What is Metadata?

To piggy back on my last post about the National Security Agency collecting the metadata associated with our cell phone calls (data), it might be important to describe metadata and why it is useful.

So what is metadata? "Simply put, metadata is data about data. It is descriptive information about a particular data set, object, or resource, including how it is formatted, and when and by whom it was collected. Although metadata most commonly refers to web resources, it can be about either physical or electronic resources. It may be created automatically using software or entered by hand."

In the library world metadata is extremely important because it is how we organize information. "The underlying concepts of metadata have been in use for as long as collections of information have been organized. For example, the information structure for materials in library catalogs is a type of metadata that has served as a collection management and resource discovery tool for decades."

Each resource in a library is tagged with specific metadata decriptors to make resources searchable through the use of fields and subject headings, for example. Without the metadata available to help search for materials, a library would be little more than an overwhelming amount of books, with many being lost to obscurity.

This is the important, proper use of metadata - to help us search for the world's information in an organized way.

As I mentioned yesterday, metadata is currently the least protected form of communication information. This is probably because metadata is data about data, so it feels far enough removed to warrant serious protection. The lack of protection makes metadata susceptible to nefarious uses -- arguably like that of the NSA.

Because metadata is so useful and is becoming increasingly more powerful, it does need added protections in today's landscape. This is another example of the law trying to keep up with technology.

Indiana University Knowledge Base -- What is metadata?


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