Choosing metadata standards

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In the first installment of our series, “Metadata for mere mortals,” librarian Erin Antognoli provided an overview of basic metadata principles, such as the types of metadata and the information they convey. She also covered where metadata creation falls in the data life cycle and explained the FAIR principles for metadata standards that ensure a piece of content or information will be discoverable. To recap, FAIR stands for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.

In this segment, Erin delves further into metadata standards, and how to choose the right standard for your collection. Your choice of metadata standard should try to meet as many of the FAIR principles as reasonably possible.

Ask the right questions about your collection

When first confronted with a new archive or collection, it is important to address questions that will aid your selection of a metadata standard, such as:

  • Who will be responsible for creating the metadata?
  • Who will be searching the collection and for what purpose?
  • Will the metadata need to integrate with that of other collections?

The way to answer these questions is to think about both the collection and its community of users. The metadata standard that you choose should ultimately reflect the different information needs of the community and the data elements required to accurately describe the collection. Different disciplines will need different levels of granularity to the metadata.

Once you understand the metadata needed for the collection, you can select the metadata standard that incorporates the most relevant elements . Refer to our report, “Making sense of metadata,” for an overview of many of the most widely-used metadata standards.

Consider the types of metadata standards

At this stage, it’s useful to distinguish between types of metadata standards—those that are more general and flexible, and those that are subject-specific and potentially more constrained. There’s going to be a tradeoff when it comes to the FAIR principles. The general metadata standards will likely be more accessible to broader communities, and more interoperable with other standards. The subject-specific standards will generally make items more findable, because of their rich detail and be more reusable due to their highly consistent nature.

Erin discusses some of the key differences between the Dublin Core, a popular metadata standard for general use, and ISO 19115, a specialized yet more complex standard for geospatial data.

Selecting the metadata standard that best reflects the content of your collection and the needs of the community that will use the data is a weighty decision. The process should involve a series of questions that helps you identify which FAIR principles are most important, and leads you to a well-thought out decision on the standard.

But, just because the metadata standard is comprehensive doesn’t mean you will end up with high-quality, useful metadata. That’s why the next installment in our series will focus on metadata planning and strategy so you can be sure to get the most value and utility from the standard you select.

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