Forum Guide to Metadata
NFES 2009-805
July 2009

Chapter 2. Description of a Metadata System - Metadata Item Inventory

Most organizations with metadata systems maintain an inventory of metadata items. This inventory may be a spreadsheet developed by a data manager or a database created by the technology director. While the list of potential metadata items is quite long, most state and local education agencies focus on a subset that addresses most issues for most users. Exhibits 2.2a, 2.2b, and 2.2c present items likely to appear in such a list, organized into technical, data management, and usage/operations categories to illustrate common, though not mutually exclusive, usage.

While metadata offer many benefits for managing information, planners should resist the temptation to include too much information. Data about the metadata (meta-metadata) and even data about those data (meta-meta-metadata) may occur without vigilant management. Care must be taken to ensure that metadata items are limited only to stakeholder needs.

The design of a metadata system is driven by the way an organization uses information. Thus, considerable variation may exist in different organizations' metadata item inventories, even within the field of education. The planning process discussed in chapter 4 places substantial emphasis on completing a needs assessment that gathers information from stakeholders about the data-related activities required for their jobs. A metadata item inventory should reflect and, in fact, be customized to meet those needs.

While reviewing available item inventories from peer organizations is advisable, system planners should not expect to meet their stakeholders' needs simply by copying another organization's item inventory (or the sample above) without any customization.