Collection-level Description: Thinking Globally before Acting Locally

Ann Chapman and Bridget Robinson write on the work of the Collection Description Focus and the links between Tap into Bath, Cornucopia and the Information Environment Service Registry.

Collection Description Focus

The UK Collection Description Focus was launched on 1 June 2001. It was set up as a national post, jointly funded for a twelve-month period by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) [1], the Research Support Libraries Program (RSLP) [2] and the British Library [3]. 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 and sectors. The Focus was to provide support both for UK projects actively involved in collection description work and for those investigating or planning such work. The Focus has now been in place for three years thanks to the continuing support of the original funders and additional funding from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) [4]. From 1 August 2004 the CD Focus will no longer be funded as a separate project but will become part of core UKOLN Advisory Services.

During its three years of funding the CD Focus [5] has engaged in a range of activities to support its aims. These have included the organisation of workshops and briefing days, the posting of regular newsletters, the provision of an advisory service and the development of an online tutorial [6]. The work has been centred on the promotion of the collection level description schema developed for the Research Support Libraries Programme and implemented by a number of projects funded under this programme. The programme finished in 2002. The RSLP schema has also been used by other projects outside the RSLP programme including:

  • Crossroads [7] - a prototype Web site containing collections related to the pottery industry in North Staffordshire funded by MLA. The project partners were the West Midlands Regional Museums Council, the West Midlands Regional Archive Council and The Libraries Partnership - West Midlands
  • Cecilia [8] - a project to create an online searchable database of Music Collections in libraries, archives and museums throughout the UK. Funded by the British Library Cooperation and Partnership Programme and managed by the International Association of Music Libraries (UK and Ireland Branch)
  • Enrich UK [9] - a gateway to the lottery-funded collections of 150 sites developed through funding from the New Opportunities Fund NOF-digitise Programme. The content ranges across culture, history, social and economic development, science and art as well as offering regional and national 'sense of place' Web sites from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales
  • Reveal [10] brings together information about services and resources for visually impaired people from organisations across the United Kingdom

Collection-level Description and Reusability

CD Focus owes much to these projects and those under the auspices of the RSLP Programme. The workshops especially have been a crucial part of the work of the Focus, bringing together a range of information professionals and providing an invaluable opportunity for practitioners to come together to discuss matters of common concern.

The second workshop "Multi-purpose metadata for Collections - creating reusable clds " held in Birmingham in February 2002 included a session presented by Gordon Dunsire and Dennis Nicholson called SCONE: reusability, granularity, and collection strength [11]. In the course of the presentation they introduced the concept of thinking globally before acting locally in the context of the creation of collection descriptions. It is a phrase that has gained momentum as the work of the Collection Description Focus has progressed. It reflects the importance of considering very carefully at the outset of a project the requirement for "reusability". Typically, 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 functions or 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), a number of issues need to be considered: the selection of collections for inclusion; the way a collection is defined, ("functional granularity"), the use of content/terminology standards and the description/measure of collection strength.

Think Globally before Acting Locally

The concept of thinking globally before acting locally is very well illustrated by the three projects described in this issue of Ariadne.

Tap into Bath is an example of a small-scale demonstrator project bringing together collection-level descriptions of local resources. The collection-level descriptions use the RSLP collection description schema and Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). This adherence to standards will ensure that the data can be reused by other projects including the Cornucopia service.

Cornucopia, now entering its fourth year, provides cross-searchable collection-level descriptions for approximately 1800 registered museums in the UK. The next phase of development will see the inclusion of information from the library and archive domains to create a truly cross-domain online service. A key part of the development of Cornucopia will be the integration of subject-specific or thematic datasets. Cecilia will be the first of these to be integrated into the service. Cornucopia also uses the RSLP collection description schema.

Finally at the end of the continuum comes the JISC Information Environment Service Registry (JISC IESR). The IESR project has developed a pilot service registry based on the RSLP collection description schema. The registry provides a central source of information about the range of electronic resources (or collections) available, the services which provide access to these collections, and agents which own or administer the services. However, unlike Tap into Bath, which provides a Web interface for human users, the IESR is a machine-to-machine service designed to be accessible by other applications e.g. a portal. Collection description services like Tap into Bath and Cornucopia could, in theory, provide a collection record for the IESR describing their collection of collection-level descriptions as an electronic resource.

As mentioned above, the articles Tap into Bath [12], Cornucopia: An open collection description service [13] and The Information Environment Service Registry: Promoting the use of electronic resources [14] are to be found in this issue.


  1. Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
  2. Research Support Libraries Programme
  3. British Library
  4. Museums Libraries and Archives Council
  5. Collection Description Focus Web site
  6. Collection Description Focus: CD Online Tutorial
  7. Crossroads
  8. Cecila
  9. EnrichUK
  10. Reveal
  11. Collection Description Focus, Workshop 2: Multi-purpose metadata for collections creating reusable CLDs, 8 February 2002, Aston Business School, Birmingham
  12. Tap into Bath, Alison Baud and Ann Chapman, issue 40, July 2004, Ariadne
  13. Cornucopia: An open collection description service, Chris Turner, issue 40, July 2004, Ariadne
  14. The Information Environment Service Registry: Promoting the use of electronic resources, Amanda Hill, issue 40, July 2004, Ariadne

Author Details

Ann Chapman
Collection Description Focus

Web site:

Bridget Robinson
Collection Description Focus
Web Site:

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Date published: 
Friday, 30 July 2004
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