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Subject:

The meaning of Subject (and Coverage)

From:

Thomas Baker <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

List for discussion on application profiles and mappings <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 24 Feb 2012 16:20:58 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (68 lines)

Dear all,

Since 2006, the usage "comment" for the definition of dc:subject (and since
2008, dcterms:subject) has included the following sentence [1,2,3]:

    To describe the spatial or temporal topic of the resource, use the Coverage
    element.

The intent was to provide guidance on when to use Coverage:

    The spatial or temporal topic of the resource... [5]

and when to use Subject, which had a clearly overlapping definition:

    The topic of the resource. [6]

I recently had a chat about this with Gordon, who points out -- and I'll 
let him elaborate -- that current notions of subject ("aboutness") do not
treat "spatial or temporal" topics separately from any other topics.

In my reading of meeting notes and decision documents from the time (see
"Background" below), the addition of the sentence quoted above to the Comment
for Subject was not intended as a clarification of the formal definition of
Subject, but rather as guidance about "which element to use" at a time when
people commonly wanted to use the fifteen elements in non-overlapping ways.

If this usage guideline is now unhelpful, should it be removed (after due
process of course)?

Tom


----------------------------------------------------------------------
Background

The sentence from the Comment for Subject, quoted above, was added at the time
the definition of Coverage was changed from:
           
    The extent or scope of the content of the resource. [4]

to:

    The spatial or temporal topic of the resource, the spatial applicability
    of the resource, or the jurisdiction under which the resource is
    relevant. [5]

as explained in [3].  This brought the definition of Coverage very close to the
definition of Subject:

    The topic of the resource. [6]

At the time, it was widely felt that Dublin Core elements should not overlap in
meaning; indeed, it was not until 2008 that Creator was declared to be a
subproperty of Contributor [7].  As near as I can tell, then, the sentence
quoted above was added to the usage comment for Subject in an effort to provide
guidance to users about "which element to use" in a case where two definitions
clearly overlapped.

[1] http://dublincore.org/documents/dcmi-terms/#subject
[2] http://dublincore.org/documents/dcmi-terms/#terms-subject
[3] http://dublincore.org/usage/decisions/2006/2006-03.dcmes-changes.shtml
[4] http://dublincore.org/documents/2006/08/28/dcmi-terms/#coverage
[5] http://dublincore.org/documents/2006/12/18/dcmi-terms/#coverage
[6] http://dublincore.org/documents/2006/12/18/dcmi-terms/#subject
[7] http://dublincore.org/usage/decisions/2008/dcterms-changes/#sect-3

-- 
Tom Baker <[log in to unmask]>

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