Data management

A catalogued collection held in a collection management system, and photographs and scans of collection items, are digital assets that require care and management

In order to manage these digital assets, concise files should be created on organisational computers for collections management purposes. Files should also be created for the storing of digital image files of the collection. A clearly defined place for digital audio and audio/visual material should also be created.

Because these are digital assets and easily copied, it is also a good idea to make copies of catalogue and digital image assets, and keep them off-site. You may even have two copies kept in two different locations to ensure their safety. Consider storing copies with places such as the local library or council.  If copies are kept off-site, ensure they are updated regularly, so that no new data is lost.

You may also consider storing your digital material in cloud-based storage systems, which are always up to date.


Metadata is information about information. Metadata makes things searchable and therefore easier to find when they are needed. It is not just about computers and digital information. Metadata has been used in libraries since they first began to organise items and make them retrievable by users. The Dewey Decimal system is a system of metadata used to organise and retrieve books.

Digital images on a computer have metadata attached to them. Photographs will have background information about the photograph such as when the photo was taken, on which camera, the pixels, the bit depth, the dpi (dots per inch), the colour compression and so on. But it won’t tell you who is in the photo or what the photograph is of, so metadata is also the information that can be applied to the item such as title, maker, location, etc. If you have ever written down who is in a photo, when it was taken and where it was taken, you have been using metadata. You may have used it when you wrote on the back of a printed photograph, or when you organised your digital family photos on your computer.

You can set up a simple metadata system for the digital images in your collection, so that it is easy to find an image when needed. Metadata for scanned photographs in a collection can include basic information such as:

  • accession number of the item scanned (if accessioned)
  • a simple title for what the image is of
  • where it is
  • approximate date of the image.

Some organisations use a system for their metadata that includes indicators to users such as:

  • ‘t’ for images of the town
  • ‘p’ for images of people
  • ‘b’ for images of buildings and so on.

Keep these indicators concise so that there are not too many. A collection should be able to encapsulated in a small group of terms.

Metadata for photographs of objects in a collection can include basic information such as:

  • The accession number of the object
  • Title/name
  • Approximate date.

Some organisations use a system for their metadata that includes indicators to users such as:

  • ‘m’ for machinery
  • ‘f’ for furniture
  • ‘c’ for costume.

More information

Dublin Core International metadata standard
Metadata and Access – State Records NSW
What is metadata? (video) – EDINA Data Centre