Inspecting the Metadata

Each shapefile can store metadata. Metadata refers to data about data. The documentation about the source of data, methods of data collection, times of data collection, and data authorship are all part of metadata. Thorough and well-documented metadata can be a valuable resource for any company, agency, or government. As a GIS analyst, inspecting the metadata should be the first step you take when beginning a project as part of quality assurance and quality control (QAQC).

Before inspecting the metadata, you will need to make sure ArcMap is set to read it correctly. There are different metadata formats available. In this example, you will use ISO 19139 Metadata Implementation Specification, a commonly used format. In ArcMap, locate the Customize menu at the top. Select ArcMap Options. When the ArcMap Options window opens, select the Metadata tab.

An image of the ArcMap Options menu under Customize
The Main Menu is located across the top of ArcMap.

Under the Metadata Style, choose ISO 19139 Metadata Implementation Specification from the drop-down menu. Leave all other default settings and click OK.

An image of the ArcMap Options window with ISO 19139 selected
ArcMap Options allow you to change many of the global software settings.

Return to the Catalog Window and right click on the roads shapefile located in the original folder. The file name starts with “humtrans.” Select, Item Description to open the metadata stored in the shapefile.

An image of the Item Description selected by right-clicking
You can access contextual menus in the Catalog Window by right-clicking on files and folders.

As you can see, this shapefile includes some metadata such as a summary, a description, credits, and the use limitations. Take a moment to read these first four sections.

An image of the Metadata for Humboldt County roads shapefile
The Item Description window has two tabs, Description, and Preview. The Description tab displays the metadata. Click to view the image in a larger size.

If you scroll down, you will see some additional information, such as the spatial reference. This information may not make much sense to you. However, as you learn more about geospatial science over time, you will begin to understand all the information presented here.

With the Item Description window open, click on the remaining shapefiles, one at a time. The Item Description window updates automatically. You will discover that some of the shapefiles do not store detailed metadata. For quality assurance and quality control purposes, the lack of metadata is also valuable information. It tells you that there is the potential for error and uncertainty. It might even indicate that the metadata is stored elsewhere, such as on a website or in a separate file.

Be cautious when using geospatial data that lacks metadata documentation.

When you are ready, close the Item Description window.