About Metadata

What is Metadata?

Metadata is information about an item. Descriptive metadata includes the title, creator (if known), and a description of the object. Metadata often includes administrative and preservation information, as well. In the UNT Libraries’ system, preservation information is visible to metadata editors but not to users viewing the records from the Portal or the Digital Library.

In the UNT Libraries’ Digital Collections (The Portal to Texas History or the UNT Digital Library), when you are looking at a page for an object, the metadata record is in the section that says “About this [item].” The front page has a “Brief Record” and the “Full Record” tab displays the entire metadata record. (In the images below, the “About this [item]” section is marked and an arrow is pointing to the options for “Brief Record” and “Full Record.”) For example, here is a record from The Portal to Texas History:

Metadata record in The Portal to Texas History.

To see a larger image, click here. (When the larger image opens, click on it to zoom.)

To see the live record, click here.

And here is a record from the UNT Digital Library:

Record from the UNT Digital Library.

To see a larger image, click here. (When the larger image opens, click on it to zoom.)

To see the live record, click here.

How Metadata Works in Our System

In The Portal to Texas History and the UNT Digital Library, a metadata record contains all of the information that we know about the item – when it was created, who created it, who published it (if applicable), relevant topics, etc. Metadata records provide background for items and add “searchable” words to help users find what they are looking for. This is especially important for items such as photographs that do not have text to search or for handwritten items that cannot support full-text searching.

We have created an in-depth document (the UNT Libraries’ Input Guidelines for Descriptive Metadata) that explains exactly how we use each individual field in our system. Our metadata is based on Dublin Core standards, but we have modified them (by adding fields and clarifying instructions) to make information more useful in the Digital Collections. Additionally, our guideline pages outline how you enter information into our system with in-depth instructions about how to find and format information with the precedents we’ve set.

The reason that we ask that all information follow the Metadata Input Guidelines is because consistency helps improve searching and findability. Here are some reasons that formatting affects searching in our system:

  • Using the same format for names means that the system can link all of the records that have the same person listed as a creator. This means that you could find all of the photographs taken by Julius Born or by Neal Douglass (or others) by clicking on the name in a record. This works similarly for names in the contributor and publisher fields as well as subjects.
  • Formatting information consistently also affects the “Explore” feature in the Portal and the Digital Library. For example, if the place names were not all formatted in the same way (Country - State - County - City), not all of them would be findable in the “Explore-by-Location” feature because the system will only recognize that specific format.
  • Faceted searching also relies on consistent formatting. When you do a search in the Portal or the Digital Library, the options that show up along the left side of the screen are called “facets” and allow you to narrow your search results by many different criteria. Some of those criteria come from drop-down lists in the editing form (partner, collection, language, resource type, and access) but others are entered by a metadata creator/editor according to guidelines (date, series/serial title, location, degree, and discipline). If any of the information is not entered consistently or according to our guidelines then people who use the facets to narrow their search will not find those items.

For an introduction to UNT Libraries’ metadata, see our Quick-Start Metadata Guide.

If you have questions about the guidelines or about how your information will be included or formatted, please contact us (Portal Contacts).

Creating Metadata

Metadata is either created by you or by staff in the Digital Projects Unit depending on the partner model you have chosen. Here’s how it works:

We Create Metadata

If you choose Partner Model #1 or Model #3, the Digital Projects Unit will be creating metadata for your objects. This means:

  • We write a complete record for every individual item.
  • We include as much information as we know about an object.
  • If we receive information from you about creators, creation dates, names, etc., we will include that information in the records (see General Information below).
  • When all of the records have been created, they will be checked and general mistakes (misspellings, formatting problems, etc.) will be corrected.
  • The records will be uploaded and made public.
  • You will have the option to edit your records to include additional details.
    • After the items are uploaded, we can create editing accounts for your staff members and give you an introduction to our system.
    • Although you can edit records, they must follow UNT Libraries’ Metadata Input Guidelines.
  • Note: At the start of the project, if you have special requests about information that you would like us to include, please note them when you fill out the Metadata Request Form. Requests may or may not be granted depending on how they can be accommodated within our guidelines, but we are often able to find a compromise. If you have questions or concerns about how information will be included in your records, please contact us (Portal Contacts).

You Create Metadata

If you choose Partner Model #2 or Model #4, you will be creating metadata for your objects. This means:

  • You will fill out a Metadata Super-Template Form that includes any information that you want to have in every record.
  • We will create a generic template record using information from your form.
  • When the digital images are uploaded, the generic template information will be uploaded with each item and they will be hidden from the public.
  • We will create editing accounts for your staff members and give you an introduction to our system.
  • You will go into the system and enter all of the information for each item.
  • As you finish records, you will publish them so that they are visible to the public.
  • We ask that you let us know when you finish the first ten records so that we can make sure that the information is consistent with our guidelines.
    • This is the same kind of quality control that we do on records that we write in-house.
    • Our metadata staff continuously monitors metadata editing in the system and may occasionally make minor corrections or suggestions to improve records.

General Information

We have a number of fields in our metadata records, but we have around 18 fields that we generally use depending on the kind of item that it is and how much information we have. The table below includes the information that is often helpful for us.

  • When we are creating metadata for your objects, we will try to fill in as much information as you give us about the items.
  • If you are using Partner Model #2, which means that you are creating metadata for your items but sending them to us to be scanned, we only need enough information to keep track of your items (the fields marked by a single asterisk * in the table). We have to know the unique identifier for each item you send, but the title and/or brief description are also useful if you already have them; there is no need to send descriptive information if it is not already available in a local list or database - you can do that after items are scanned, when you create the metadata records.

Most common fields:

Field Definition Examples
*Identifier: The accession number assigned to the items or a local control number you've added. All of your items should have identifiers; for more information, see About Unique Identifiers ds02557
*Title: The title of the item given by the creator or that you would like us to use. If the item doesn't have a title, we'll create one for it. Cowboys at XIT Ranch
Creator: Name of the photographer, artist, author, etc. If you don't know who created the item, the field is left blank and displays as "unknown." (Photographer) John K. Blackburn
Contributor: Additional persons/organizations that were secondarily involved in creating the item or that you want to acknowledge. (Donor) Larry Baumann
Date: Date when the item was created. If you don't know when it was created, we'll add "unknown." We can include dates that are "circa" or uncertain if you have a good idea of the general date. (Note: in the system we use a tilde to denote "circa", e.g. 1920~) 1891
ca. 1901
*Description: A slightly more detailed description of the image or item with any information that you think should be included. Cowboys of the Escarbada bunk house on the XIT Ranch in 1891.
Subject: Subjects from the UNTL-BS** or keywords that you think would help people find the item. (If you use terms from another established controlled vocabulary, you can include those as well.) (UNTL-BS) Agriculture - Ranching - Cowboys
(Keyword) ranch hands
Coverage: Place where a photograph was taken or that the item is about. United States - Texas - Deaf Smith County - Hereford

**The UNT Libraries Browse Subjects (UNTL-BS) are used to help people browse by topic in The Portal to Texas History (they are not used in the UNT Digital Library). The list of subjects can be found here.

If you would like to see more basic information and examples, please look at our Quick-Start Metadata Guide. To see our full list of fields and in-depth documentation about how we enter field information, see our UNT Libraries’ Metadata Input Guidelines. If you need additional information or have questions, please contact us (Portal Contacts).


After your records are uploaded into the system, you can request access to edit them by sending us the following information for each editor at your institution:

  • first and last name
  • e-mail address

Each editor will receive an invitation by e-mail to set up a personal editing account.