The world of information management can be intimidating for those looking to get started. Once you have determined your organisation’s need for good information management, even cursory research about it can overwhelm you with many specialised terms and practices.
As you’re getting started on your information management journey, there are some terms that will be extremely helpful to get you started. With these definitions, you’ll be well on your way to building and executing a plan to manage your organisation’s information effectively.
This is a term for any data whose content provides information about other data. Metadata is most often used to describe attributes or characteristics about an information object, allowing the object to be searchable and retrievable quickly. Metadata has been an integral part of digital searching for decades. Meta tags on websites incorporate descriptive information and key words about the contents of the site, allowing search engines to factor this information when ranking search results.
However, metadata has been in use in broader information management arenas for much longer. Libraries used to employ card catalogues filled with thousands of index cards, each with descriptive information about items in the library’s collection. Over decades, information professionals have developed and maintained standards for metadata that facilitate sharing of metadata across the globe.
A metadata record is a text-based content item that describes a particular information object. Records can hold many kinds of descriptors for the objects they describe, and similar records are often housed together in a catalogue to facilitate search and retrieval of the record, and by extension, the object it describes.
Today’s records are often digital files in a structured format.The term “record” in this sense is very broad: many kinds of records exist with varying kinds of descriptive, structural, administrative, or other data. However, a record is often where information managers will do their most direct work to maintain their organisation’s information.
A metadata record is made up of fields, each designed to store specific information about the information object described by the record. Think of fields as individual descriptors about something deemed important about the object: title, size, publication date, version or edition, or even digital objects themselves can be included in fields. Depending on the kinds of records being used, fields might include numerical codes for machine reading or text strings to facilitate human searching and reading.
Thesaurus / Controlled Vocabulary
In many information management environments, it’s useful to have a thesaurus / controlled vocabulary. This is a list of terms selected to describe, order, or organise metadata records to promote findability. While certain kinds of controlled vocabulary are maintained for use across organisations (usually in a particular industry or field of study), many are developed and maintained by and for a specific organisation’s information managers.
The upside of a controlled vocabulary is that the terms themselves don’t often change. This means if you were to enter “Financial Reports” from a controlled vocabulary into the appropriate field, most catalogue software will link the record to that term. Not only does this group all the “Financial Reports” records together, but every record with that term will read the same way. Information managers will make strategic decisions about controlled vocabularies, such as revisions, updates, or choosing a preferred spelling when more than one alternative exists.
As you work more closely with your organisation’s information, you’ll encounter many more terms to precisely describe metadata and its applications.
Many additional resources can be found online for further reading, but nothing replaces conversations with experts to help determine exactly what needs to be done for your specific needs. Soutron has over 30 years of experience in the information management field and our experts are always happy to help you get started with your information management journey.
By John Connolly, MLIS, PMP
John Connolly, PMP is a project manager and librarian with more than 15 years of experience in management in software and special libraries. He has a strong background in cataloguing, metadata generation, information management, and knowledge management.