Collection Description Focus: Spreading the Gospel
The UK Collection Description Focus  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) , the Research Support Libraries Program (RSLP)  and the British Library . The Focus is working towards improving co-ordination 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 provides 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 , and is supported by the Archives Hub  and the mda . The Focus is informed by other work within UKOLN, including that done previously by Andy Powell on the RSLP CLD schema, the broader activities of Paul Miller as Interoperability Focus, UKOLN's work on the technical architecture for the JISC Information Environment, and its role in providing technical support to projects within the NOF-digitise programme. The Focus also liases 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 work of the UK Collection Description Focus was first reported in the October issue of Ariadne . At this stage the Focus had only been in place four months and was still very much at the "listening" stage, collecting information from relevant projects and "stakeholders" via questionnaires and visits and responding to a range of project-specific queries. The six months following on from the October article have been very busy, encompassing one briefing day, three regional workshops, monthly newsletters, presentations and the release of themed briefing papers. The first Briefing Paper "Collections and Collection Description" was published in January . The second paper, "The RSLP Collection Description Model and Schema" will be available at the start of April.
This article will look in more detail at the work and achievements of the Focus to date.
The first CD Focus Briefing Day "Collected Wisdom: managing resources and enhancing access through collection-level description", took place at the British Library in October 2001 . The day opened with an introduction from Ronald Milne, Programme Director of the RSLP. (An account of the work of RSLP can be found elsewhere in this issue.) The subsequent speakers covered a range of experiences from specific RSLP projects, to various challenges across different domains, including the NOF-digitise programme and the use of collection-level descriptions in the JISC/DNER Information Environment. Throughout the day, speakers noted the value of collection-level description in supporting interoperability in a cross-domain context. The day concluded with an outline of the work of the CD Focus and a listing of the major themes of the day.
Delegates identified several key issues for the implementation of collection-level description. The Focus proposed that work on these problems might be addressed through an open "forum" which would:
- allow participants to share information on these issues
- develop consensus on means of addressing the problems
- capture this consensus in the form of guidelines for good practice that can be promoted through the Focus.
CD Focus will prepare three short "position papers" on some of the issues highlighted and publish them on the "collection-description" discussion list. The purpose of these papers is not to provide a comprehensive or definitive statement on the topic, but to open debate. The following areas have been identified:
- Reuse of collection-level descriptions: granularity and other factors
- Content standards for collection-level descriptions e.g. terminology control and collection strength
- Maintaining collection-level descriptions : implications for sustainability
In addition to the Briefing Day (aimed at Policy Advisors, Information Managers and Senior Librarians), the Focus has organised three regional workshops for practitioners i.e. those tasked with creating collection-level descriptions. The events were held in Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh.
The first workshop, "Thinking Collectively: approaches to collections and collection description", was held in Manchester in November 2001. It provided an introduction to the concept of the collection, and how it is interpreted and deployed within the different traditions of information management. The workshop acknowledged that resource description at collection level could facilitate resource discovery. However there needs to be consensus on the adoption of consistent and compatible approaches to collection description, within and across domains. The workshop provided a good introduction to the background and thinking behind the RSLP schema backed up by a practical demonstration of its application within the Backstage  project. Other presenters described the use of EAD (Encoded Archival Description) for collection-level description within the museum and archive domains.
The workshop highlighted that the cross-domain use of collection description is a reality: participants expressed an interest in sharing implementation experience with the goal of developing consensus on "best practice" to facilitate interoperability.
The second workshop, "Multi-purpose metadata for collections: creating reusable CLDs", was held in Birmingham in February . This workshop built on the work done in Manchester by looking at how collection-level descriptions are used, and particularly how they are reused in different contexts. A collection-level description is created within the context of a specific activity or project. As part of that context, it may be created to support certain functionsor to be used by a particular user group - for example, to support academic researchers in one subject area. If such descriptions are to be reused in other contexts (possibly for different user groups, or to support different activities), that raises a number of issues.
All the projects that contributed to the day acknowledged the importance of reusability and the issues that need to be addressed in order to facilitate reuse. These included:
- Adoption of recognised standards for CLD e.g. RSLP. ISAD(G), EAD etc
- Content/terminology standards, use of thesauri etc
- Agreement on a shared definition of collection - functional granularity
- Flexible output of data to enable sharing with other systems (as seen with AIM25 and SCONE)
Other issues emerged during the afternoon breakout groups: -
- The need to clarify the rights and data protection issues associated with the creation, maintenance and sharing of CLDs.
- The increased deployment of user/impact studies to learn more about how CLDs are being used
- Dissemination - to user groups to let them know that CLDs are available and improved dissemination by projects to spread information about project experiences and outcomes
- Access to data - the staffing and logistical problems of offering access to previously inaccessible physical collections, including issues of social inclusion, targeting of minority user groups etc.
The third workshop, "Raising standards for collection description: Subjects and strength in CLDs" was held in Edinburgh in March . It concentrated on the issue of content standards and terminological control for collection-level description, with particular emphasis on the use of subject terminologies, thesauri and the use and applicability of collection strength indicators.
The workshops have provided a useful platform for RSLP and other Collection Description projects to share their experiences through formal presentations, discussion groups and networking.
They have also provided the Focus with a valuable opportunity to learn how Collection Description standards have been applied in practice in Museums, Libraries and Archives.
Following on from the workshops, the questionnaire results and the project visits, the Focus will now seek to supplement the guidelines that are in place for the RSLP CD Schema, by developing more detailed examples of the use of the Schema, hopefully based on instances created by real projects. These examples will be annotated to highlight key aspects of the use of the schema and the data model.
The Focus will also continue to draw on related work conducted elsewhere, including:
- the work on subject terminologies and collection strength within the HILT (High Level Thesaurus) Phase II project (15).
- the work of CURL/iCas on the measurement of collection strengths as a means towards collaborative collection management.
- the development of a collection description service within the JISC/DNER Information Environment
- the work of Cornucopia (database of UK Museum Collections),
- the Full Disclosure programme
- major initiatives for digital content creation such as NOF-digitise.
Much has been achieved in the ten months of the CD Focus taking advantage of the "considerable momentum"  already built up by the RSLP. However, as interest and awareness of Collection Level Description grows so too does the need for more specific, contextual advice and guidance on the implementation of standards.
- The CD Focus website is at: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/
- The JISC/DNER website is at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/dner
- The RSLP website is at: http://www.rslp.ac.uk/
- The British Library website is at: http://www.bl.uk/
- The UKOLN website is at: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/
- The Archives Hub website is at: http://www.archiveshub.ac.uk/
- The mda website is at : http://www.mda.org.uk/
- The Briefing Papers are available via the CD Focus website (see Ref 1)
- The programme and presentations from the Briefing Day can be found at : http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/events/bd1/
- The programme and presentations from the Manchester Workshop can be found at : http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/events/ws1/
- Details of the Backstage project can be found at http://www.backstage.ac.uk/
- The programme and presentations from the Birmingham Workshop can be found at: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/events/ws2/
- The programme and presentations from the Edinburgh Workshop can be found at http://www/ukoln.ac.uk/cd-focus/events/ws3/
- The HILT website is at http://hilt.cdlr.strath.ac.uk
- Milne, Ronald - "The Distributed National Collection Access, and cross-sectoral Collaboration: the Research Support Libraries Programme"
Bridget Robinson and Pete Johnston
Collection Description Focus