Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Collective Convergence: The Work of the Collection Description Focus

Pete Johnston and Bridget Robinson outline the work of the Collection Description Focus.

The UK Collection Description Focus (1) was launched on 1 June 2001. It is a national post, jointly funded for a twelve-month period by the Joint Information Systems Committee/Distributed National Electronic Resource (JISC/DNER) (2) , the Research Support Libraries Program (RSLP) (3) and the British Library (4). The Focus aims to improve co-ordination of work on collection description methods, schemas and tools, with the goal of ensuring consistency and compatibility of approaches across projects, disciplines, institutions and sectors. The Focus will provide support both for UK projects actively involved in collection description work and for those investigating or planning such work. The Focus is located within UKOLN (5), which is based at the University of Bath.

The Focus is run jointly by Pete Johnston and Bridget Robinson with support from their partners in the CD Focus initiative, the Archives Hub(6) and the mda (7) . It is informed by work carried out by other members of UKOLN, including the work of Andy Powell on the RSLP CLD schema, the broader activities on the effective exchange and reuse of information resources carried out by Paul Miller as Interoperability Focus, UKOLN’s work on the proposed technical architecture for the DNER, and its role in providing technical support to projects within the NOF-digitize programme. The Focus also liaises with the Collection Description Working Group within the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, and is working closely with the CIMI Consortium, who are surveying approaches to collection-level description within the museum community.

The CD Focus team is in the process of collecting information from relevant projects and “stakeholders”via questionnaires and visits. The information gathered will help the Focus to pinpoint areas where guidance is needed.



The first CD Focus Briefing Day : Collected Wisdom - managing resources and enhancing access through collection-level description, will take place at the British Library on Monday 22nd October (8). Collection description and mapping are key elements of many RSLP projects and the integrated access envisaged for the DNER, the briefing day will highlight the value of collection description in these and other contexts. The event is aimed at senior information managers who are developing and directing policy in this area.

Three regional workshops are scheduled to take place over the next 6 months. These workshops are designed to meet the needs of practitioners working in the area, including those describing collections or developing and implementing services which utilise such descriptions, and those with an interest in the development and deployment of standards in this area. The first Workshop will take place in November 2001 in Manchester(9) . The workshop will explore the concept of the collection, and how it is interpreted and deployed within the different traditions of information management. It will bring together practitioners from across the information management traditions and from different backgrounds and contexts. It will explore how approaches to collection description differ and what they have in common. It will examine how generic models and schemas have been implemented, and the challenges involved. It will seek to highlight where practice can be standardised and to investigate where generic approaches must give way to domain-specific methods.

The other workshops are provisionally scheduled for January 2002 in Birmingham, and March 2002 in Edinburgh. They will look at different aspects including subject descriptors, collection strength measurement, schema registries and other software tools as well as any other aspects that are highlighted as important during the course of the Focus work.

A series of Briefing Papers will be published during the course of the project starting with an “Introduction to Collection Description” in the autumn. Subsequent paper will be published after the Workshops corresponding to the topics discussed.


Where possible, the Focus will seek to provide simple tools to facilitate the creation and management of collection descriptions.

These may include:

As part of this activity the Focus has made available a Microsoft Access relational database implementation of the RSLP CLD schema, developed for UKOLN by Samsara Research, which includes a rudimentary Web search interface. This is available for download at http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/metadata/rslp/tools/

In order to improve interoperability between schemas for collection description, a draft mapping between the elements of the EAD DTD and the properties of the RSLP-CD schema has been published. Andy Powell emphasised in the past that the RSLP CD schema was not intended as a replacement for richer archival description schemas such as ISAD(G) and EAD. and that it might be seen as a schema for making relatively simple collection descriptions in a wide variety of contexts - a ‘Dublin Core’ for collection description. This mapping is designed to support this approach. It provides the basis for a transformation tool that can convert an ISAD(G) compliant EAD document to an RDF/XML instance conforming to the RSLP CD schema (though such a tool will require customisation by individual projects to reflect local EAD encoding practice). Similar mappings and transforms might be provided for other XML-based collection description schemas

Collection description: access and management

One of the most interesting aspects of the work of the CD Focus so far has been working with collection description projects. In the first instance, these have been primarily, though not exclusively, projects working within the RSLP. The collections which the projects describe are diverse in their nature and coverage. They range from very specialist collections of physical items (including books, manuscripts, and archival records) in subject areas as varied as Music, Church History and Christian Theology, and Caribbean Studies through to the digital collections of the DNER, which provides 6 million people with access to over 200 different collections. Whatever the size and nature of the collection, the overall aims are broadly similar:

The deployment of a consistent approach to the description of collections is critical to achieving both of these goals; through its activities in the coming months, the Focus will seek to build consensus on such a common approach.


  1. The CD Focus website is at: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/
  2. The JISC/DNER website is at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/dner
  3. The RSLP website is at: http://www.rslp.ac.uk/
  4. The British Library website is at: http://www.bl.uk/
  5. The UKOLN website is at: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/
  6. The Archives Hub website is at: http://www.archiveshub.ac.uk/
  7. The mda website is at : http://www.mda.org.uk/
  8. Details of the Briefing Day can be found at : http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/events/bd1/
  9. Details of the Manchester Workshop can be found at : http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/events/ws1/

Author Details

Pete Johnston and Bridget Robinson
Collection Description Focus
University of Bath
Bath BA2 7AY, UK

Email: cd-focus@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/