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Metadata Basics

Key Concepts

Metadata Types

There are three main types of metadata: descriptive, administrative, and structural.

  • Descriptive metadata enables discovery, identification, and selection of resources. It can include elements such as title, author, and subjects.
  • Administrative metadata facilities the management of resources. It can include elements such as technical, preservation, rights, and use.
  • Structural metadata, generally used in machine processing, describes relationships among various parts of a resource, such as chapters in a book.

In addition to these types of metadata, there are four main functional categories of metadata standards, described in the section below.

Metadata Standards

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Structure standards are sets of elements that have been defined for a particular purpose. Structure standards are also known as schemes, schemas, or element sets.

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Content standards help to guide the input data into the element set. Common examples of these input rules include the formatting of names (e.g. Last, First), omitting initial articles in a title, and when to capitalize.

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Value standards narrow the possibilities of input even further, by limiting choices to established lists of terms or codes. This helps to eliminate variation and ambiguity. Value standards are generally called controlled vocabularies.

Read more about controlled vocabularies

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Format standards are the technical specifications for how to encode the metadata for machine readability, processing, and exchange among systems. These specifications, which help metadata get from point A to point B, are often referred to as "data formats" or "encoding standards" and common examples include CSV, XML, and RDF.

Metadata Documentation

Documentation serves to help those involved in metadata creation. Common types of metadata documentation are defined below, with examples employed by UT Librares.

Templates and checklists are designed to make metadata reusable. Templates are saved sets of tags that can be applied to similar objects. Checklists gather relevant information to assist the documentation process.

Policies, typically at the institutional or system level, include metadata licensing, metadata usage, automatic metadata generation, and minimum required elements.

Guidelines specify element sets, element requirements and recommendations, repeatability, content and value standards, and often provide input examples.

Application profiles can be synonymous with input guidelines but are often in the form of a more formalized document.

Common Elements & Definitions

Title - name given to the resource
Creator - entity primarily responsible for making the resource
Date - point or period of time associated with an event in the lifecycle of the resource
Subject/keyword - topic of the resource
Type - nature or genre of the resource
Rights - information about rights held in and over the resource


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