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Metadata for Data Management: A Tutorial: Definition

Library Data Services

Library Data Services caters to researchers interested in working with data, mapping, texts, visualization, and technology. Many of these services are available online. Davis Library Data Services, located on the second floor of Davis Library, offers:

  • A computing lab with specialized software for GIS and data visualization & analysis.
  • Walk-in assistance provided by knowledgeable student consultants during set hours
  • Consultations with specialists for more in-depth inquiries (by appointment).
  • Spaces for collaboration and presentation, complete with white boards and external displays.
  • Technology short courses and programs that promote digital scholarship.

What is Metadata?

There are many definitions of metadata, but one of the simplest is data about data.  More specifically...

Metadata (in terms of data management) describe a data set:  how they were collected; when they were collected; what assumptions were made in their methodology; their geographic scope; if there are multiple files, how they relate to one another; the definitions of individual variables and, if applicable, what possible answers were (i.e., to survey questions); the calibration of any equipment used in data collection; the version of software used for analysis; etc.  Very often, a data set that has no metadata is incomprehensible.

Metadata ARE data. They are pieces of information that have some meaning in relation to another piece of information. They can be created, managed, stored, and preserved like any other data.

Metadata can be applied to anything. A computer file can be described in the same way that a book or piece of art can be described. For example, both can have a title, an author, and a year created.  Metadata should be documented for research outputs of any kind.

Metadata generally has little value on their own. Metadata adds value to other information, but are usually not valuable in themselves. There are exceptions to this rule, such as text transcription of an audio file.

Types of Metadata

There are three kinds of metadata:

Descriptive metadata consist of information about the content and context of your data.

  • Examples: title, creator, subject keywords, and description (abstract)

Structural metadata describe the physical structure of compound data.

  • Examples: camera used, aperture, exposure, file format, and relation to other data or files

Administrative metadata are information used to manage your data.

  • Examples: when and how they were created, who can access them, software required to use them, and copyright permissions

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