Why metadata is critical to your data management - Arkivum

Archiving & Preservation / 09 Mar, 2022

Why metadata is critical to your data management

Interestingly some of the top questions we get asked as an organisation are in relation to metadata.

Metadata? What do you mean by metadata?

Why is it important for my data and documents?

How can I incorporate it into my data management strategy?

Is it just relevant for my study records?

Does it really provide that many benefits?

To help answer these questions and hopefully relay why this could be beneficial to your organisation – now and in the future – I have written this article.


What is metadata?

Put simply, it is additional information about the data or file that you have. It could be recorded alongside the file – or within it – but is different to the actual content it contained within that file.

A simple example of metadata would be the date it was created, or last date it was modified. So when we refer to metadata, we’re referring to this information held about the data or record.

Whilst there are various forms of metadata, I will focus on the below two types for this article’s examples:

  1. Descriptive metadata (title, author, date of publication, description etc)
  2. Technical metadata which describes technical properties of a digital file (file size, file type, where the data resides, the structure of the data etc.)


What’s the purpose of assigning metadata?

Metadata has many use cases but one of the primary ones that is most valuable to you is that it makes finding or discovering records simpler – after all, there is little point in storing data if it cannot be found.

Regardless of how many assets are saved, when you assign metadata you (and your employees, colleagues, inspectors etc.) can easily find the file you’re looking for. You can find it whether you have a wealth of information about it or just a nugget. Your assets can be archived with accompanying details to search by, what type of file is it, what group does it sit within, what was the date the file was finalised etc.

Let’s take a photograph as an example. If I were a researcher, I may need to locate  a specific photo – or perhaps photos which have a particular attribute. Properly assigned metadata can help with both.

If I take the first example, I may be looking for a specific photo by a particularly photographer which was part of a specific collection. In my search criteria, I could include both criteria to narrow down that search and easily find the specific photo I’m looking for,

In the second example, I might have broader search criteria – let’s say for pictures of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the 1920s. I could therefore search by photos taken:

– In the 1920s (so by date)

– In central London (so by location)

– Which reference churches or cathedrals (so by type).

I can therefore use metadata to help discover content that I was not previously aware of or I had not previously found.

This is the power of metadata. It supports both the findability and discoverability of your data. Placed in the context of a digital archive, it is absolutely essential to ensure that you’re maximising metadata to ensure that your archived records can be found and therefore used, many years into the future.


What’s the benefit to searchable data?

Consider your organisation in 10 years’ time. It’s likely that the person who created or owned the document you are now looking for is no longer in employment there. Often, knowledge can leave with a person.

However, by assigning metadata to your files, you and your co-workers can easily locate and re-use said document or data.

For organisations that operate within regulated industries, the benefits can often be confined to complying with regulations but there is so much more to these descriptions.


Top metadata tips

First and foremost, keep it simple.

Only archive the data and documents you need to. Ask yourself, which records will you likely need in the future? Are there any you need to keep for regulatory purposes? Do you need to keep six draft versions of a document?

Once you’ve decided upon your necessary records, keep your description as concise as you can if possible and use standardised terms that people are likely to search by.

If possible, can you make people enter metadata via a dropdown menu of options rather than free text? Remember, this is often a manual task so you want to make it as easy as possible to avoid it being missed and everybody will record information in different ways, just like at the dozens of ways we write down a date.

If this seems like a large and complex project, begin by thinking about what is essential vs optional and take it from there. Your essential set should be something that is suitable for all your information, it should be something that is easily found and assigned and is timeless. Optional is exactly that, something to add that helps build out the information you have but is more a nice to have.

I hope you have found this blog interesting. If you’d like further information please don’t hesitate to contact myself or our team.

James Young

To receive our latest news and blogs straight to your inbox, please enter your email address.

Follow us on