Documenting Geographic Data

What is metadata?

metadata logo "Metadata is what makes data understandable, useable and shareable."
-International Standards Organization (ISO)


An integral part of any geographic data set is a well-organized description of its content. This explanatory information is called metadata: a written record of the most important facts about a data set. Metadata is critical to data creators who need to organize data and keep track of when it was created and what it contains. Metadata is equally important to those who share data and need clear and complete information about data they are considering using.

Well-designed metadata answers seven questions:

  • What is this data about, where did it come from and when was it gathered?
  • What is its quality?
  • How is it organized?
  • Where is the data set located on the earth's surface?
  • What kind of features does this data set describe and in how much detail?
  • How is this data set distributed?
  • Who put this documentation together?

Metadata is also the cornerstone of the Minnesota Geographic Data Clearinghouse's GeoGateway search tool. Through the GeoGateway, users search metadata records to locate the data that they want.

The Minnesota Guidelines

The Minnesota Governor's Council on Geographic Information has developed a metadata format specifically designed for geographic data. The Minnesota Geographic Metadata Guidelines provide a convenient template to help anyone working with GIS to document their own data. These guidelines, adopted by the Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology as an official state guideline, are a streamlined version of a federal metadata standard, the Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata.

A copy of the guidelines can be viewed, downloaded in PDF format or obtained by contacting MnGeo at clearing.house@state.mn.us.

Help!

See MnGeo's Metadata Resources page for free metadata entry software and help with reading, writing and using metadata.

Geographic Data Clearinghouse