Metadata is information that helps people to find, understand, authenticate, trust, use and manage information. If information has metadata, we know what it is, what it has been used for and how to use it. Metadata also makes information easier to find.
Metadata is a very flexible and powerful tool. It can automate actions and be easily created, shared and reused.
Metadata can take many different forms:
- It may be a controlled term, carefully constructed or chosen from a formal list and entered into a pre-established category.
- It may be a free text description or set of keywords used to annotate or ‘tag’ a resource.
- It may be information that is provided manually, i.e. by a real person.
- It may be information derived automatically from software.
The term ‘metadata’ is used and understood by different communities in different ways. Programmers, librarians, spatial data managers, statisticians and other professionals have all defined their own forms of metadata to serve their own business purposes.
The recordkeeping profession has also defined the metadata needed to create, sustain and manage records and information, now and into the future. Metadata for records and information:
- consists of data describing the context, content and structure of records and information, and their management through time
- identifies, authenticates and contextualises records and information, and the people, processes and systems that created, managed, maintained and used them
- focusses on transactions and activities – how records and information were created, received, exchanged, managed, used and reused.
Metadata for records and information can include information about:
- business context
- dependencies and relationships among records and information and systems
- relationships to legal and societal contexts
- relationships to individuals, workgroups or organisations that create, manage and use records and information.
Common examples of metadata for records and information include:
- identifiers (such as document numbers, client numbers, supplier numbers, contract numbers, asset numbers etc.)
- dates (such as date registered, date actioned or date destroyed)
- protective markings to identify sensitive records and information
- system process information that provides an audit trail of who has used the records and information and for what purpose
- workflow information that shows how records and information were tracked and actioned across an organisation.
Metadata for records and information includes point of capture metadata and process metadata:
- Point of capture metadata documents the content, appearance, structure and technical attributes of records and information, as well as the context in which records and information are created. Point of capture metadata is derived or attributed at the time the record or information is created or captured, and does not change. Additional point of capture metadata will be captured if the record or information is repurposed in a new system.
- Process metadata documents the recordkeeping processes performed on records and information, such as registration into a recordkeeping system, the application or change of security and access rules, transfer of control, and record destruction or migration. It also includes information about the ways in which records and information are used.
Records and information consist of content and persistently linked metadata. Without key metadata, the value of records and information is significantly diminished.
NSW State Archives and Records provides a range of advice on metadata for records and information:
|If you would like advice on...||then refer to...|
|the minimum requirements for metadata in order to ensure that records and information are authoritative||Minimum requirements for metadata for authoritative records and information|
|key considerations when implementing metadata for records and information||Principles for implementing metadata for records and information|
|the recordkeeping and broader business benefits that the effective implementation of metadata can achieve||What metadata for records and information can achieve|
|what additional resources and sources of guidance are available||Further resources|
Published February 2015 / Revised November 2015 / Updated June 2019