What is SharePoint Metadata?

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before – metadata is data about the data. I remember the first time I heard that and it sounded like a bunch of theoretical gobbledygook. Data about the data? An easier way to think about metadata is to think of metadata as attributes of the object.  Let’s take a book as an example.  Attributes of the book could include the title, author, date of publication, subject and ISBM number.  All of these attributes can be called metadata of the book.

In our context – SharePoint document libraries – metadata is data about the documents.  These can be any properties that describe the attributes of the document.  This is easier to understand because you will actually see the metadata in a SharePoint document library.  By default SharePoint captures certain metadata such as document title, document type, last modified date etc.  These are displayed in SharePoint as columns. 

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Figure 1 – Metadata displays as columns

So why do I need metadata?  Why not just store my documents and move on.  Well let’s go back to our example of a book.  How do you find a book at the library?  You search by title, author etc.  Ahh, so we can use metadata to make search easier. Often you can decide what additional metadata might be needed by thinking about how you want to use the metadata – for instance for search, security or retention. If you want to use metadata for retention, think about what type of metadata you will need to determine the retention of a document.  For example, we may want to know if the document is an official company record before we decided how long to retain it.  In this case we may want to create metadata called ‘Company Record”,  which would have a value of either yes or no.

Typically a document will have more default metadata than is displayed to the users in SharePoint.  Administrators can modify the view.  The view will define which columns are displayed to the user when they go to the document library.  When an administrator modifies the view for a document library, they can see alot of the metadata that is by default associated with the documents.  In many cases, not all of this metadata exists, for instance, the metadata field in Check in Comment probably doesn`t exist unless someone has checked in document and added some comments.

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Figure 2 – Standard metadata

In addition to this default metadata maintained by SharePoint, it’s easy to add additional metadata to SharePoint document libraries by creating custom columns.  Custom columns will represent metadata that is especially meaningful to your organization, so you will want to record it when documents are created.    You can capture any metadata for a document by creating a custom column.  For example we may want to add metadata about what department created the document, and what project it is associated with.  In this case we could create two custom columns called Department and Project.

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Figure 3 – Department and Project metadata added

Those are the basics on what SharePoint metadata is.  Next week we intend to do another post that will describe how to get this metadata into SharePoint.



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