Digitizing Records: Understanding Metadata Requirements

This is the next post in a series supporting the publication of 36 CFR section 1236 subpart E – Digitizing Permanent Records. All of the posts have been collected under the 36 CFR Section 1236 category.

S49-07-001 – STS-049 – In cabin view of crewmember at the forward flight deck with laptop terminal
National Archives Identifier: 22702275

In this blog post, we will explore the key aspects of metadata requirements and their significance in recordkeeping.

Maintaining control and organization over records is crucial for effective information management. In order to support the ongoing digital transformation of the federal records management environment through digitization, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has published new metadata requirements under 36 CFR 1236 Subpart E. The regulation defines the necessary metadata requirements, which encompass the information that describes and provides context for digitized records. 

General Requirements

The regulation specifies which metadata elements must be captured in a recordkeeping system, embedded in each file, or both. It is important to ensure the accuracy and consistency of metadata, regardless of where it is stored.

Capturing Relationships Between Source Records

When using metadata to capture relationships between source records, agencies must use the designated “Relation” metadata elements outlined in Table 1. These elements serve as basic administrative metadata and are essential for proper organization and management.

Capturing Access and Use Restrictions Metadata

Any access or use restrictions that apply to source records must be captured and associated with the digital records by using the metadata elements found in paragraph (c). Capturing this metadata ensures that the digital records that agencies create can be properly managed throughout their lifecycle. Access restrictions include national security considerations, donor restrictions, court orders, and other statutory or regulatory provisions. Use restrictions include copyright, trademark, service mark, donor, or statutory provisions. 

Using Different Metadata Labels

Agencies have the flexibility to use different metadata labels from the ones included in the regulation. However, while the labels themselves may differ, the metadata that is captured must align with NARA’s labels. For example, while an agency might use the label Publication Name instead of the label Title, the information captured would be the same, for example: “Monthly Status Report, June 30, 2013”. Also, agencies that use other labels must provide this information in the Details section of the ERA Transfer Request (TR) when the records are eligible for accessioning into the National Archives.

Determining the Level of Descriptive Metadata

Agencies should determine the appropriate level to be used as the source of descriptive metadata. Depending on existing recordkeeping practices and level of intellectual control, information from the project, record series, file unit, or item level can be used. If individual components of a record lack unique descriptions, the series or file unit-level descriptions should be applied to all image files within that grouping.

Including Additional Metadata

Agencies may include additional metadata elements beyond the specified requirements. If agencies provide additional metadata, NARA will accept it as part of the transfer process.

Metadata Capture Requirements

Agencies must adhere to the following metadata capture requirements:

Capturing Metadata at the File or Item Level

Agencies must capture the metadata specified in paragraphs (c) through (e) of the regulation at the file or item level as part of the digitization project. This ensures that essential information is associated with each digital record.

Creating Unique File Names and Record IDs

Unique file names and record IDs must be created for each image file. These identifiers help distinguish and track individual records within the system.

Embedding and Maintaining Metadata

The specified metadata elements outlined in paragraph (c) must be embedded in each image file and captured and maintained in a recordkeeping system. If agencies make changes to any of these metadata elements in the course of their business, they must ensure that it remains consistent and accurate in both places.

Embedding System-Generated Technical Metadata

Agencies must verify that the  system-generated technical metadata defined in tables 4 and 5 is captured in each file and that it is not inadvertently altered or deleted. This metadata provides information about the image format, dimensions, color space, scanner or digital camera details, and software used. It is important to ensure that image processing does not alter or delete this metadata.

Transferring Metadata to NARA

Agencies are required to transfer metadata that was captured in their recordkeeping systems to NARA in CSV (Comma-Separated Values) format. This facilitates the smooth transfer of records while preserving the associated metadata.

These metadata requirements enable federal agencies to effectively manage, access and preserve digitized records, promoting efficient information retrieval and supporting the digital transformation of the federal government. By adhering to these requirements, agencies contribute to a robust and future-ready records management ecosystem, fostering improved accessibility, accountability, and transparency across the federal landscape.