What is Metadata?

Posted on Jun 11, 2014

One of my favorite things about writing for The A&A Blog is helping readers understand terms and concepts that they may have heard in the past but may not fully understand. Sometimes we’re too embarrassed to ask or the opportunity never comes up, but fear not: The A&A Blog is a safe place to learn more about these ideas!

What is Metadata?

And there it is! One of those great questions that doesn’t get asked enough! Metadata is “data about data,” or information about something that can help us learn more about it.

What is an Example of Metadata?

One example of metadata is a library card catalog. The catalog card contains information about a specific book in the library, such as author, publisher, publish date, page count or other details. Or, to put it another way, the catalog card is data about data! It really is that simple.

A more modern example of metadata can be found in Apple iTunes or other similar digital music applications. In this case, the music file is the information you want to know about, and the metadata is the additional information about the music file: track title, artist, album, and so on.

How is Metadata Used?

Excellent follow up question! Metadata can be used to identify something at a glance or to make it easily searchable. In the case of iTunes, you probably search for your music by artist or track title, not by the file name. In fact, the file name could be something ridiculous like shdfsudhfr.mp3, but as long as the metadata is accurate, it doesn’t matter! iTunes will find your music by metadata.

To speak more to A&A ’s specialty, metadata in electronic document management helps identify a document within an electronic document management system, such as Laserfiche. This is helpful for quickly glancing at relevant information without having to read the entire document or, again, for easy searching. Document metadata can be things like employee name, invoice number, email address, purchase order —anything that helps better identify the document.

Read More: What is Electronic Document Management?

An example of metadata in the electronic document management system, Laserfiche

How Does Metadata Work?

That question is maybe a bit too technical for this particular article. There are a few different kinds and structures of metadata, and that all depends on usage, implementation and even industry. Metadata can be embedded within the file itself, like in the case of digital photos, or it can be separate, perhaps in a database. There are international bodies, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), that work toward building and maintaining common standards. You can read more about metadata registry standards ISO/IEC 11179 here if you like!

I hope this quick primer helped you to understand what metadata is and its benefits. It’s a simple concept that can communicate multitudes.

Metadata is immensely useful for document management! Imagine being able to easily search for an invoice or employee, pull up that document, and to also see other important information at a quick glance! To learn more about metadata and other elements of document mangement, feel free to download our free eBook!

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