Scientific metadata provide the information necessary for investigators separated by time, space, institution or disciplinary norm to establish common ground. | Edwards, 2011
The structured and standardised metadata that a data archive assigns to a dataset, are an important condition for the realisation of FAIR data. In this section, we will show how different scientific disciplines deal with this.
When a dataset is ingested in a data archive, checks are made to establish whether the dataset has been described well enough. The key question is: does a (future) user or computer have sufficient information to be able to find the data and understand what the dataset entails? If not, reuse is unthinkable and reproducibility is a mission impossible.
Both the person who archives the data and the data manager of a data archive can assign so-called structured metadata. Which metadata fields are mandatory or desirable differs per data archive and research discipline. Different disciplines use their own metadata schemes and standards for this (RDA, n.d.). The use of such standards is essential to enable the findability, interoperability and reusability of datasets.
Both DANS and 4TU.Centre for Research Data use the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative as metadata standard (DCMI, n.d.). Dublin Core is easy to use and is used worldwide. DataCite (n.d.), the organisation that provides Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), has drawn up its own metadata standard for datasets with a DOI. This standard - the DataCite Metadata Schema (2019) - is richer than Dublin Core. For example, it offers more possibilities to describe the dataset precisely. Because this standard is becoming increasingly popular, data archives such as DANS and 4TU.Centre for Research Data make it possible for metadata to be 'harvested' in this metadata format by metadata aggregators such as DataCite, which in turn make it possible to search in the harvested metadata and find the corresponding datasets (Also see the section 'Searching for data').
What differs per metadata standard are the agreements about how information is encoded and should be understood. In one metadata standard, for example, the date of publication is shown as 'datePublished' and in another as 'date' or 'PublicationYear'. Or in one metadata standard the geographical coverage is coded as 'SpatialCoverage' and in another as 'GeoLocation'. To ensure that data in a discipline can talk to each other, they must be described using the same metadata standard.
FAIR metadata is the first major step towards becoming maximally FAIR. When the data elements themselves can also be made FAIR and made open for reuse by anyone, we have reached the highest degree of FAIRness. When all of these are linked with other FAIR data, we will have achieved the Internet of (FAIR) Data. Once an increasing number of applications and services can link and process FAIR data we will finally achieve the Internet of FAIR Data and Services. | Mons et al., 2017
In order to make data usable for other researchers who have not yet worked with the data, it is often not enough to assign standardised metadata. In addition to metadata, all the necessary information required to guarantee usability is also stored in a data archive. Think, for example, of data documentation such as manuals for using software, code books with the abbreviations, variables and codes that occur in data, but also of the software and code itself if it is necessary to perform data analyses. In addition, it is often necessary to add an index of the dataset with a substantive description of the folders and possibly also of the data files themselves (if they do not speak for themselves).
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