What is Metadata?
Metadata is like an instruction manual for data because it describes the who, what, when, where, why, and how for data.
It’s important because it’s the record we rely on to find out how it was created. That’s why it has to be detailed, dependable and well-documented. That’s why we call it the three D’s of metadata.
Today, let’s explore step-by-step the anatomy of metadata, like all the necessary information you have to incorporate.
But first, here’s a song about metadata that might help you get a better grasp on why it’s so special. And every time you create metadata, remember the song for a bit of extra motivation.
The Metadata Song
Identification provides a brief narrative of your data. In other words, it summarizes the purpose of your data in a succinct way.
For example, identification assigns the following to your metadata:
- Title – Name of the data set.
- Description – The features that are in the data set and what they represent.
- Keywords – By adding keywords, it helps categorize your data with predefined taxonomy.
The contact information includes details on who developed and makes the data available. For example, it includes the following three entities:
- Originator is who developed the data set.
- Publisher assists in producing, editing and finalizing the end-product.
- Distributor has a main focus on making the data available.
Quality explains the accuracy and standards the data set followed. For example, it includes the horizontal and vertical positional accuracy:
- Horizontal accuracy evaluates the ground position quality.
- Vertical accuracy exists only when altitude is present.
Quality also evaluates tests of quality including completeness, integrity, and inspections of the data.
4 Spatial Reference
Spatial reference information assigns a geographic extent and coordinate system.
- Projection information includes a projection, datum and units. For example, UTM Zones and State Plane are common coordinate systems.
- Geographic extent comes in the form of a bounding box, place keyword or thumbnail.
5 Entity and Attribute
9 Metadata Reference
10 Metadata Standard
Metadata as XML
Remember that metadata is just an XML file. Each metadata standard follows a specific schema and markup.
Any text editor can open XML files. When you open a metadata file, it incorporates all the key elements in the markup.
<origin>National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)</origin>
From these two blocks of XML code, you can find that NASA is the originator. Also, the data was published on May 5th, 2019.
Types of Metadata
Several committees from around the world have developed their own guidelines for metadata. In terms of GIS metadata, the most common are as follows:
- ISO 19115 is the guideline from the International Standards Organization (ISO).
- Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) metadata is largely used in the United States.
- Inspire metadata defines standards for 34 spatial data themes for countries in the European Union.
- The EPA metadata editor was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
There are tools to translate content from one metadata standard to another. For example, Esri’s metadata translator can convert into a stand-alone XML metadata.
However, keep in mind that not all fields will get carried over. If one field isn’t part of another metadata standard, then it will be missing by default.