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Tagging and Finding Your Files: Home

Resource companion to the IAP January 2013 presentation and demonstration of Tagging and Finding Your Digital Files, presented by MIT Institute Archives staff Mikki Macdonald and Kari Smith.

Guide Overview

This guide provides information and resources for personal digital file management, specifically about embedding metadata (adding tags) to digital files to aid with retrieval, sorting, and providing attributes that will travel with the digital file.

Additional, detailed information can be found in the slides for the IAP session, Tagging and Finding Your Files.

Embedded vs. Non-embedded Tags

Not all tags behave the same way. Embedded tags are added to the file itself and stay with the file as it moves to different computers. They're searchable through your operating system's file explorer. However, not all file formats allow you to add embedded metadata tags, and these tags may be stripped out of the file when you upload them to certain online systems. Below, we provide some options and tools for adding and editing embedded tags. 

Non-embedded tags are separate metadata files that sometimes pertain only to a specific file organization tool (for instance: Google Drive). When you export your files from a hosted tool, you will receive the tags in separate metadata files. These may or may not work in other file organization tools and have to be transferred separately alongside the files they describe.

Adding Tags

Embedded metadata fields vary across file formats. There isn't a single metadata editor that can work with all file formats successfully and fully. Below are some approaches and tools for adding embedded metadata/tags:

Method of adding tags Advantages Disadvantages Resources
via operating system

Doesn’t require additional tools

Easy to get started

Only works for a limited selection of file types (especially in Windows)

Requires manual creating & tracking of consistent tags

via Adobe Bridge

Makes it easy (particularly for images) to bulk edit/add tags and other metadata, including file names 

Requires additional software

via Adobe Acrobat

Allows for tags and other metadata to be saved as a template that can be reused with other documents.

Requires proprietary software

via ExifTool or ExifToolGUI for Windows or pyExifToolGUI for Mac/Linux/Windows

Useful for reading and writing metadata in bulk. Can be integrated with scripting/programs

ExifTool is a command-line application that can seem daunting (Although there are GUI versions for Windows and Mac/Linux that make it easier to use)


Using Tags

Once you have added tags to your files, this information will be included in the overall information about your file. The image below shows an example of the type of information captured and stored with a file. For this presentation file, two tags – "presentation" and "IAP 2017" – have been added.

A screenshot of the document information for a ppt file

You can search for a file by its tags using your computer's search features. Here you see a search in Windows of the tag "presentation". 

A screenshot of the windows search feature showing a search for the tag "presentation" with the search results.

Additional resources

Tagging and Finding Your Digital Files - presentation slides

These slides are intended for personal use and learning. Created by the staff of the MIT Libraries, the content that is not under copyright by a third party may be used by a CC-BY-NC license. Please ask us if you have any questions regarding reuse.

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