09 July 2012


Definition: Information that describes data. 

Explanation: In order for data to be useful they must be seen in context.  A document having two columns listing dates and stream temperature is useless unless you know the information that goes with it such as what stream this is and how were these measurements taken.  There are other useful pieces of information too.  Some examples are: Ownership, time coverage, spatial coverage, sampling and analysis methods, citation information, contact information, and distribution instructions.  Metadata makes it possible to discover and share data. 

Example: Consider the image on a photograph to be the data.  Then, information such as where the picture was taken, when the picture was taken, what kind of lighting was used, and what kind of camera was used would be metadata.

Now consider a large collection of literature and data with a search engine.  Let’s say that search engine knows, for example, that the Central Arizona - Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research Site is characterized as an urban research study.  Now it is possible for that search engine, when asked about urban ecology, to pull up data from the Central Arizona - Phoenix collection even if the data are not directly about urban ecology.

Why it is important: There is no way to combine data without metadata.  Things you might take for granted today, such as a web search engine, cannot exist without metadata.

Contributed by BES Information Manager Jonathan Walsh


  1. No matter how old you are, family history is important. While you might not think so at the time, as you get older there will be things you and your grandchildren will want to know. Most of us don't realise it until the older generations are gone and you can't replace first hand comments. Don't just put in about the good times, add in the harder times and how you overcame those trials. Another thing to remember is what caused the deaths of those you loved. There are many things that have been found to continue into future generations that knowing it runs in the family can be helped with now or possible in the future. prevention starts with knowing where to start. I wish someone had taken the time to write these things down for mew to be able to go back to. My Grandmother and my mother told us many stories of what things happened in their lives and about the people in their lives. I now wish someone had written those things down since both have passed now. But I never thought at that busy point in my life that I would one day want to remember all those things. So much family history is lost when the older generations are gone. Please pass it on to your family while you can. You can even just do it digitally so it can be accessed by family later on.Family pictures are something to cherish also. Just be sure to write down who is pictured in them, where they are taken and when. I have found family pictures that no one now even knows who is in them.


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