Metadata is data that gives information about other data. It is data about data. Basically, metadata is the information about a digital file (such as the title, date, format, description, etc.).
Metadata is very important. Arguably, it is just as important as the file itself. For example, if a photograph is digitized but no information (or metadata) is retained (such as who is in the photo, where it was taken, and when it was taken), the image does not serve much of a purpose to future generations. It will just be a mystery or unidentified image. Metadata captures important information and provides context. Not all resources are self-describing, so they need metadata.
Here are some tips for working with metadata:
If your using a content management system and/ or your digital collection is going to be accessible online, there are a few things to consider:
If possible, it is a good idea to add/ tag/ embed as much information into a digital file as you can. This information will then become searchable. Embedding as much information as possible will help record the information and ensure that it stays with the file. This process is equivalent to writing information on the back of a photograph.
The properties of a digital file is where this can be done. To get to the file properties of a digital image, for example, follow these steps:
Identify the who, what, when, and where as you are inputting information into the properties. Also add any additional keywords that you deem relevant.
This process may be tedious, but it will be worth it in the long run. You don’t have to do it all at once. That could be overwhelming. Dedicate time to chip away at it.
To learn more about adding metadata to the file properties of a digital item, and the importance of it, consult these resources:
Consult the Metadata Guidelines page for more information on guidelines and standards.
This section will cover the basics of controlled vocabularies.
What is a Controlled Vocabulary?
Controlled vocabularies are standardized and organized lists of words, phrases, terms, names, etc. that provide a consistent way to describe and/or tag data. Essentially, they are a list of terms that have been preapproved for use for a given metadata field. According to the University of Texas Libraries, controlled vocabularies "are standardized and organized arrangements of words and phrases and provide a consistent way to describe data."
Importance of a Controlled Vocabulary
The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative website says when there is a lack of "basic terminology control, inconsistent or incorrect metadata can profoundly degrade the quality of search results." This is why controlled vocabularies are so important for certain fields. Metadata creators can use controlled vocabularies to assign appropriate, predetermined terms to records to improve information retrieval. Controlled vocabularies provide consistency and can also reduce the likelihood of spelling errors when recording metadata.
Using a Controlled Vocabulary
Using a controlled vocabulary for a title field, for example, would generally not be feasible because titles often vary. However, for a field like location, controlled vocabularies come in handy so you do not accidentally use a different variation of a term (like using "No. Dak." instead of "North Dakota").
Controlled vocabularies are useful for metadata fields for personal names or organizations. You want to make sure that you are using the correct version of the name. So instead of using:
...you would instead use the official version (official according to the Library of Congress Authorities) of:
ND State Library
The purpose of a controlled vocabulary is to keep metadata consistent and accurate, and many metadata fields require them. The ND State Library frequently uses controlled vocabularies for certain metadata fields, such as:
How does one know what the appropriate/ official versions of a name or subject are? For its digital collections, the ND State Library follows the metadata guidelines set by the Digital Horizons consortium, which (for certain fields) relies on the Library of Congress Authorities. This database is used to determine the appropriate and official titles/ headings of subjects, organizations, individuals, etc. Consult the Library of Congress Authorities Guide for more information on its use.
Examples of Controlled Vocabulary Schemas
To learn even more about metadata, consult the resources below.