18 June 2020
By Dr Stefanie Broszeit, Plymouth Marine Laboratory & Data Management Committee Member  

Metadata describes your data. It is the who, what, when, where, why and how of your research and helps others find the data they are interested in.

To find metadata, it should be stored in a searchable meta - database, for example the Marine Environmental Data and Information Network (MEDIN) for UK marine metadata or for Earth data, the Common Metadata Repository (CMR). The metadata can also provide information on how to access the data and if it can be reused by other researchers. MEDIN, for example, links the metadata information to the repository where the actual data are stored, if access is free. If data is not freely available, or there are use constraints, a user can still find out where they are stored and learn about ways to gain access.

While it is common practice to use metadata for sharing in environmental sciences, it may be new to psychological and medical researchers who have more stringent data requirements to protect the data of the human participants who took part in their research. It is important to share and reuse environmental data because it is hard, time consuming and expensive to collect and while this is also true for medical, psychological or social studies using human participants, their privacy and data protection take higher priority.

Metadata can take many different forms, such as free text to describe the data, often in readme files, to structured content. This can include predefined vocabulary, which is common in metadata repositories and ensures a higher searching success, commonly through drop-down menus, for example, so species names cannot be misspelled and ensuring that any metadata on a particular species can be found.

Within Blue Communities we encourage sharing data created in all the projects and metadata is a great way of finding data collected across the programme. To address this, we have prepared a simple online form for collating information about what data is available within the Blue Communities programme: https://forms.gle/YWB7UQgrwA4SZipLA and we encourage all Blue Communities participants who have collected data to complete this. We also hope that metadata can lead to collaborations with researchers and others outside of the programme and will, therefore, use the metadata to showcase what data are collected and who is in charge of it. It is then still up to the individual researcher if, when and how they share their data sets either within or outside of Blue Communities. This will help to ensure that the data collected within the project can still remain useful after the end of the project, ensuring a legacy.

The interdisciplinary nature of the Blue Communities programme means that our metadata and data will not fit into one repository but instead we may need to put data and metadata into several repositories, suitable for each type of data. Some researchers may also feel that their data should be deposited in specific national institutions, which can be accessed internationally.

To be able to highlight the breadth of the data collected, we will have links to all the repositories where data and metadata will be deposited. We are planning to put this information onto the Blue Communities website and more information on this centralised metadata system will be shared in the next newsletter.

For futher information on metadata:

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