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Use Case Collection-Level Description

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Collection-Level Description


Gordon Dunsire

Background and Current Practice

Collection-level description (cld) consists of metadata pertaining to a collection as a whole, in contrast to item-level description (manifestation description in terms of Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Data (FRBR)) which pertains to the individual members of a collection. Most, if not all, approaches to cld are based on Heaney's An Analytical model of collections and their catalogues.

Items may belong to more than one collection within a single organisation. Collections may overlap in scope and content, and may be arranged in hierarchies of super- and sub-collections. Library_standards_and_linked_data#Granularity_of_library_metadata discusses the relationships between items and collections.

The three principal entities described in a cld record are the collection itself (including title, scope, type, and strength), the locations of the collection (including physical or electronic address), and the agents which interact with the collection (including collectors and owners) and the location (administrators). Interactions include the control of licenses to access the collection, and opening hours of the physical location when relevant.

A cld record may therefore need to aggregate metadata from external sources such as directories of archives, libraries, and museums, staff lists, acquisitions records, etc.

Archives have traditionally used a form of cld to describe holdings, which may be aggregated in a set of hierarchical collections. Libraries often organise their holdings in collections based on loan availability (such as reference/not for loan, short loan, standard loan, etc.), format (such as audiovisual materials requiring special shelving), educational level (such as undergraduate and postgraduate), subject focus, etc. Museum collections tend to be formed around historical or geographical periods, broad subjects (such as natural history, engineering, etc.), and item type (such as models, inscriptions, etc.). Despite this, the application of cld in libraries and museums is generally poor.


1. Bob spends significant time in identifying archives and libraries located in the country which he will visit on sabbatical to carry out in-depth research in a specific subject. He has to schedule visits and arrange travel and accommodation by laboriously cutting and pasting address and contact data into emails, postal mail, and heterogeneous online booking forms, and he has a feeling that all arrangements will be have to be changed, at considerable expense, after he arrives in the country and discovers additional collections of interest.

2. Bob uses the collection-level description service of the country to be visited to obtain all the information he needs, which can be easily used to interact with mail and booking systems. He is able to identify specific items of interest within relevant collections and ensure that they will be available when he visits the archive or library holding the collection.

Target Audience

The main audience includes scholars, the general public, and service providers including local councils and central government.

Use Case Scenario

Bob is carrying out in-depth research into a specific subject, and will be spending a six-month sabbatical in Utopia. He uses the collection-level description service of Utopia to create a "landscape" of collections with strengths in his subject area. This includes all of the information he requires about location, access, specialist staff, etc. He uses a mail-merge facility which takes the address and contact information to send email and postal mail to arrange his visit to each collection. He links to accommodation and travel agencies, and aggregates all the relevant information into an online trip planner. He identifies specific items of interest to his research by using the union catalogue of Utopia and online catalogues of individual collections, and makes arrangements for the items to be available during his visit to each collection.

Application of linked data for the given use case

The use case requires data from multiple, heterogeneous sources which can be manipulated to provide a rich but diverse set of services that can be customised by service providers and end-users.

Existing Work

The Scottish collections network (SCONE) uses a relational database of collection-level metadata for archives, libraries, and museums located in Scotland. A data dictionary for the database is available. The collection-level metadata is used to drive a number of additional services, including Scotland's information and Scottish library and information resources online, within the Scotland's information Llandscape suite.

Some work has been carried out on analysing the coverage and depth, over time, of subject themes in Finnish libraries.

The DCMI Collection Description Application Profile Task Group developed a Dublin Core collections application profile and several vocabularies; it reports to the DCMI Collection Description Community (now deactivated). It's work was based on the RSLP Collection description schema.

Related Vocabularies

Problems and Limitations

Individual libraries rarely use formal or standard collection-level description methods, and often do not recognise the coherence of various collection attributes. As a result, collection-level metadata tends to be scattered, missing, and generally incoherent within a library; there are notable exceptions, usually where a library has an extensive set of "special" or named collections.

Inter- or supra-institutional services using collection-level metadata require some kind of coordinating framework to ensure it meets required standards.

Related Use Cases and Unanticipated Uses

Library Linked Data Dimensions / Topics