I’ve talked about metadata before, but usually as a way to make your digital photos more search friendly. Metadata is the descriptive information embedded in many kinds of digital files – not just photos. In Microsoft apps like Word and Excel, it’s called properties. Apple supports tagging all kinds of files.
This DayOne journal entry automatically collected some metadata – date, time, location and weather. I add tags for organizational purposes. If I share this entry with others or export it as part of a publication, that metadata will go with it.
For the most part, the document’s metadata will also be included when it is converted to a PDF file. If it isn’t, or if you’re doing something unusual like screenshots saved as PDF files, you may need some kind of PDF editor to add or edit metadata.
Digital photos also contain metadata. Digital cameras and the photo apps on your smart phone automatically include information about the camera used to take the photo and often even lighting and shutter speed. Many also include date and location data. We can add tags to identify the photographer, event and the people in the photo. Photo platforms such as Flickr will capture that information as part of the upload. When Flickr photos are shared to others, the owner’s username goes with it.
Do you use a document management app to organize your scanned records and documents? This document was scanned using Mariner Software’s Paperless app [$50 – Mac & Windows] and saved as a PDF document. Some of the metadata shown in the example was automatically added based on my Paperless preference settings, but tags and other data was added manually during the scanning process. It also supports batch editing. All of that metadata is now permanently attached to the document file and will remain with it even if copies are saved in different locations or shared with others.
Spend some time poking around in the metadata areas of your favorite applications and get in the habit of including metadata in the publications you create and items you scan. Look in your “office” apps preferences for the author field. Add your name and it will automatically be embedded in every file you create with that app. Don’t forget to check documents from outside sources to see if the metadata documents their provenance. If not, add what you know yourself. Not only will it make your research easier when you’re trying to remember where that bit of info came from, but future generations will love you too.