RSLP Collection Description

Minutes of RSLP Collection Description Working Group held on 23rd March 2000

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Minutes of RSLP Collection Description Working Group held on 23rd March 2000 at The Charity Centre, London

Present: John Byford (British Library), Peter Clinch (Collaborative Collection Management of Foreign Legal Materials project), Gordon Dunsire (SCONE project), Lesley Forbes, Susan Jephcott (Mapping Asia project), Ronald Milne (RSLP, Chair), Lesley Pitman (COCOREES project), Andy Powell (UKOLN), Alason Roberts (CURL pamphlets project).


1. Preface to the meeting

2. Aims of the meeting

3. Issues raised in discussion document previously circulated

4. Follow-up actions


1. Preface to the meeting

1a. CURL's interest in RSLP/UKOLN Collection Description work

Ronald Milne (RM) noted a need to publicise progress with the Model, Schema and Tool in order to provide clarification for the CURL community and to highlight the differences between the RSLP/UKOLN work and the NPO Register of Collection Strengths.

It was important to stress:

RM suggested that one or two project members might make a presentation about RSLP/UKOLN work at a future CURL board meeting. The next such meeting was likely to be in early June and it may be possible to have something to demonstrate by then.

Andy Powell (AP) explained that the true benefit of the Model, Schema and Tool was to provide a structured way of storing and exchanging records created by projects, in contrast to the NPO approach, which did not appear to allow for structured interchange of data. This meant that third party services could use the RDF output from the UKOLN Model, Schema and Tool as they wished, without being tied into RSLP HTML designs and layout. More information on RDF could be found at:

Another advantage of RSLP/UKOLN work was to show how HEIs are working together on such a project. Additionally, RSLP/UKOLN Collection Description work would definitely mesh with other work being conducted at UKOLN and this would also extend the collaborative nature of the Programme.

It was agreed to take up the opportunity to present the aims of the RSLP/UKOLN work to CURL. Lesley Forbes (LEF) agreed to clarify the timetable of the NPO Project and advise on the list where RSLP project members can get full information on NPO and archival Collection Description work.

1b. Report from UKOLN

AP reiterated that the UKOLN work has three layers - the Model, Schema and Tool. The Tool may not necessarily implement the Schema in full - there are some limits on data entry, but the Schema should be correct - changes to the Tool could be made more easily. AP noted further that there were particular issues for projects dealing with dispersed collections within libraries which do not have a title as such (e.g. a "collection" of materials on war studies which may be scattered physically in a library amongst history, politics and psychology divisions etc.). It was not clear whether this could be incorporated into the Model and Schema. He explained that the Tool was currently suitable for entry of a single Collection Description; the resulting output in RDF or HTML form could be saved locally and used for whatever purpose. However, the Tool was not at present really suitable for multiple entries and records were not yet added to an underlying database.

AP also noted that the use of the term "cross-searching" had been misleading. Any gathering of data from different projects would be collected into a single central database which could then be searched as another resource itself; there was no capability for the kind of cross-searching of data from distributed projects such as was provided by a Z39.50 type mechanism. AP could work on developing a central Search Service using a set of sample records.

The Group agreed to provide some examples of Collection Descriptions through the Tool which could then be used by UKOLN to develop the demonstrator Search Tool. Examples would be provided by Mapping Asia and COCOREES projects - (and other projects if desired) within three weeks if possible. These examples might not include final implementations of the decisions by projects as to their own standards within each field, but would be the best possible in the time frame. Depending on decisions made by each Project regarding use of standards, the process of providing examples might take longer but could be discussed through the new Mailing list (see below).

AP also agreed to make the current work on an Access database available through the UKOLN/RSLP web pages as soon as possible. Progress so far included identification of the tables required to implement the Schema and these could be made available for project members to adapt for their own database design, if so required. As yet, the mechanism for delivering RDF from the database was not available. Again this development would be notified through the new discussion list.

Gordon Dunsire (GD) also requested that if possible AP should include a description of where divergence might be permitted in the Model. He mentioned that SCONE's work would complement (rather than overlap) with the UKOLN work. For example, SCONE was investigating how links could be made from search results into relevant subsets (rather than just the top-level home page) of a local OPAC, as a Finding Tool deliverable. Further details on the SCONE project can be found at:

This kind of information could also be shared on the list.

1c. Details of new Mailbase discussion list

AP mentioned that a Mailbase discussion list had now been set up for RSLP project members to discuss any issues relating to Collection Description work. This is; members can join through the Web page at: or by sending an email message to with this command in the body of the message:

join rslp-cd firstname lastname

where firstname and lastname are members' personal names.

2. Aims of the meeting

The Group agreed that the main aims of the meeting were:

The Group then worked through the items on LEF's discussion document.

3. Issues raised in discussion document previously circulated

3a. Search Tool and Database issues

  • Based on Question: Can more information be provided about the Search Tool for users, which has a crucial bearing on the input of data? (Section B Item 1)

    AP responded that he could develop this with sample data as had been discussed, but that each project had to take a view about how their own end-users may wish to access their own Collection Descriptions. It had always been envisaged that each project would want its own project search tool with individual functionality. In addition, management of data was more easily achieved through a local database.

    A subject based approach (such as Law, Asian and Eastern European Studies) with project Search Tools would fit into the RDN (Resource Discovery Network model).

    The potential central database would be a demonstrator NOT a service.

    If a project needed to display certain information to the end users then corresponding fields needed to be available at data entry and search stages.

    LEF described an example of users wishing to see a list of the ten largest Arabic collections in the country with some indication of numeric size of the collections. Size as an attribute of collection is a level of functionality which is currently not present in the Tool and which had not been envisaged. This led into a mini-discussion of strength of collections being measured by objective rather than subjective means. Other members felt that, for example, rate of addition to collection would be a more pertinent measure than size of the strength of a collection. This illustrated clearly the fact that each project would require additional but differing functionality.

    However, AP said that if enough projects were adding the same extra functionality then this would be a candidate for inclusion into the central Tool. The Schema is extensible within each field. The Group agreed that the new rslp-cd list would be the best forum for projects to register their chosen additions to functionality, so that other projects could make comparisons.

    AP also noted some database design considerations. Projects might choose to use MS Access or ROADS, for example. A benefit of ROADS was that a Web search interface was included in the package, but a disadvantage was that underlying databases could not be relational in this scheme, so there was much replicated data. The disadvantage of using MS Access was that providing a web interface is more tricky.

    Again, GD mentioned that SCONE may be able to help with this and the group agreed that once again these issues could be discussed on the mailing list rslp-cd.

  • 3b. Standards issues

    Based on Question: Should underlying standards be defined (and adhered to) in order to achieve consistency? (Section B Item 4)

    After discussion the Group agreed that the most that could be done centrally was that RSLP should encourage projects to use the following standards where possible, but it was noted that these have to remain optional. It was agreed that we should ask all projects to "register" their intended inclusion of standards on the rslp-cd mailing list by an agreed deadline.

    3c. Pitching (functional granularity) issues

    Based on Question: The Tool is well adapted to describe discrete archival type collections, but it is more difficult to envisage the boundaries (or functional granularity) for library collections, particularly dispersed subject collections within libraries. Can guidelines to enable some uniformity/consistency of "pitching" of descriptions of dispersed subject collections be devised? (Section B Item 3)

    This was felt to be entirely up to each project. There was some discussion of display of search results and differing amounts of information provided, but it was not felt desirable to define these further.

    3d. Directory information issues

    Based on Question: Can UKOLN/RSLP set up or provide (and maintain) a central database table for institutional directory-type details of libraries, which are common to all projects? (Section A Item 3)

    There were differing opinions on this issue. Some felt that there was a clear need for a central database which could be used not only by RSLP but by all Library, Archive, HEI projects. Others felt that directory information should and could only be provided and maintained locally, and that RSLP projects should only point to that information.

    If a central service was possible, who would create and maintain such a resource? Some possible contenders were mentioned as bases from which to start such a compilation: e.g. SCONUL, HEFCE databases, but no-one knew of an up-to-date comprehensive service for the UK as a whole. GD mentioned that a central directory system existed in Scotland for Scottish institutions, (as part of the Digital Scotland initiative?) but the issue of maintenance had not been fully addressed.

    It was agreed that because this information was needed now, each project would have to compile their own contact information, but with as much inter-project co-operation as possible.

    The group also discussed using ILL Codes to provide a unique key number for each institution within the central database, which could act as a future lead into a proper relational database. AP agreed to look into this.

    3e. Policy issues

    Based on Question: Is establishing a description of collections framework for collections of all sorts, e.g. libraries, archives and museums (particularly dispersed subject collections within libraries) a national issue? (Section A Item 2)

    The group agreed that a Collection Description framework was a national issue and recommended that the relevant bodies should be urged to promote better co-ordination of the different programmes working in this area as a matter of urgency. The British Library was already working in this area through its Co-operation and Partnership programme.

    4. Actions

    Andy Powell/UKOLN

    Ronald Milne/RSLP

    Project members

    SJ/LEF 10 April 2000

    Maintained by: Andy Powell
    Last updated: 17-May-2000

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