"In essence, metadata is the extra baggage associated with any resource that enables a real or potential user to find that resource; to decide whether or not it is of value to them; to discover where, when and by whom it was created, as well as for what purpose; to know what tools will be needed to manipulate the resource; to determine whether or not they will actually be allowed access to the resource itself and how much this will cost them. Metadata is, in short, a means by which largely meaningless data may be transformed into information, interpretable and reusable by those other than the creator of the data resource."
-- Paul Miller – “Metadata: What It Means for Memory Institutions” In Metadata Applications and Management (2004)
Metadata, sometimes called ‘Data about Data’, includes information that enables users to identify, discover, interpret, or manage content, such as the name of the author of the work, the date on which it was first created or published, or where the physical object is located.
While data can be a set of facts, a collection of images, a string of words, or a description of something, metadata provides meaningful information about data. Data can be “raw” or unprocessed and may require hardware, software, or additional documentation to understand and use. Metadata is always processed, usually understandable by both humans and machines, and only created for a functional purpose (such as organizing materials in a catalog or searching and retrieving resources in a database).
Metadata aids in managing, publicizing, and preserving the content you have produced. It enhances the usefulness of your data or information by providing context—the who, what, when, where, why, and how that helps to discover, identify, interpret, and interact with content.
Metadata allows users to:
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