Forum Guide to Metadata
NFES 2009-805
July 2009

Chapter 1. What Are Metadata and Why Are They Important? - Perspective Influences "Metadata" Definitions

Most database managers, data stewards, education program managers, and librarians are probably familiar with the notion of metadata. However, given the different ways they view data—as something to be stored (the database manager), something to be maintained (the data steward), something to be used and reported (the program manager), or something to be catalogued and searched (the librarian)—it is hardly surprising that multiple definitions have arisen for the term "metadata" (see exhibit 1.4). These variations are not inconsequential because they complicate communication between staff, not only within a single education organization, but also across the education data community.

Metadata can also be viewed as an information management tool that transcends individual perspectives and, therefore, warrants a more comprehensive definition.

This comprehensive definition of metadata encompasses technical, management, retrieval, and usage perspectives; and serves as the working definition of metadata for the purpose of this publication.3

Metadata are structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use, or manage an information resource.

3 Data consultant Michael Brackett avoids confusion over the term "metadata" by referring to the concept as "data resource data" and defining it as "any data necessary to thoroughly understand, formally manage, and fully utilize the data resource to meet the business information demand."