Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Turning Off Tap Into Bath

Ann Chapman describes the lifecycle of a demonstrator database and the development of a preservation policy for its content and software.

Earlier this year UKOLN received an email informing us that the server hosting the Tap into Bath collection description database was due to be decommissioned towards the end of 2010. Although there had been some previous discussion over the future of the database, the email was the trigger for a formal review of the project. This article describes the preservation strategy that was developed and the steps that were taken to preserve information about the database and the software.

The Inspiration for Tap into Bath

Tap into Bath was a demonstrator project created as part of the Collection Description Focus [1] work programme carried out at UKOLN between 2000 and 2004 with funding from the British Library, JISC and MLA (under its previous name Resource).

The aim of the Focus was 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, domains and sectors. The Focus also provided support for collection description projects in several ways which included the CLD (Collection-Level Description) Online Tutorial, created as both an aid to Implementers and as a tool for training [2]. The Focus also promoted the use of the RSLP Collection Description Schema [3] and worked with the Dublin Core Collection Description Working Group on the development of a DC-based schema for collection-level description [4], using the collection description attributes of the RSLP CD Schema as a starting point.

Collection description metadata and searchable online databases of collection information were developed in response to several factors. Large-scale digitisation (principally of texts and images) was often not matched by resources to catalogue the newly created items, surveys revealed that quantities of materials (often older and rarer items) in traditional collections still had no records in online public access catalogues and there was an increasing need to improve the effectiveness of resource discovery techniques for digital materials across archive, library and museum collections. Describing materials at collection level provided a new route for discovery.

The RSLP collection description metadata schema led to the independent creation of a number of collection description databases as part of specific funded projects; however, none of these databases were available for reuse with different content and it was clear that there would be little or no funding to create further such databases in the future. In the winter of 2003, a group of Bath libraries asked for advice on taking forward their idea of a jointly owned text-based Web page about their collections. UKOLN advised against this approach, suggesting using structured data instead and offering to work with them to develop a demonstrator collection description database that would be available for free reuse – an offer which was accepted.

What Tap into Bath Offered

The Tap into Bath resource was a searchable database of information about archival, library and museum collections in the city of Bath. The entry for each collection contained a brief description of the collection plus details of its size, the types of material held, and information about the original collectors and notable people connected with the collection. The database was searchable by personal and institutional name and by subject as well as collection title.

Tap into Bath was a place you could find the answers to questions such as:

(The answers to these questions may be obtained by reading the Postscript.)

The anticipated audience for the database ranged from people living in Bath and attending Bath schools to students, researchers and professionals both local and from further afield. It also included the many tourists from all over the world who visit Bath every year. The Tourist Office in Bath, although not involved as a partner, valued Tap into Bath as a useful resource they could use in their work.

There were two components to Tap into Bath: the demonstrator database for collections in Bath and a downloadable open source resource that others could reuse to create their own collections database. The MySQL database and the search and data entry interfaces were designated as open source and the un-populated database and accompanying software offered for reuse with acknowledgement.

The downloadable resource was a blank version of the database used for Tap into Bath plus the associated search and results display interface software. The look and feel of the database search and results display pages could be customised to reflect the new resource. Additionally the labels for the data elements could also be altered to display a different preferred term. For example, the metadata schema used the term ‘object’ but for display the term ‘star object’ was used.

All the resources were accessed via the Tap into Bath Web site, which also contained information about the project.

Working on Tap into Bath

The lead partners were UKOLN and University of Bath Library. In addition to the original group of Bath-based libraries, all local museums and archives were also invited to participate. This resulted in 25 contributing partners from archive, library and museum collections in both public and private sectors in the City of Bath.

The project began on 12 January 2004. The database was created by a member of the University of Bath library staff using the RSLP Metadata Schema for collection description and a MySQL database. A programmer was hired to create the search and display interfaces; it was part of the contract that the project would be making this available as open source software. Partner organisations submitted collection entries as Word documents and the data was entered into the database by University library staff. The completed database and the project Web pages were held on a University of Bath server. The Tap into Bath database was formally launched at the Guildhall in Bath on 8 December 2004 [5]. Work on the project has previously been documented in Ariadne by Alison Baud and Ann Chapman [6] together with a report on her involvement in the project by Stephanie Round [7], Local Studies Librarian at Bath & North East Somerset Libraries.

Tap into Bath successfully demonstrated the value of a database of collection descriptions with a common focus – in this case the focus was geographic location. It provided a staff development opportunity for the partner organisations and it was another place in which to promote their collections. Bath & North East Somerset Libraries reported that the data collection exercise was valuable in its own right for recording its many (often small) sub-collections of the local history collection, full details of which had not previously been recorded. Indeed, in order to complete their entries staff had needed to contact ex-members of staff for information on some of the local history collections.

Conscious that some of the original data might become inaccurate over time (e.g. changes in opening hours, or contact details), project partners were re-contacted in 2007. They were asked to review their entries and supply any additional or amended data, and the database was updated. Changes that needed to be made in the 2007 update included changes of collection and institution title, opening hours, telephone numbers, email addresses and Web site URLs. They also included updates to collection details and, in one case, recording the death in 2005 of the donor of one of the collections.

An internal review by UKOLN in 2008 concluded that further data updates would be needed over time, and that it would be useful to create new interfaces, including a password-protected data entry interface so that project partners could amend their own entries as needed. If such an interface were available, partner institutions would be able to edit their own entries as and when changes were needed. This would ensure that the database was updated continuously, rather than the current position where certain details might be incorrect for a lengthy period before correction. However, staffing and funding constraints precluded this work being taken forward at that time though it remained on the wish list for improvements.

Developing a Preservation Strategy

When UKOLN received notification that the University of Bath server hosting Tap into Bath would be de-commissioned later in 2010 it was an ideal opportunity to take another look at the status of the project. The review focused on what were the original aims for the project, whether the database was still a viable service, and whether UKOLN or any of the other partners could take this on in the long term.

UKOLN is a centre of excellence in digital information management and the preservation of digital resources is an essential aspect of this work. The situation that arose with the server decommission also provided an opportunity to develop and record a preservation strategy for the project and to then use this as a case study in preservation.

Alternative Hosting Options

The 2010 internal review identified that UKOLN did not have the resources to continue to host and maintain the database on a long-term basis. It was thought unlikely that project partners would wish to take this on, but they needed to be consulted.

A letter was sent to project partners thanking them for their past participation, outlining the current issues and inviting offers to take over the database. No offers were received; as expected organisational budgets were already fully committed.

Decision: Providing inaccurate data was not an option so the live database would be taken down.

A Reusable Open Source Resource

In addition to creating the database and populating it with content, the database structure and its associated software was created with the intention of making it available for reuse by others, with appropriate acknowledgement.

Once the resource was made available, several enquiries were received about reuse. Some of them did not proceed (typically because funding was unavailable for data collection and data entry tasks) but two resources were created. They were the Southern Cross Resource Finder for collections useful for the study of Australia and/or New Zealand [8] and Milton Keynes Inspire which promoted access to archives, libraries, galleries and museums in Milton Keynes [9].

A further potential reuse of the database is currently under discussion. Between 1994 and 1999 UKOLN worked on establishing the scale of continuing need for retrospective cataloguing and conversion to provide machine readable records for all library and archive records and proposed a national strategy in Full Disclosure. Since then some work has been funded, either through the Research Support Libraries Programme or by grant applications and occasional budget allocations. This means that the situation has changed to some extent although it would require another survey to establish the current situation. The Full Disclosure report [10] proposed a National Register of materials requiring retrospective cataloguing or catalogue conversion but this was never set up. In November 2010 conversations between UKOLN and Research Libraries UK (RLUK) explored the potential for using the Tap into Bath database for just such a National Register and RLUK is actively considering this option.

Decision: Since there was still value in offering the resource for reuse, the relevant files would be hosted on the UKOLN Web site.

A Project Web Site

In addition to being the access point to the live database, the Tap into Bath Web site also provided information about the project. Taking down the Web site entirely would therefore remove information that was still useful but simply putting a complete copy on the UKOLN Web site would include inaccurate information. The solution was to make an updated version available. All the pages would carry a statement that the project had closed and the content of each page was reviewed and edited as required.

Decision: Provide a revised version of the Web site as part of the UKOLN Web presence.

Database Content

Although the database content would become increasingly inaccurate over time, it provided a snapshot of the resources available in Bath at the time of the last update in 2007 and it also provided an example of the types of data required for collection descriptions. While it would be counter-productive to retain the content as a live database it was also important to preserve the information collected as an example of how each organisation used the various data elements.

Decision: Make an archive copy of the populated database.


Having identified the issues and made the decisions, a detailed preservation strategy was drawn up and put in place over the next few months.

The Populated Database

The archive version was made by copying the populated database onto a DVD. Before the original database was taken down, a series of screenshots were taken of the database in use, showing example searches and results displays.

screenshot (32KB) : Tap into Bath Home Page

Tap into Bath Home Page

screenshot (42KB) : Coins search

Coins search

screenshot (44KB) : Roman Baths Numismatics collection - information page

Roman Baths Numismatics collection - information page

The Open Source Resource

An archive copy on DVD was made of the blank database and the associated software and installation documentation.

The decision was to continue to offer the database and software as a free download. In its active phase, requests to reuse the software were handled via email contact. This method was used as it provided a way of building a relationship with reusers and getting feedback on their experience of installation and customisation.

With the move to an unsupported archival Web site, a zipped file was made directly available from the Software page, along with a note that it was unsupported. A number of documents were added for download: the high-level design outline, installation guide, a list of RSLP Collection Description Metadata Schema elements, a list of Tap into Bath fields with definitions and example content, the data collection form template and the list of LCSH terms used for physical characteristics.

The Project Web Pages

The Web pages held on the University of Bath Library server would no longer be available once the server was decommissioned so an archival Web site [10] was created on the UKOLN server. The original pages were copied over, the text was revised and an ‘Archive’ watermark added to each page. A brief statement about the status of the project was added to each page, as shown in the following two examples:

‘The Tap into Bath demonstrator collection description database project has now ended and the database is no longer available. The Web site pages have been left in place as an illustration of the user view. The database and associated search and display interface software, together with installation documents, is open source and available for download and re-use with accreditation from this site.’


‘The Tap into Bath demonstrator collection description database project has now ended and the database, created in 2004, is no longer available. This page has been retained to illustrate the ‘look and feel’ of the original Web site but the search function no longer operates.’

Each page was also assessed and revised as needed. An additional section was added to the Background page about the closure and archiving decisions. On the Partners page, two of the links were out of date and since there would be no effort available to monitor and update links, all links to partner Web sites were removed. The Software page was updated to note that while the database and associated software could still be downloaded, it was not supported.

The Tap into Bath Web site included an email contact address. Support and advice on using the database and software is no longer provided, so this was changed to an email address for assistance only for problems with downloading the database and associated software.

Other Tasks

We were aware that there would be a number of links to the original Web site; some of these were known (e.g. project partners) but others were unknown. Partners were contacted and asked to remove any links on their Web sites to the old Tap into Bath Web site. We also contacted Southern Cross and Milton Keynes Inspire and notified them of the change of URL for the Web site so they could update the acknowledgement link on their Web pages.

Last but not least it was decided to record all of the above activity for UKOLN resource management purposes. While it would have been possible to do this just internally, it was decided it would be more useful if our experience was shared among the community. A short case study was written for the JISC Beginners Guide to Preservation [11] and it was decided to write this article for Ariadne.


Tap into Bath was a successful experiment in producing a local resource using standards and best practice and providing a staff development opportunity. We were pleased that there were instances of reuse as we had deliberately created it as open source. As a demonstrator resource it was always recognised that at some point it might be taken down, although the exact circumstances that would initiate this were not identified during the project lifetime.

So what have we learnt from the preservation process? Firstly, a thorough review was required to identify all the component parts of the resource; the database, its associated software for search and results display, supporting documentation and the Web pages. Only then could we assess the various components of the resource and take appropriate decisions on each – and then carry out the actions resulting from those decisions. It was felt to be equally important that we record our actions and make this information available to the information community.


  1. The Collection Description Focus Web site http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/
  2. CLD Online Tutorial http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/cdfocus-tutorial/
  3. RSLP Collection Description Metadata Schema
  4. Dublin Core Collections Application Profile
  5. “Tap into Bath Turned On”, Focus on UKOLN Newsletter, ISSN 0963-7354, March 2005, Issue 15
  6. Baud, A. and Chapman, A. “Tap into Bath”, Ariadne 40, July 2004
  7. Round, S. “Tap into Bath Takes Off”, Ariadne 42, January 2005
  8. Southern Cross Resource Finder http://www.scrf.org.uk/
  9. Milton Keynes Inspire http://www.mkinspire.org.uk/
  10. Full Disclosure
  11. Tap into Bath Web site http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/tapintobath/
  12. JISC Beginners Guide to Preservation. Case Study: Tap into Bath

Postscript – Back to Those Questions

The questions mentioned earlier in this article were those used in the promotional quiz which was part of the launch. There were two sets of questions, one for adults and one for children, with prizes of free admission to a couple of the museums charging for entry. Just in case you want to know the answers, here they are.

Adult Quiz

Question 1. Which buildings in Bath did the architect James McKean Brydon design?
Answer: The Victoria Art Gallery and the The Guildhall, Bath
Found by typing ‘James McKean Brydon’ in either Basic search or Advanced Search on Names

Question 2. Which collection contains the 1838 Inventory of Stage Props from the Theatre Royal, Bath?
Answer: Theatre Royal Collection, Bath & North East Somerset Libraries
Found by typing ‘Stage props’ in Basic search or Advanced search on Star item

Question 3. Which father and son, of the same name, were consecutively the Town Clerk for Bath?
Answer: Philip George and Philip George [Town Clerk’s Papers, Bath City Council, Bath Record Office]
Found by typing ‘Town clerk’ in Basic search and Advanced search on Description

Children’s Quiz

Question 1. Where can you find the Bellot cup?
Answer: Bath Abbey Heritage Vaults
Found by typing ‘Bellot cup’ in Basic search or Advanced search on Star item

Question 2. Which collection contains shells?
Answer: Natural History collection, Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution
Found by typing ‘Shells’ in Basic search or Advanced search on Subject

Question 3. Who founded the American Museum in Britain?
Answer: Dallas Pratt and John Judkyn
Found by typing ‘American Museum in Britain’ in Basic search or Advanced search on Title. The required information is in the Description.

Author Details

Ann Chapman
Research Officer
UKOLN, University of Bath

Email: a.d.chapman@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/ukoln/staff/a.chapman/

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