Metadata for Data
Metadata is structured information describing the characteristics of a resource; for example, the dates associated with a dataset or the title and author of a book. Metadata supports discovery, re-use and long-term preservation of resources. Metadata needs vary across scientific fields, but typically would cover the following: general descriptive and access metadata, data characteristics, archive terms and access policies. A metadata record consists of a set of predefined elements that define specific attributes of a resource. Each element can have one or more values; for example, a dataset may have multiple creators.
Documenting data enables other researchers to discover your data. Metadata about the nature of your files is also critical to the proper management of digital resources over time. Establishing a metadata strategy that sufficiently describes your data and meets your data management needs is an important part of a data management plan. Planning what metadata will be captured and how this data will be structured should occur at the beginning of a research project, before data collection begins. Doing so will make automation of metadata creation easier and reduce the need for time-consuming metadata capture or restructuring later in the lifecycle of the research project.
There are a number of official metadata standards. Metadata standards are designed for different purposes, such as documenting the contents of files or documenting the technical characteristics of files. While it is not necessary to have an in-depth understanding of official metadata standards, it is important to create metadata that will be interoperable with recognized standards. Some scientific communities have established metadata standards (e.g., Astronomy Visualization Metadata Standard, Darwin Core, Ecological Metadata Language). The Digital Curation Centre provides a disciplinary metadata guide that unpacks metadata standards by discipline. For guidance on metadata standards, contact the Metadata & Cataloging Dept at the NCSU Libraries.
Access to and discovery of data may be facilitated through links in metadata records that are displayed in the discovery layers of repositories or online catalogs. A variety of data repositories exist at NCSU and through other institutions and organizations. For guidance in making your data discoverable, contact the NCSU Libraries.
NCSU's Sponsored Programs and Regulatory Compliance Services (SPARCS), working with the NCSU Libraries and NCSU's Office of Information Technology (OIT) Shared Services group, is providing consultation for data management and discovery for research data associated with requirements of grant funding agencies.
The NCSU Libraries suggests the following set of standard metadata elements that should be captured to describe the content of your data resources as well as the nature of the files.
At a minimum, metadata records should be kept in a fielded form, such as a spreadsheet, CSV file, or tab-delimited file. Auxiliary information necessary to interpret the metadata - such as explanations of codes, abbreviations, or algorithms used - should be included as accompanying documentation.
The NCSU Libraries' Metadata & Cataloging department is available for consultation on the metadata needs of your projects. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance identifying the metadata necessary for the project to aid in both data management and search and discovery.