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File Level Metadata

What...File-level metadata

File-level metadata is the description of individual files within a particular collection. File-level metadata may be embedded in the file itself or recorded in an associated file such as a spreadsheet or digital notebook.

For example; a deposit containing an audio interview may include the interview split over two audio tracks, a text document providing a transcript of the interview and an image file which depicts a signed consent form. Some of the metadata for audio track 1 may address the topics discussed within the track. Likewise, some of the metadata for audio track 2 may do the same. The metadata for the transcript may include the name of the transcriber and the date transcribed; and some of the metadata for the consent form may illustrate any issues around public access to the audio tracks.


Providing file-level metadata helps to provide granular information that will assist other researchers locate specific files, understand them and make use of them. Some metadata is better than none!


  • Create file-level metadata as you go.
  • Ask yourself the question, "what information would I want and need to know in order to use this data in the future"?
  • Metadata that you may wish to record at the file-level may include:
    • title
    • description - describing the contents of the file; the more detailed the better. Within an oral history interview for example you may wish to reference the topics being discussed
    • creator(s) - authors, photographers and videographers for example
    • contributor(s) - the person(s) contributing to the resource; interviewees, editors or subjects within a photograph for example
    • relevant dates
    • keyword(s) - indicating subjects, relevant people or relevant locations for example
    • copyright and other intellectual property rights
    • access information
  • Where appropriate provide associated documentation including:
    • Signed consent agreements associated with the file.
    • Explanations of any codes or classification schemes used within the file.
    • Any associated files required in order to understand the content.

Embedding metadata

Metadata can be embedded in to the header of certain files. This ensures that the metadata you provide moves with the file.

Microsoft Office files

You can embed metadata into Microsoft Office files by locating 'Properties'. In Microsoft Office 2013 this is located under 'File' ---- 'Info'. You are then presented the option to 'Show All Properties'. Add metadata using the fields provided. However any metadata you create in an Office format may not easily be exported into other formats.

MS Office properties

Adobe PDF

If basic property metadata (document title, author, keywords, etc) has been inputted within a creating application like Microsoft Word then these will be applied to your PDF. In order to edit or add metadata Adobe Acrobat Pro or Nuance PDF will be required.

Nuance PDF metadata

Image files

You are able to embed metadata into popular image formats such as TIFFs and JPEGs within Windows. Selecting the file and right-clicking will provide you with the contextual menu. From here select 'properties' and then the 'Details' tab. Add metadata within the appropriate fields provided.

Image metadata

Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Bridge applications can also be used to embed image metadata. Navigate to 'File' --- 'File Info' and add metadata to the relevant fields.

Adobe metadata

Audio files

You can embed descriptive metadata within certain audio files (WAV and MP3 for example) using popular applications such as Audacity and VLC.

Within Audacity navigate to 'File' --- 'Edit Metadata' and add using the fields provided. You can even create your own fields though it should be noted that these custom fields may not be displayed within applications other than Audacity.

Audacity metadata

Within VLC select 'Tools' --- 'Media Information' and add metadata to the fields provided.

VLC metadata

If you are handling WAV files then you have the choice to embed rich metadata using the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative's (FADGI) BWF MetaEdit tool, which conforms to FADGI's audio metadata guidelines. The guidelines stipulate both mandatory and optional fields.

BWF MetaEdit