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Some ofhe many purposes of "metadata" ...
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 12 January 2015


See also Data management | Data management portal | Digital Libraries Glossary | Dublin Core | Open data | Ontologies | Semantic web | Social cataloguing

Metadata (data about data) refers to data that describes objects, such as articles, books and/or digital entities such as photographs or pdf files. Metadata provides a means of indexing, accessing, preserving, and discovering digital resources. According to Kurtz et al (2013), "...metadata is an attempt to capture the contextual information surrounding a datum. The enriching contextual information assists the data user to understand how to use the original datum. Metadata also attempts to bridge the semantic gap between machine users of data and human users of the same data...." Metadata has been used in libraries for decades to facilitate the discovery of books (and other catalogued resources) in library collections. Metadata is seen to be even more critical now in finding materials in catalogues and other search systems. The use of structured information to describe information resources/objects is an essential component for finding things in search systems. Book cataloguing is formally a type of metadata creation but the term is generally used for non-traditional schemes such as the Dublin Core or the Encoded Archival Description (EAD).

Metadata can be categorized as descriptive, structural or administrative. (Reitz, 2004) Descriptive metadata refers to any information that describes the content of an object; structural metadata describes the format of the materials being described; administrative metadata provides copyright information for those materials. Most library catalogues contain tons of metadata as they contain information about books, journals, and electronic resources that make up collections. Metadata records in traditional libraries fulfill a range of functions such as allowing users to search for and find something and helping librarians manage inventories. Many of the same principles that govern description, retention and weeding apply to objects in digital and print-based collections.

In 2013, it was announced that Jeffrey Pomerantz from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill plans to offer the very first library and information science (LIS) massive online open course (MOOC) entitled Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information.

Three categories of metadata

Metadata is grouped into three categories:

  • Descriptive metadata describes the content of a resource for identification, searching, and retrieval. Examples of this type are the bibliographic information and abstract for a journal article and the coded diagnoses for a patient contained in a medical record.
  • Structural metadata describes the architecture and relationships of the different sections of a resource for the purposes of navigation. Examples of this type are the table of contents, page numbers, and index of a journal or the types of reports (laboratory, imaging, consultant) for a patient encounter contained in a medical record.
  • Administrative metadata describes technical aspects of an information resource for processing and management. Examples of this type are the publishing information about a printing of an issue of a journal and the privacy, confidentiality and security rules associated with handling a medical record.

Metadata is an increasingly central tool in the current web environment, enabling large-scale, distributed management of resources. Recent years has seen a growth in interaction between previously relatively isolated metadata communities, driven by the need for cross-domain collaboration and exchange. However, metadata standards have not been able to meet the needs of interoperability between independent standardization communities. For this reason the notion of metadata harmonization, defined as interoperability of combinations of metadata specifications, has arisen as a core issue for the future of web-based metadata. Resting at the heart of application profiles, metadata harmonization presents a little understood, but critical challenge in design of languages of description. DC-2011 will explore the conceptual and practical issues of design when the language solution calls for cross-fertilization from different metadata specifications.

Metadata standards organizations

Metadata Interoperability Chart
  • Consolidated Health Informatics (CHI) establishes a portfolio of existing clinical vocabularies and messaging standards enabling federal agencies to build interoperable federal health data systems with private health care information networks. For more information, see
  • Health Level 7 (HL7). In addition to being a messaging standard, HL7 is an ANSI-accredited SDO, operating in the healthcare arena to create flexible, cost effective approaches, standards, guidelines, methodologies, and related services for interoperability between healthcare information systems. For more information, see
  • Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) is an organization dedicated to promoting the widespread adoption of interoperable metadata standards and developing specialized metadata vocabularies for describing resources that enable more intelligent information discovery systems. For more information, see
  • World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifies metadata structures for use on the World Wide Web. Several initiatives that are being explored or developed include the Semantic Web, the Resource Definition Framework and Web Services. For more information, see
  • MedBiquitous Consortium develops information technology standards for medical education and training including metadata standards for medical learning objects. For more information, see


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