An essential part of making data user-friendly, shareable and with long-lasting usability is to ensure it can be understood and interpreted by anyone who uses it now and in the future. This is where Metadata comes in. Metadata are used to facilitate and support resource discovery, identification, the organisation of resources and the interoperability of the resource(s) it represents, as well as the interoperability of the metadata itself.
Metadata is information about an object or resource that describes characteristics such as content, quality, format, location and contact information. It describes physical items as well as digital items and can take many different forms, from free text (such as read-me files) to standardised, structured, machine-readable content. The capture and maintenance of metadata should occur as a normal part of research and data management processes.
And the power of metadata that is richly described is limitless.
A case study on Two-Rocks moorings data, the 2004 to 2005 metadata record is a great example of this. Containing well described and rich data, it’s been extremely successful in making research data collections discoverable, citable, reusable and accessible for the long term, and continues to do so today. Located in the CSIRO Data Access Portal, a curated portal that brings together research data, software and other digital assets across a range of disciplines to streamline how you access data collections, it contains 35 metadata fields which enable researchers to quickly and accurately assess the relevance of this dataset to their research. The metadata record and the data are closely linked through co-location on the same landing page. The Files tab contains additional metadata about each of the 17 files within this collection: file format, date last modified, and file size.
Any metadata that enables research data to be discovered and accessed should be published in discipline or institutional portals, and aggregated by Research Data Australia (RDA), Australia’s aggregated research data catalogue. Having rich metadata allows records to be syndicated to other data catalogues, just like the Two-Rocks mooring data records, which is also syndicated to RDA.
Data is one of the most important and vital aspects of any research study and its economic value is becoming increasingly apparent. Data has value because users value what they could do with it now and what they might be able to do with it in the future. As this value increases, so does the need to optimise how we manage, store and share data.