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Metadata Creation

Brief guide that explores the topic of metadata: What are metadata? What kinds of metadata are there? What is the process of creating metadata?


The purpose of this guide is to briefly explore the questions:

  • What are metadata?
  • What is metadata used for?
  • What is the metadata creation process?

Metadata are everywhere. As Jenn Riley observes in her primer, Understanding Metadata (NISO, 2017), "Metadata are pervasive in information systems, and come in many forms. [...] Metadata is key to the functionality of the systems holding the content, enabling users to find items of interest, record essential information about them, and share that information with others."

This guide deals with metadata as it is created within a library, or more broadly, a digital collections setting.

What are metadata?

The most common definition is that metadata are "data about data." A better definition is that metadata are deliberate, structured data about data.

Metadata are used to facilitate and support resource discovery, identification, the organization of resources, and the exchangeability of the data itself as well as the exchangeability of the resource or resources it represents.  Metadata also capture and provide important contextual details, as not all resources are self-describing.

Types of metadata

There are many different kinds of metadata. In the world of digital objects, metadata is usually divided into 3 to 5 categories: 

  • Administrative metadata, including:
    • Rights metadata (i.e., intellectual property rights and use information)
    • Technical metadata (i.e., technical details about the object and its instantiation like its file format, file size, and how to open, access and use it)
    • Preservation metadata (i.e., a log of the series of actions taken against an object in order to ensure it longevity and viability)
  • Descriptive metadata describes a resource, its content, its identifying characteristics and its "aboutness"
  • Structural metadata describes how the pieces of a single object fit together and/or how an object exists in relationship to other objects