Dear readers of Tecnogalaxy, today we will talk about metadata and we will see what they are, what they are used for, and why they are very important.

The transition to digital document production has required the adoption of specific tools and the satisfaction of necessary requirements to govern the creation, management, maintenance, and preservation of documents. Among all these tools is the use of so-called metadata (a term used in computer language) to define a set of information about data.

Metadata are often defined as “data about data“, a term that derives from the English word “metadata“.


In the context of digital archives, metadata are the information that must be provided for the digital document in order to form it correctly, and to manage and preserve it over time.

The original (digital) document does not have the material component of paper, obviously, since it is virtual. It is stored in systems that contain many digital objects.

To preserve a digital document and make it accessible over time, it must be related to a set of information.

The most basic metadata are the file name, technical specifications on the version of the software, technical specifications on the hardware, creation dates, access dates, modification dates, and the author of the document. The more complex metadata are the description, release terms, access and use, and the object. There is obviously Italian legislation on metadata that provides for minimum requirements that must be associated with the digital document, such as:

  • Object
  • Producer subject
  • Closing date
  • Identifier
  • Recipient

These elements are used to assign a precise identity to the document, which is why the archive formation phase is considered crucial for the correct maintenance and preservation of digital documentation.

Once the document is created, it will have its own life cycle that will obviously lead it to be managed by other systems/software with the addition of further information.

An important aspect to consider is that metadata is not attributed to digital objects all at the same time, but is accumulated throughout their life in order to track their usage, such as “access, transfers, modifications, copies, etc…

If you think about it, metadata is ultimately data that describes the structure, content, and their management over time.


The complexity and management of digital information resources has led the international scientific community to create a series of standards by adding a rough distinction of metadata into three major categories:

  1. descriptive metadata
  2. administrative and management metadata
  3. structural metadata

Descriptive metadata is used for identification and retrieval of documents, and consists of standardized descriptions.

Administrative and management metadata is useful for their management within the archive and also includes technical information such as formats, creation procedures, and the technological environment.

Structural metadata, on the other hand, includes the information necessary to describe the internal articulation and relationships between the parts that make up digital objects.


Metadata is fundamental because it allows us to search for and retrieve a document from our digital archive when we need it.

When we search for a document in our archive, we use search keys (if we don’t want to spend the entire day scrolling through endless lists of records).

These important search keys are precisely represented by the metadata that was associated with the document itself when it was entered into the management or storage system.

The information we use to perform a search includes:

  1. date
  2. subject
  3. document number
  4. tax identification number, etc.

These are the tools we use to retrieve the right documents at the right time.


As described earlier, some metadata should never be missing, as its presence is essential for retrieving documents, while others should be present as a guarantee of the integrity of the document itself, and others because they contextualize it and help place it correctly with respect to other documents.

As always, make good use of them by testing them on your own devices/computers. Testing them on devices/computers that are not yours is illegal.

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