for authors using Pressbooks.

Reusability and Revisabillity of Content

Making content available as well as reusable and revisable are central tenants of the open movement. Ovadia (2019) notes that there are technical challenges to overcome. One is the reusability of the content (can it be downloaded as opposed to just viewed) and if the file format is editable (remixable and revisable) by anyone, not just individuals who have access to proprietary software (Ovadia 2019).


Inclusive Metadata Resources and Readings

Example MARC Records for Open Textbooks

Open Textbook Library MARC Records

Open Textbook Library MARC records are in the public domain and available under a Creative Commons CC0 licence, including:

BCcampus OpenEd MARC Records

MARC records for the B.C. Open Textbook Collection are created to the standard outlined by the British Columbia Library Association (BCLA)’s Cataloguing and Technical Services Interest Group (BCCATS).

B.C. Open Education Librarians (BCOEL) post new MARC records to the British Columbia Electronic Library Network (BCELN) website whenever new content is created or curated or existing content is revised.

Below is an example of a MARC record template for OER-like open textbooks to help you get started:

Copyright note: This section has been adapted in part from:


I would like to thank Alissa McCulloch (Metadata and Database Quality Coordinator), Deakin University for her expertise and feedback on this chapter.

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