- Metadata means "data about data".
- Metadata is information about an object or resource that describes characteristics such as content, quality, format, location and contact information.
- It can be used to describe physical items as well as digital items (documents, audio-visual files, images, datasets, etc.).
- Metadata can take many different forms, from free text (such as read-me files) to standardized, structured, machine-readable content.
Types of metadata
The metadata elements can describe either a single item or a collection, and can serve different purposes. Examples of metadata for a photograph could include:
- descriptive metadata, such as the name of the photographer, the location and subject of the photograph, the date and time that the photograph was taken
- technical metadata, such as the type of camera used to take the photograph, the file format in which the photograph is stored, the exposure time and dimensions of the photograph, and so on
- access and rights metadata, defining who is allowed to view the photograph under what conditions, and what they can do with it (reuse)
- preservation metadata, which keeps track of actions taken to preserve or sustain the photograph for later access and use.
Why is metadata important?
- Metadata gives context to the data, and allows people to find, understand, verify and reuse the data.
- Machine-readable metadata conforming to an open standard allows computer applications to easily find, exchange and process data.
- See some examples of how metadata is important for data collection, analysis and reuse in these great videos from the New York University Health Sciences Library:
Where does metadata come from?
- Metadata can be created manually by people or automatically by instruments or computers.
- Metadata capture is easiest if it is automatically generated when the data is created, for example, the metadata your camera captures every time you take a photo.
- For much research data, the researcher needs to create the descriptive and provenance metadata, as only they have that information.
Where is metadata stored?
- Metadata can be stored in local source systems with the data it is about, or in data or metadata stores.
- Metadata that enables research data to be discovered and accessed should be published in Research Data Australia, or in discipline or institutional portals.
- Metadata that gives detailed contextual information and supports reuse, such as data-item-level metadata, workflows, analysis, and detailed methods information, is usually stored with the data.
More about metadata
NISO/DCMI Webinar: Metadata for Managing Scientific Research Data