Metadata for Data Management: A Tutorial

What are Metadata Standards and Schemas?

In order to be useful, metadata needs to be standardized. This includes agreeing on language, spelling, date format, etc. If everyone uses a different standard, it can be very difficult to compare data to other data.

A key component of metadata is the schema. Metadata schemes are the overall structure for the metadata. It describes how the metadata is set up, and usually addresses standards for common components of metadata like dates, names, and places. There are also discipline-specific schemas used to address specific elements needed by a discipline.

Tips for Finding and Choosing a Metadata Standard

  • There are many types of metadata standards/schemas. Some are generic, while others are domain-specific. Generic ones such as Dublin Core tend to be easy to use and widely adopted, but often need to be expanded in order to cover more specific information. Domain-specific schemas have a much richer vocabulary and structure, but tend to be highly specialized and only understandable by researchers in that area.
  • Always keep the user's perspective in mind. Pick a scheme that is going to make sense for the users who will access and use your data, as well as those users managing and preserving your data. 
  • Adopt or Adapt? Generally you should be able to find a metadata schema and standard to suit your needs. When you find one, use it. If you find one that is close to your needs, but not quite, you can extend or shorten it to suit your needs (Refer to Recommended Minimum Elements). This may require communicating with the organization that created the standard. 

General Purpose Schema

Science Schema

Geospatial Schema

Social Science Schema

Humanities Schema