Principles for recordkeeping metadata

As recordkeeping professionals we have not been very successful in conveying what we believe metadata for records to be and its uses. This has been played out in numerous conversations within and outside of the profession in the wake of the (meta)data retention push by the current government.

Example of an Entity-Relationship diagram by Pável Calado

Example of an Entity-Relationship diagram by Pável Calado

Do we actually share an understanding within the profession as to what recordkeeping metadata is and what it does? Can we agree? We Roundies would like to find out.

Roundtable co-founder Barbara Reed has said:

“Strictly defined and constraining specifications of recordkeeping metadata elements have failed to gain traction in the world of business systems. These models are needed as a canonical touchstone for reference, but these should not be the only desirable implementation model. Rather, we need to clearly articulate the principles by which our metadata approaches are to be measured. A recordkeeping informatics [1] focus would focus on:

  • the transactional nature of action: ensure that we acknowledge and capture the multiple entities involved in transactions
  • relationships: ensuring the multiple entities are linked to their actions in recorded form in ways that will enable them to be sustainable and interpretable over time
  • traceability, not auditing: being able to tell the ‘story’ of the transaction. The who, where, when, what, why and how the record (or other data) came to be what it was
  • persistence: ensuring that the identification of records of transactions is persistent and the links remain viable
  • re-usability: ensuring that the record in its entirety (including the metadata) is constructed and sustained in ways that encourage re-use
  • sustainability: that the records (including the metadata) remain viable through numerous system and technical environment changes
  • dynamic: the ability to add to metadata over time to allow new and alternative interpretations of a single event or transaction to be added to (not replacing) the record.”

We would like to test out these principles, by conducting a series of Q&As with implementers. People who are designing systems, migrating them and using them. People who work with data. Archivists, technologists and others.

Can they see the value in paying attention to this stuff? Are they doing it now? What would be needed to implement useful, business focused systems that adhere to these principles?

Our implementers will be from different work environments, but all will have some form of recordkeeping obligation inherent in what they do.

We’ll be posting again soon with further details of this event, currently planned for late April 2015.

[1] For an explanation of recordkeeping informatics, see Frank Upward, ‘Recordkeeping Informatics: A discipline under construction’, September 2011. Available at:

About Cassie Findlay

Digital recordkeeping, archives and privacy professional, co-founder of the Recordkeeping Roundtable. @CassPF on Twitter.
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