Why collect metadata?

Seabed mapping data are a valuable resource because they are expensive to collect and time-consuming to interpret. This makes them relatively rare commodities; therefore it is vital that maximum value can be extracted from a data resource, both at the time of collection and into the future. Creating metadata for seabed mapping data maintains the value of the data for the organisation that collected them. This process prevents information about the data from being 'lost', if for example the original staff leave the organisation; undocumented data are often impossible to use, particularly if the data resource lacks a defined coordinate system or explanation of any codes used within the data resource. Furthermore, recording metadata at the time a dataset is created will save staff time in the future, especially if different staff need to carry out this task when they are not familiar with a resource. The existence of metadata can reduce time spent searching for data if the metadata are held centrally. Knowledge of existing seabed mapping data through accessible metadata records will help to avoid duplication of effort in collecting new data. This underpins the principle of collecting data once and using it many times.
Effective metadata collection can help government agencies comply with international or national directives relating to access of information. For example, the EC Directive 2003/4/EC on public access to environmental information lays down requirements on public access to environmental information, and the Aarhus Convention establishes a number of rights of the public concerning the environment. The existing UK Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) have been updated accordingly to bring the UK into line with these international requirements.
International sharing of metadata is becoming increasingly important. Seabed features do not follow national boundaries, and contemporary measures at 'ecosystem management' consider regional seas rather than national waters. A project working in the North Sea may be interested in finding data collected by organisations based in several countries bordering the area. Metadata provide crucial information to better understand a data resource, and to help users locate appropriate data that meets their needs. Combining metadata records for individual data resources into a database can offer the user the opportunity to search and query the resulting metadata 'catalogue' in order to track down records which meet their needs. Such a catalogue can be distributed via the internet to create an online search tool.
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