Last updated:

What is metadata?

Metadata for recordkeeping refers to descriptive information about the content, context, structure and management of records.

It can be created, captured and managed automatically by a piece of software or system, manually by a person, or by using a combined approach.

Metadata about records may be held across a number of different systems within an agency, including recordkeeping and/or business systems.


Why is metadata important?

Metadata is essential to manage and preserve records, ensure they are findable and accessible over time, and maintain their authenticity. It provides descriptive information about when, how and by whom a record has been:

  • created or captured
  • used (e.g. viewed or accessed)
  • managed (e.g. transferred, reviewed, sentenced)
  • preserved (e.g. migrated, converted).

Metadata must be maintained and updated throughout the life of the record as evidence of the record’s authenticity and to ensure it remains usable to the agency.


What metadata should you capture?

Minimum mandatory metadata

PROV has developed PROS 19/05 S2 Minimum Metadata Requirements Specification—a set of minimum mandatory metadata elements required for use in Victorian Government agencies. This specification outlines:

  • metadata elements that must be captured for all records
  • additional metadata elements that must be captured for high value records and records with long term or permanent retention periods.

A metadata standard sets out rules about how to use metadata. It will generally specify which elements to use, the relationship between elements, and usage obligations (i.e. whether using each element is mandatory, conditional or optional).

PROV’s minimum mandatory metadata set has been written to be compatible with the following established metadata standards:

  • Australian Government Location Service (AGLS) Metadata Standard
  • Australian Government Recordkeeping Metadata Standard (AGRkMS)
  • AS/NZS 5478:2015 Recordkeeping Metadata Property Reference Set.

To meet PROV requirements, agencies must capture metadata elements that are the same or equivalent to the elements that appear in the PROV minimum set.

Terms with alternate names can be used as long as their use aligns to the meaning of the element descriptions in the PROV minimum set.


Additional metadata

PROV’s minimum mandatory metadata set is designed as a starting point for agencies. Your organisation may benefit from capturing a broader range of metadata to support business needs, minimise risk and meet legislative requirements. 

When deciding what additional metadata to capture, consider:

  • the value of the records and any risk associated with them (e.g. age, current accessibility, unstable or unusual formats)
  • what metadata is needed for the business and to meet legislative requirements
  • whether your agency uses (or could benefit from using) an established metadata standard
  • whether a controlled vocabulary is required
  • how long the metadata must be kept
  • how the metadata will be managed over the record’s lifecycle
  • whether relationships between records and systems need to be captured.

Where an established metadata standard is being used in addition to PROV’s minimum metadata set, take note of the usage obligations for metadata elements set out in that standard. Elements specified as mandatory by PROV must be captured even if they are not mandatory in another metadata standard.

Metadata elements that are ‘conditional’ in any standard (e.g. capture of the metadata element is required in certain circumstances) become mandatory when the condition exists. 

Where an established metadata standard is not being used to govern an agency’s approach to applying and managing metadata in its systems, the agency should document its approach to ensure the meaning of metadata elements does not shift or become lost over time.

Further information about capturing metadata

Some metadata will be created automatically by software and systems interacting with the records, while other metadata may need to be captured manually by a person.

When deciding when, where and how to capture metadata, consider:

  • Can this metadata be automatically derived from the record, system or other source?
  • Is this information about a record ‘common knowledge’?
  • How many records does this metadata apply to?
  • Will this metadata be changed or added to over time?
  • Would it be practical or impractical to apply this metadata manually?

It is good practice to capture as much metadata as possible at the point of record creation. However, this is not always possible and additional metadata may need to be captured over time, such as when the record is modified or transferred.

Metadata can also be captured or applied at different levels within your recordkeeping system (such as container, aggregation, or individual record).

Understanding when, where and how metadata can be captured and applied will help you to determine the best approach for your agency.

Ensure that your agency captures event history metadata about any preservation or recordkeeping activities that result in a change to the record. 

Agencies should:

  • Capture information about record migration and conversion, including:
    • date of digitisation, migration or conversion
    • equipment used
    • action officer
  • Ensure metadata is maintained during migrations (i.e. metadata must be migrated with the record and not be overwritten by the new system)
  • Document what authorised changes have been made, including manipulation of images – this will help prove unauthorised changes have not been made
  • Capture details of preservation activities and outcomes, including tests performed and losses or changes in functionality
  • Document integrity or quality assurance checks
  • Update metadata when or if records are destroyed
  • Update or keep minimum metadata about any records transferred to PROV or another agency as part of a machinery-of-government (MOG) or administrative change.

Determine what metadata can be automatically captured and what needs to be manually added. You may be able to configure the type of metadata to be captured automatically. 

If you are digitising, converting or migrating, consider capturing event history metadata at the time rather than after the project is finished. 

Checks should be determined, documented, and implemented to assess the quality of metadata that are both manually entered and automatically generated.

It can be useful to capture additional metadata for records in certain formats.

Format type Example metadata
Audiovisual records
  • Orientation
  • Compression
  • Duration
  • Resolution (including tonal resolution)
  • Dimensions (including static or frame dimensions)
  • Colour (including colour space, management, or lookup table)
  • Audio bit rate or frame rate
  • Encapsulation or encoding structure
  • Track number and type
  • Sound
Text-based records
  • Compression
  • Text character set
  • Text associated DTD
  • Structural dimensions
  • Compression
  • Datatype and representation category
  • Representation form and layout
  • Size of data element values (minimum and maximum)
Executable files
  • Code type
  • Version


Consider whether the suggestions above are relevant to your records and what the impact of not having this information would be. The value of a record and its retention requirements will also help you determine whether capturing this type of metadata is necessary. 


Although many business systems will not be able to capture all the required metadata, it may be possible to configure the system to capture more or less metadata according to your agency’s needs.

Review the system to determine what metadata it does or can capture automatically, and take steps to manage any other metadata requirements manually.

When records are transferred to another agency as part of a MOG or administrative change it is important to capture metadata about the event. The record transfer or migration date must not overwrite the record creation date or last action date.

Minimum metadata about transferred records should include values for each element in PROV’s minimum metadata set, as well as:

  • the date a record was closed
  • transfer details (including the name of receiving, transferring or creating agency and transfer date)
  • status of or details about the associated function (e.g. ceased or transferred).

If your system can’t store this information, you may need to record it elsewhere.

When supplying or sharing a copy of a record to a third party, consider whether its metadata contains any personally identifying or confidential information. For information about data security see the Victorian Protective Data Security Framework.

If applying protective markings to records to meet the requirements of the Victorian Protective Data Security Framework (VPDSF), agencies may choose to also apply Information Management Markers (IMMs) to signal the type of content the records contain. 

IMMs are optional designations.

For more information see Security—the Victorian Protective Data Security Framework and Information Management Markers

Metadata is a record. It should be kept with the record for the minimum retention period specified for the record in the relevant Retention & Disposal Authority (RDA). Agencies must ensure they retain sufficient evidence of records that have been disposed of.

Required metadata for permanent value records must be transferred to PROV with the records.


PROV would like to thank Queensland State Archives for permitting us to reuse aspects of their advice when developing this page.



Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples