UKOLN Collection Description Focus

News Bulletin - October/November 2001

Pete Johnston & Bridget Robinson -

CD Focus website -

CD Focus discussion list -

Welcome to the October/November issue of CD Focus news bulletin.

The bulletins have been combined in order to incorporate the reports from the Briefing day and the Manchester workshop. We are pleased to include a report from Rachel Kemsley of the AIM25 project and would welcome contributions from other projects for future bulletins.

Briefing Day

The first Briefing Day took place on Monday 22nd October at the British Library Conference Suite. There were 72 delegates and 12 speakers. The day began with an introduction from Ronald Milne, the Programme Director of RSLP ( The subsequent speakers covered a range of different experiences both in terms of specific projects: Helen Cordell of the Mapping Asia Project ( and Luis Carrasqueiro from the Researchers Guide Online at the British Film & Video Council (, and the various challenges across different domains: Sarah Mitchell, David Dawson and Susi Woodhouse from the NOF-digitise programme (, and the cross domain perspective outlined by Paul Miller ( Catherine Grout and Alicia Wise provided useful insight into collection description in the JISC/DNER Information Environment and who/what these collection descriptions might be for ( Marilyn Deegan added a researchers perspective of collection description with regard to the creation of electronic resources for the study of forced migration (

The day finished with an outline of the work of the CD Focus and a listing of the main themes that had emerged during the day.

All the presentations will be made available via the CD Focus website

Philip Hunter will be covering the day in "At the event" in the December issue of Ariadne.

The feedback both during the day and from the evaluation forms was very positive.

Particular mention was made of the discussion periods, which brought out a number interesting of issues.The richness of the discussion led to the proposed establishment of a "Collection Description Forum" in which a broad group of stakeholders will meet to try and build consensus on certain aspects of collection description work.

Some of the issues which were raised during the day are beyond the scope of the CD Focus' activity, others will be considered in terms of their suitability for the Forum, future Workshops or the second Briefing Day.


The first workshop took place on Thursday 1st November at UMIST, Manchester. There were 44 delegates and 7 speakers/facilitators. The overall view of the workshop was that the presentations by the projects provided good practical examples of the implementation of both the RSLP schema and EAD.

Andy Powell from UKOLN gave a good introduction to the background and thinking behind the RSLP schema ( This was followed by Paul Holland's use of the RSLP schema within the Backstage project ( Rachel Perkins offered a case study approach on the use of EAD for her collection description work at the Natural History Museum (, and Amada Hill finished the morning with a view of the Archives Hub ( The emphasis on the cross-domain nature of collection description activity was seen as being of particular interest. The afternoon breakout sessions gave delegates the opportunity to share their own project experiences as well as to hear feedback from other projects.

All the presentations will be made available via the CD Focus website:

Future Events

The next workshop will be held on Friday 8th February 2002 in Birmingham at Aston Business School. The theme of the workshop will be Collection Description - Purpose and Reusability. The workshop will focus on how collection descriptions are used/reused and the effect that this potentially has on the granularity and the content of description e.g. descriptions of a collection's "strength".

Full details will be published on the CD Focus website and posted to relevant mailing lists as soon as the programme has been finalised.

The third workshop will be held on Thursday 21st March 2002 in the Wolfson Suite of the University of Edinburgh Library. The theme is still to be agreed, but will include the issue of content standards, including subject descriptors, with a contribution from the HILT project. Details will be posted as soon as possible.

The second Briefing day will be held on Tuesday 14th May 2002 at the British Library.

Project Update


The AIM25 project, funded by the Research Support Libraries Programme, commenced in January 2000 and provides a single point of networked access to high-level descriptions of the archives of over 50 institutions. These comprise the principal colleges and schools of the University of London, other universities and higher education institutions in the London area, and some of the royal colleges and societies of medicine and science based in London.

The collections held by AIM25 partner institutions represent some of the premier groupings of archival material in the country relating to anthropology, politics, law, economics, social and cultural history, education, languages and literature, religion, missionary studies, military history and the history of science and medicine. Some of the collections covered have never been described previously, and most descriptions have not previously been available online. An important goal of the project is to improve awareness of institutional records, a neglected historical resource which may be used for research topics including biography, social mobility, professionalisation, gender, and the history of individual disciplines.

Descriptions are prepared in the ISAD(G) (General International Standard Archival Description) format, with a single description for smaller collections, but descriptions of each sub-collection or series for larger collections, particularly institutional records.

All AIM25 data is held in a central relational MySQL database at the University of London Computing Centre, which interacts with a web interface via PERL scripts. The database contents cover the collection descriptions, indexing terms, thesauri, and administrative data. Description records can be input or edited via a web template; uploaded singly or in batch from a number of standard formats; or imported from proprietary cataloguing systems. Researchers can use the website to browse descriptions by repository; conduct searches using two types of text search engine; search using personal, corporate and place names indexes; or use a subject thesaurus based on the UNESCO thesaurus.

Users will soon be able to navigate this thesaurus hierarchically, in addition to the alphabetical list currently available. A user-friendly format for displaying descriptions has recently been added to the website.

Part of the technical remit of the project is to enable interoperability with related projects. While there are various ways of achieving interoperability, we are initially providing access to the AIM25 collection descriptions using the Zebra Z39.50 server. The first interoperability partner is the M25 Libraries Link project, and a challenging aspect of the exercise is the attempt to match meaningfully the information in a library catalogue with the information in an archival collection description. A successful pilot linking of AIM25 descriptions to the National Register of Archives, maintained by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, has been achieved and this is likely to be extended as the project progresses.

The public website currently hosts over 3,000 descriptions, with those for 10 institutions complete and another 24 in progress. More descriptions will follow over the coming months. The web interface has undergone user evaluation through a questionnaire, with a number of refinements made as a result,and further evaluation is scheduled for December 2001. Evaluation of the technical architecture will be made before the project terminates in July 2002. Further details on the project, its partners and their archives can be found on our website:

Rachel Kemsley, AIM25 Project Archivist

December news bulletin

All contributions for the next bulletin should be sent to by Friday 14th December.