Enabling and enhancing the discovery and reuse of data.
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.
- is information about an object or resource that describes characteristics such as content, quality, format, location and contact information.
- describes physical items as well as digital items (documents, audio-visual files, images, datasets).
- can take many different forms, from free text (such as read-me files) to standardized, structured, machine-readable content.
Types of Metadata
Metadata elements can describe either a single item or a collection, and can serve different purposes. Using a photo as an example, the metadata could typically 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
- 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, that keeps track of actions taken to preserve or sustain the photograph for later access and use.
- Provenance metadata tracks the source of the photo and any changes made to it or its ownership, and is made up of many elements from the other ‘categories’.
Where does metadata come from?
Metadata can be created manually by people or automatically by instruments or computers. Capturing metadata 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.
Where is metadata stored?
Metadata can be stored in local systems with the data it is about, or in data or metadata stores. 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, Australia’s aggregated research data catalogue.
What are the benefits of standard metadata?
The existence of comprehensive standard metadata is important in ensuring that data satisfies the FAIR data principles: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable.
- Findable The first step in (re)using data is to find them. Metadata and data should be easy to find for both humans and computers.
- Accessible Once the user finds the required data, she/he needs to know how can they be accessed, possibly including authentication and authorisation.
- Interoperable The data usually need to be integrated with other data. In addition, the data need to interoperate with applications or workflows for analysis, storage, and processing.
- Reusable The ultimate goal of FAIR is to optimise the reuse of data. To achieve this, metadata and data should be well-described so that they can be replicated and/or combined in different settings.
The power of rich metadata: a case study
Well described metadata records show the power of rich metadata in making research data collections discoverable, citable, reusable and accessible for the long term.
A case study on Two-Rocks moorings data, the 2004 - 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.
Your Metadata toolkit
We’ve put together a list of handy guides and tools to help you ensure you’re always up to date on best practices for using metadata.
- FAIRsharing: curated resource on data and metadata standards
- Research Data Alliance Metadata directory
- Digital Curation Centre’s list of metadata standards
- ARDC Guide – Metadata
- Defining a data collection
- Storing metadata
- Research Data Australia’s content providers guide
- ARDC Guide – Vocabularies and research data
- Geospatial data and metadata