Raising Awareness

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Collection Description As Management Tool

About This Document

This briefing document provides an introduction to using Collection Description metadata as a collection management tool.

Managing Collections

Many collections are in fact groupings of smaller collections. These smaller collections may have been bought, donated, acquired by exchange, or created through digitisation programmes. While organisations may think they know just what they have, in reality the next time someone asks a question about part of the collection, finding the answer can turn into quite a search.

Collection Description metadata provides a tool that enables all the information about a collection and its component sub-collections to be recorded in a structured way.

Lost Knowledge

A public library service was creating collection description records to add to a local area database. For some of the sub-collections there was little information actually recorded and former members of staff had to be contacted to fill in the gaps. Now that the information has been recorded, it is used not only as a collection management tool, but also in the induction process for new staff and as a look-up document at the enquiry desk.


Collection Description metadata can be held in a private 'staff access only' database or in 'not for public display' fields in a public database. Keeping the information in such a database means staff can easily update entries as well as check specific details about a collection. A variety of information can be recorded: ownership and provenance, access conditions and IPR details, whether the collection is still being added to, how often and by what method. Some of these are detailed below.

Use and Re-use Information

This group of data elements captures information on:

  • Who can use the collection for reference?
  • Who can borrow items from the collection?
  • Can the items be copied?
  • Can the items be re-used in another resource?

Agent Information

This group of data elements captures information on:

  • Who owns this collection now?
  • Who owned it in the past?
  • Who collected the items?
  • Who manages the collection?

Acquisition Information

This group of data elements captures information on:

  • Are items still being added to the collection?
  • If yes, how often and by what method (buy, donation, exchange)?
  • Was digitisation funded by an external grant?
  • Is this collection part of another collection which has been split up (the findings of an archaeological dig, the exhibition which combined resources from several institutions)?
  • Are the items on (temporary, long-term or permanent) loan from another institution or person?


As with any other reference source, a collection description database must be kept up to date and changes entered. An out-of date database will mean you have to track down those former members of staff again.

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