Libraries have traditionally concentrated on the description of the individual items of their holdings in the form of catalogue records. In a networked environment, and particularly for access via the Web, there is a growing recognition of the value of complementing this item-level description with descriptions of higher level aggregates of material.
Collection-level descriptions can give an overview of groups of otherwise uncatalogued items. Even where item-level descriptions already exist, collection descriptions may be useful. They can assist users searching large quantities of resource descriptions, especially across multiple services, by providing a means of reducing the number of individual hits returned. A researcher may make use of collection descriptions to target their queries to selected services on the basis of characteristics of the collection (or a software agent may do so on behalf of a human user.)
The managers of archival and museum resources have traditionally made greater use of description at higher levels, although the concept of the "collection" may have slightly different meanings in the different communities. The existence of descriptions at a broadly similar level of granularity is a valuable asset in efforts to establish services for resource discovery and navigation across the different information domains.
As well as facilitating access to resources, description at collection level supports the management of these resources, with collaborative collection management initiatives of increasing importance.
While well-established standards exist for bibliographic description at item-level, there are no standards or specifications of similar status for the description of the collections which contain those items. Where collections have been described, that description has often taken the form of a relatively unstructured textual document. Increasingly, however, resource managers are recognising the value of describing collections using structured, open, standardised, machine-readable formats.
Collection description and mapping are key elements of many RSLP projects. Within the architecture envisaged for the DNER, a middleware service will allow portals, brokers and aggregators to automatically determine what collections are available to end-users.
The Briefing Day will highlight the value of collection description in these, and other, contexts. Representatives of the bodies who fund the Collection Description Focus activity will explain why they consider it important. This will be complemented by the practical experiences of projects working in the area.
Target audience: The event is aimed at senior information managers who are developing and directing policy in this area.