UKOLN Collection Description Focus

News Bulletin - March/April 2003

Bridget Robinson & Ann Chapman -

CD Focus website -

CD Focus discussion list -

Welcome to the "Spring" CD Focus News Bulletin.


The CD Focus Event - "Mapping the Information Landscape: A Showcase of Collection Description Projects and Services", took place on Tuesday 25th March at the British Library. It was a very interesting day, which managed to successfully merge the theoretical and practical aspects of collection description.

Chris Batt - the Director of the Libraries and Information Society Team at Resource, expertly chaired the day, keeping us in order and on time with remarkable ease. The day began with a presentation from Chris Anderson (Head of Programmes, New Opportunities Fund) and Pete Dowdell (UKOLN). They outlined the NOF-Digi programme which has provided grants to develop 150 websites - these projects are now responsible for the largest body of digital materials available, including 1 million pages of text, 400,000 images and thousands of film and video clips. With the digitisation now complete, the project "collections" are gradually being added to the EnrichUK Portal. The Portal will eventually offer collection level search of the whole programme, crossing organisations, sectors and geographic boundaries, with the aim of benefiting the "informal"user in particular. Pete Dowdell went on to explain the technical design of the Portal, some of the particular challenges that the project generated, and prospects for future development, including the sharing of records, links with other content providers and the investigation of both European and Worldwide initiatives.

The second Speaker was Neil Thomson, Head of Systems and Central Services at the Natural History Museum. He provided us with a fascinating insight into the work that is being done both locally and across Europe, to provide electronic access to information about museum collections. His presentation featured COLLECTIONS NAVIGATOR, the museum's new Resource Discovery Tool, which to date contains some 650 collection records. These records provide an important access point to the museum's estimated 70 million specimens, over 1 million titles and 10,000 archive items. On an international level the museum is working on BioCASE - a Framework V funded project which is bringing together collection-level records from 31 countries.

The third presentation was a joint effort from Gordon Dunsire & Dennis Nicholson. The presentation featured the work of the CC-interop project, which is investigating and specifying collection description standards requirements with a view to enhancing the role of clumps in the JISC Information Environment. This dovetailed well with Rachel Bruce's pre-lunch presentation, which looked in detail at the JISC Information Environment. (See below for Rachel Bruce's article).

Susi Woodhouse and Nick Poole from Resource assessed the impact of collection-level description across a range of initiatives including EnrichUK Cornucopia, Cecilia and Crossroads. They highlighted the importance of exploiting the experience gained by these projects and using this to help identify models for true cross-sectorality based around CLDs.

At the end of the morning delegates were invited to take an extended lunch-break and have a look at the "Showcase" of demonstrator/pilot services in the adjoining meeting rooms. The demonstrator services provided a valuable insight into what has been achieved so far. Details of the demonstrator services can be found at

The afternoon opened with an informative summary of collection description and the development of the RSLP schema. Ann Chapman took us through from "small beginnings" to the present day, concluding that it is still "early days". Few CLD services have been launched and there has, as yet, been no substantive evaluation. This fact, coupled with an uncertain buy in from scholars and researchers and a general end user preference for the item level, leads to the conclusion that there is still much to be done. In a last minute change to the programme Paul Miller finished the day with a brief look to the future, and where collection description fits in to what is happening in several areas both here and abroad.

There was some time for questions both at the end of sessions and at the end of the day. The question of terminology came up several times, but it was acknowledged that this is not a CLD specific issue, but one that has much wider implications. There was also discussion about the importance of ensuring that CLDs are of USE to USERS.

The full programme and presentations can be found at


An "At the Event" report on the CD Focus Showcase Event will be published in the next issue of Ariadne

Online Tutorial

The CD Focus Tutorial is still under development, but a prototype version was made available at the Showcase Event. The Tutorial is being built in a modular way in order to allow for the easy addition of extra sections.

The Tutorial is currently split into 8 sections: -

A second version of the Tutorial will be made available after Easter, with an email feedback form for comments and suggestions. Following this period of consultation, the Tutorial will be used as a platform for the design of a CLD Training course, to be rolled out later in the year.

We are grateful to Rachel Bruce - (Programme Manager & Acting Team Leader, Information Environment, Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Office) for the following very informative contribution

Information Environment Service Registry and Collection Description by Rachel Bruce

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) is developing an online environment that aims to provide integrated access to diverse and otherwise disparate resources for the higher and further education community.

Central to the architecture required to underpin this environment are shared services - these form a layer of middleware that provide machine readable information about services, content, rights and users. Shared services are a mechanism that will enable the user interface to interact with resources according to subject, institution or personal preference. Collection description is seen as essential to this.

The first step in exploring how collection description can be used to help discovery of disparate resources by applications, such as portals, is the Information Environment Service Registry (IESR) pilot. The pilot is being taken forward by MIMAS in collaboration with the Cheshire software developers at the University of Liverpool and UKOLN. The IESR is a shared service that will hold a machine-readable catalogue of collection descriptions of quality resources along with associated service descriptions.

Collection description is the descriptive metadata and service description is the technical metadata. For example the collection description is based on the RSLP schema and describes the semantics of a collection of resources, whereas the service description holds information about the technical protocols associated with collection providers. It will tell a user interface, e.g. a Portal, whether it can interact with resource providers, for example does a collection have a Z39.50 target associated with it or is the metadata available via OAI? It is also important to note that the IESR is to explore the use of the database not only by machines but human users too.

Initially data will be collected from JISC service providers such as MIMAS, EDINA and AHDS. It is hoped that it might be possible to include some data from commercial publishers. In the longer term the IESR should include institutional repositories, learning objects and other quality resources relevant to the higher and further education community.

The stages of work in the pilot involve: consultation with stakeholders (these include content providers, other shared services, end users, for example portals), development of software, metadata schemas and interfaces, populating the registry and evaluating the outcome involving use by machines and people.

There are a lot of challenges and issues to resolve associated with this solution some of these are listed here:

Is the effort involved worth the return?
How do you maintain a registry and make it scale to the complex information environment? The development of tools to make use as easy as possible will help.

Overcoming cultural change required to make this work, for example the creation of collection descriptions will have to become part of the everyday practice of collection managers and providers.

An ongoing issue is that of granularity of collection - do we still need a clearer definition? Can solutions like the harvesting of collection indexes help get around this and enable more precise discovery.

A wider issue is that of whether the solution can interact with local learning environments, resources in other sectors or include e-science resources.

The collection description approach aims to allow an integrated and consistent view of the information environment and wider awareness of collections and therefore more use. In turn this leading to improved learning and research.

The IESR pilot is due to complete towards the end of this year. For further information see:

May/June News Bulletin

We are very grateful for the contribution from Rachel Bruce and would welcome other contributions for future bulletins. Copy for the next news bulletin should be sent to by 23rd May 2003. The bulletin will be published in early June.