From UA Libraries Digital Services Planning and Documentation

What It Is, and Why It's Important

The library community and its allied partners have provided at least one definition for metadata for their respective communities. Here are a couple of examples:

  • "A characterization or description documenting the identification, management, nature, use, or location of information resources (data)." [The Society of American Archivists' A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology]
  • "Metadata is structured, encoded data that describe characeristics of information-bearing entities to aid in the identification, discovery, assessment, and management of the described entities." [ALA Task Force on Metadata, 1999]

To meet specific needs of a community or collection, a set of metadata elements (tags) known collectively as a schema is created that will neet the requirements.

Common charactertistics of metadata schemas:

  • a limited number of elements
  • the name of the element
  • the definition of the element
  • element's criteria

The University of Alabama Digital Collections are cultural heritage collections. Elements in schemas for cultural heritage materials have broad definitions and criteria so institutions may narrow definitions and set criteria to meet their needs.

Metadata schemas for the cultural heritage items include the CDP Metadata Working Group's [Dublin Core Metadata Best PracticesWestern Best Practices][1]. Mandatory elements include: title, creator (if available), subject, description, date digital, date orginal (if applicable), format, digitization specifications, resource identifier, and rights management.

With a primary metadata schema in place, other elements may be added to meet the needs of the collection. The elements may be added and/or borrowed from another schema.

Fields unique to our collections include "Donor" and "Funder" mapped to dc.Publisher. These terms are from the MARC relator codes,

Defintions from MARC Code List: Relator Codes --Term Sequence

  • Donor defined as "use for person or organization who is the donor of a book, manuscript, etc., to its present owner. Donors to previous owners are designated as Former owner or Inscriber."
  • Funder defined as "use for a person or organization that furnished financial support for the production of the work."

Metadata functions are grouped in three broad types by function. The types may be represented by an element in schema or a schema may be dedicated to the function.

  • Descriptive metadata is the most common type of metadata, the one that most people have used. It is data that describes and identifies digital objects whether they were orginally physical artifacts or born digitally. After combining the metadata currently in use for all of our collections, we wound up with an 87-field spreadsheet template: (File:DescriptiveMetadata.xls). We are currently mapping all these fields (File:MASTER LIST for Metadata Fields in CONTENTdm (instructions).docx) to MODS, and then will be transforming each item's metadata to a MODS XML file for both online delivery and long-term storage. The current mapping can be found on the following page, with each spreadsheet column name in place of the contents of that column's field for an item: MODS_Mockup


  • Administrative metadata is used to manage and administer. It is an umbrella term for the following:
  • Structural metadata orders records with their images in a flat or hierarchical relationship that is necessary for viewing the material. We're working out how to create METS records from content located where it belongs in our archival storage area, named properly. More on that here: archival_METS

Procedures and Policies

Metadata_Movement for content being digitized in Digital Services

Uploading MODS

List of Our Standardized Descriptive Metadata Fields

Creating collection xml file

Linking out from EADS


Undergraduate Research Projects

General Guidelines

  • If it is a photo collection, and it has been processed by one of Marina’s students, copy the information from the info sheets in his/her binder.
  • If it is an unprocessed photo collection or some other type of collection, and you are writing metadata
    • Never abbreviate, especially states and months.
    • Do not use periods at the end of fields (except it is okay in ‘Notes’ field, because that information is administrative metadata only, not to be used in the final metadata
    • Be consistent with your terminology in descriptions and titles; for instance, if you start using “railroad track” don’t switch over to “train track”
    • Don’t be afraid to take a second and look up information online, such as hunting down the county appropriate to a city (especially for Alabama counties; this is less important for large cities out of state) or confirming the spelling of a proper noun (like the name of a well-known person or a place name)
    • Metadata files will include the entry, "MU," in the Staff Notes field after Metadata Services have remediated the data.

Guidelines by Collection Type

Photo Collections

Manuscript Collections


Metadata for all collections are entered using the same template in EXCEL. Not all of the fields will be used for one collection. Fields (columns) in the EXCEL template may be hidden to facilitate data entry. By hiding fields, the template specifications can be made for one type of object (manuscripts, photographs, audio recordings, etc.). This is specially helpful when a collection only has one type of object. For collections that contain a variety of types, it is best to use the template without any hidden fields.