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									Collection Description:
 Why, and Whither?

     Ronald Milne

      Weimar 23 November 2005
        Collection Description
• The concept is not new

• Archivists have been compiling collection
  descriptions of archival collections for many
  years (fonds level description)

• Item descriptions might be preferred in the
  library world, but collection descriptions also
  have considerable value

• What is a collection?
         What is a collection?

The term “collection” can be applied to:

• Any aggregation of physical or digital items

  May include manuscripts, archival material,
  printed books, CDs, digital surrogates of physical
  items, collections of ‘born digital’ material …
    Research Support Libraries Programme
•   A £30M funding programme for UK university libraries with research
    collections; financed by the four UK Higher Education Funding Councils
    (1998 – 2002)

•   Promoted collaborative work among research libraries, mainly within higher
    education but also with the national libraries and other libraries with
    research collections

•   Attempted to promote a holistic view of library and archive activity
    throughout the UK

•   Funded circa 50 collaborative projects mainly dealing with traditional library
    materials, but in almost every case creating an electronic resource.

•   Outputs included: bibliographic and archival records, collection descriptions,
    digitised images and texts, web directories and portals
       Collection description – why?
• Guides to special collections already available in print form: eg
  Bloomfield's Directory of rare books and special collections in the
  United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland
     Collection description – why?

• Why not put such a guide on the web?

• Seemed a simple idea, but complexities soon crept in

• RSLP focus groups agreed that collection level
  descriptions for print collections would be a good idea
• Increase in inter-disciplinary academic work

• Faculty focused on one particular subject may not be so
  well acquainted with other subject areas
    Collection description – why?
• General public also interested in collections

• Apart from discovering the collections and
  checking on their content one could, for

  – Check in advance to avoid unfruitful visits to

  – Check to learn about restrictions on materials
          Development of RSLP Collection
                 Description work
• Important to describe collections in a consistent and machine-
  readable way
• Talked to archivists – made clear that we were not seeking to push
  out ISAD(G)/EAD
• Archival profession very supportive
• UK Office for Library Networking (UKOLN) had already undertaken
  work using RSLP and OCLC funding: Michael Heaney’s Analytical
  model of collections and their catalogues, available through:
• RSLP collection description schema developed: a structured set of
  metadata attributes, for describing collections in the RSLP projects
  (based on Heaney’s analytical model)
• UKOLN developed a tool that projects could use
• Collection Description Focus set up at UKOLN (June 2001 - )
          RSLP Collection description model (simplified view)

See: www.ukoln.ac.uk/metadata/rslp/schema
See also: Powell, Heaney and Dempsey: RSLP Collection Description D-Lib Magazine September 2000.
Collection description gathers pace

• A number of RSLP-funded projects used the schema and the tool
  and the RSLP schema became the emerging or ‘de facto’ standard

• Adopted by the UK New Opportunities Fund for collection
  description within the projects it funded

• RSLP fields mapped onto ISAD (G)

• Schema now normally used with any SQL-compliant relational
  database, using a webform for data entry

• (Typically) output is XML
     Collection Description Projects
• Various approaches:
   – Discipline based
      • [eg: Mapping Asia (Humanities and Social Sciences
        collections relating to Asia, the Middle East and North Africa),
        Backstage (Performing Arts), Cecilia (Music), EGIL (Icelandic
        Studies), Revelation (Theology), Genesis (Women’s Studies)

   – Regional
      • [eg: RASCAL (Northern Ireland), Mapio Cymru (Wales)]

   – National
       • [eg Cornucopia (UK)]
   – International
       • MICHAEL (Italy, France, UK)
 Collection description: some issues
• Issues relating to metadata standards – considerable progress made
  towards standardisation (NISO draft standard)
• Taxonomies/subject indexing – clear that this is necessary within a
  particular collection description project, but how do you conduct a
  metasearch when different thesauri are used in different projects? Use
  a common thesaurus (eg UNESCO Thesaurus)?
• Decision on common name authority would also be helpful
• In cross domain projects there are sometimes different emphases –
  museums concerned with format type, libraries with named collections
  – an issue?
• How does one measure collection strength and collection quality?
  (Conspectus? iCAS software)
• How do you know what collection descriptions are available?
• Collection description not necessarily embedded as core work task for
  print collections, therefore how does one FUND this activity?
 Collection description: whither?
• RSLP schema forms the basis of the Dublin Core Collection
  Description Application Profile (DC CD AP)

• NISO Metasearch Initiative has published draft standards for trial
  use - largely DC CD AP, with minor differences

• Accessing Collection Descriptions possible via structured network
  services protocols:
    – Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI PMH)

    – Search Retrieve Web (SRW) for distributed searching

• UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Information
  Environment Service Registry Project (IESR) and National Science
  Foundation (NSF)-funded OCKHAM project
                Ronald Milne
Acting Director of University Library Services
            & Bodley’s Librarian

            +44 (0) 1865 287107

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