tiltfactor » Blog Archive » Nancy Tovar Collection and Metadata Games

Tiltfactor Lab is pioneering an innovative method for data preservation. Metadata Games aims to be a useful and fun means of preserving archival materials as libraries and museums move into an increasingly digitalized world. Metadata Games aims to be a means to draw in larger communities to help libraries, museums, and archives to augment their records of materials. Through crowdsourcing, the games being developed take advantage of the powers of technology and societal efforts in order to “tag” and code material to represent the content and meaning of media items. The most common and standardized format for the generation of metadata is to create tags, in the form of single words or short phrases. In order to make media items, such as photographs, films, and audio clips, more accessible, those archives must be presented with accurate descriptions and connections with similar work or information.

Over the past year, Tiltfactor has made a several connections with major libraries and universities from across the globe, including the Boston Public Library, the British Library, and the Open Parks Network (which includes the Yellowstone National Park). One collection that has made me very excited about this project is UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center’s Nancy Tovar collection of Murals of East L.A. (photographs taken in the 1970s-1980s).

The Nancy Tovar collection is one of the larger archives currently using Metadata Games, with a collection of 621 images. Descriptions of the images collected through game play mostly include general tags, such as “Chicano,” “Latino,” and “mural” — which also describe the overall collection. At times, players tagged direct words from a mural, which is beneficial since detailed tags improve preservation and use for research. Since archivists do not have time to go through all of the images and do this work themselves, Metadata Games aids in gathering these specifications and coding for large collections such as this one. When looking through the tags, I have been more intrigued by the ones that are more culturally or historically specific — such as the use of the variant “Xicano” or the use of “Virgen de Guadalupe” instead of Virgin Mary. Although there aren’t too many yet for this archive, culturally specific tags are important for gaining meaningful and beneficial descriptions of art pieces.

(photo: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center)

(photo: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center)

This is one of the images that has stood out the most to me in the collection, due to the powerful images from the mural and the tags associated with this image. The backdrop includes a rising sun, with the Virgen de Guadalupe in the center, watching over the valley. In front of a pyramid, there is an indigenous man standing over the burial of pale white and dark black bodies. The mural seems to focus on four men, each representing a part of Mexican history and social structure: one is wearing blue jeans to represent a Latino farmworker; another is dressed in white clothing and a sombrero to represent the landowner; a Spaniard in armor too is present to represent the conquistadors; and an Aztec king, standing higher than the rest, is wearing a mighty headdress whose feathers match the ray for the sun. Yet, together, they are all planting a Huelga flag into the grape vine land. The flag was a major symbol used during the grape boycotts lead by Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers. Some tags that I think get to the meaning of this mural includes: “United Farm Workers,” “Grapes,” “Revolution,” “Native,” and “Nationalism.”

Although I grew up in San Jose, California, the symbols in these murals were immediately recognizable. Looking through the collection, I also felt pride and homesickness. As this is art, it will be interesting to continue monitoring the variation in meanings of the mural generated as tags. How would someone who has never been to a Mexican-American neighborhood view these murals? In which ways are these murals seen as vandalism, or generate understanding for communities facing similar struggles in the United States?

My experience in higher education has also led me to appreciate Metadata Games as a method for cultural preservation and agency, especially for underrepresented communities. Through gaming, these murals may gain more attention and accessibility as we become a more digitalized world. Metadata Games can help people collaborate in tag these images, while also bring new perspectives and discussion to the images and data it will preserve. Overall, the tags in the collection captured the description of the images in the murals. To go beyond this level, collected tags should also reflect the cultural and historical significance of these media. Even as the technology behind Metadata Games improves, people can’t describe what they don’t know about. It may be important to frame certain collections with more background or even involve people who are the subjects or residents of a community under study. Researchers may also be able to generate more specific and relevant tags by inviting individuals involved with that field, either at universities or museums. Background or motivation to be learn about a culture will help produce more accurate tags.


Amaris De La Rosa-Moreno
Anthropology (Latin American and Latino Studies) & Engineering, Double Major
Tiltfactor Research Assistant

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  • Tiltfactor invents new ways of thinking about important social issues through engaging games and play. Founded and directed by leading innovator Dr. Mary Flanagan, Tiltfactor is the award-winning design studio and research laboratory that takes on problem areas of national need and creates solutions through playful design.