How to develop a metadata system for your work

There are two ways to approach creating a metadata system that will work for you. Either approach may end up leading to the same outcome eventually, but the process and thinking might be different.

1. Start with your purpose

For this approach you will start by deciding what you want to accomplish with your metadata, or part of your metadata. This could be an archival project where you want to properly describe and label older content that is no longer in use before you put it into storage. Perhaps you want to increase your discoverability by improving your SEO metadata. You might decide to do a cleanup and reorganization of your working files.

Once you’ve decided what your goal is then you can move to the next step of choosing which metadata you need and how to organize or deploy it.

2. Start with what you have

This approach is the opposite. Rather than first considering what goal you want to accomplish, you will do an inventory of your files and information to see what metadata you have that might need organizing. This approach will help if you are generally having difficulty finding things or figuring out how to organize them but you don’t have a specific measurable goal in mind.

belongings arranged by colour in a rainbow

Basic Metadata Schema Development

Developing a standard for your organization for metadata capture and recording will mean that you will always have the information you need at hand.

IIt is good to refer to standardized metadata schemas when designing your own to allow for interoperability and extend the use. Metadata schemas can also be customized. In many cases you will find that you only need to use part of a schema because the complexity is unnecessary for your purpose. Dublin Core is a recommended multi-purpose schema to use for arts organizations because it is fairly ubiquitous and well understood, yet simple for humans to understand.

Dublin Core has 15 basic elements, and you can use elements multiple times in the description of one object (for example when you have multiple creators). The 15 basic elements are:

  • Contributor – “An entity responsible for making contributions to the resource.”
  • Coverage – “The spatial or temporal topic of the resource, the spatial applicability of the resource, or the jurisdiction under which the resource is relevant.”
  • Creator – “An entity primarily responsible for making the resource.”
  • Date – “A point or period of time associated with an event in the lifecycle of the resource.”
  • Description – “An account of the resource.”
  • Format – “The file format, physical medium, or dimensions of the resource.”
  • Identifier – “An unambiguous reference to the resource within a given context.”
  • Language – “A language of the resource.”
  • Publisher – “An entity responsible for making the resource available.”
  • Relation – “A related resource.”
  • Rights – “Information about rights held in and over the resource.”
  • Source – “A related resource from which the described resource is derived.”
  • Subject – “The topic of the resource.”
  • Title – “A name given to the resource.”
  • Type – “The nature or genre of the resource.”

Within each of these elements you want to create categories that match the kind of content you have. Wherever possible and appropriate you want to use controlled vocabulary so that you are organizing your content in a consistent way.


The decisions you make will be unique to your organization and your content, and you can add or remove categories or columns from examples or metadata standards to meet your unique needs.

For example, if your organization holds a number of different kinds of visual content then your taxonomy for the element of TYPE (list of controlled vocabulary allowed in this category and the hierarchy of their relationships) might look something like this:

  • Image
    • Moving
      • Animation
      • Film
        • Feature
        • Musical
        • Animation
        • Documentary
        • Silent
        • Short
        • Staged
        • Performance
        • etc.
      • TV
        • Drama
        • Serial
        • Documentary
        • News
        • Current Affairs
        • Performance
        • Comedy
        • Children’s
        • Review
        • Interview
        • etc.
    • Photograph
    • Graphic

Here’s an example of the basic metadata for a video you might save in your records, using Dublin Core as a model:

Dublin CoreDescriptionCommentsExample
identifierThe URL of the movie (video object), or a unique number or name applied to the fileThese need to be uniquehttps://vimeo.com/469623842
titleThe name of the movieTitle as is seen to viewersMetadata: What is it and why should I care?
creatorThe creator of the movie.Sarah Stang
dateDate that the movie was created — could also be date the movie was uploaded and made available via a URL.Best Practice to use the ISO 8601 profile for date format: YYYY-MM-DD2020-10-18
formatThe format of the video file: Quicktime, Windows Media, MPEG, etc.MOV
rightsA URL for a text-based explanation of the movie’s licensing terms.https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

subjectA set of keywords describing the topic of the movie.a standard set of keywords is ideal for consistencyKeywords Metadata Discoverability SEO
descriptionProvides a text-based description of the movie.Join Sarah Stang, librarian and metadata nerd, for a quick overview of metadata. Learn what metadata is and how to use it to keep your content organized and make it discoverable.
relationDescribe any related resourcescan also indicate nature of relationship to other resourcesMetadata for Arts Organizations Online Course
sourceDescribe any source material used in the video
typeFor video is typically genrea standard set of keywords is ideal for consistencyVideo – Instructional
coveragetypically a geographic location, time period, or jurisdictionideally use standard sources for names for geographic location, eras, or jurisdictionsGaliano Island