What is metadata?

Information and records need to be described so that people know what they are about, understand their context and purpose, and can find them easily when they need to. This descriptive data is called metadata. Metadata can be used to identify, authenticate and contextualise information and the people, processes and systems that create, maintain and use it.

It allows users to control, manage, find, understand and preserve information over time.

Some examples of metadata are:

  • title
  • author
  • any registration number or other unique identifiers
  • date created or received
  • subject matter
  • format
  • history of use.

The capture and maintenance of metadata should occur as a normal part of business and information and records management processes. Where possible, the creation and capture of metadata should be automated.

Why is metadata important

Metadata ensures that important details about your agency's information are recorded in a structured way, and provides valuable context to that information. It also:

  • provides a tool for the control and management of records and other information resources
  • provides a means of verifying the authenticity and integrity of records and information
  • assists in the discovery and retrieval of information
  • allows the capture of technical details about information resources, enabling them to be rendered and read.

Without metadata, information and records have no context, making them difficult to find, retrieve and use.

How is metadata attached to a record?

Metadata such as title are attached manually when you create and save information. Other elements such as author and record number may be attached automatically as a process of information systems. Metadata is embedded in all digital information.

Configuring systems to automatically create and capture metadata ensures information and records can be created, captured and managed.


Metadata standards are essential if metadata is to be useful and understood over time. Standards mean that uniform terms are used within and between environments and communities. This supports interoperability, the ability to share information between agencies and underpins Machinery of Government.

The National Archives of Australia endorses two metadata standards for information and records management in the Australian Government. These are:



Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019