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April 25, 2007

DC Collections Profile Reviewed

Andy noted a few posts back that the DCMI Usage Board met recently in Barcelona. One of the items on the UB agenda was to review an updated version of the Dublin Core Collections Application Profile prepared by the Collection Description Application Profile Task Group, and I'm pleased to note that - as Ann Apps reports here - the UB approved the profile as "conforming" to their current criteria for a DC application profile (DCAP): essentially, it's compatible with the DCMI Abstract Model (DCAM); it's internally consistent; and the documentation conforms to current guidelines.

Thanks to Sarah Shreeves of the University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign and Muriel Foulonneau of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique for their work in co-ordinating the Task Group, steering the group towards conclusions, editing the (quite substantial) set of documents, and getting things in order for presentation to the UB - all on quite a tight timescale. Back in my previous life, I contributed to work done in the area of "collection-level description" at UKOLN, building particularly on the work done by Andy and by Michael Heaney of the University of Oxford on the RSLP Collection Description Model and Schema. As part of that work, for a while I chaired the DCMI Collection Description Working Group (as the group working on the profile was called back then), so I've continued to take an active interest in the development of the profile and it's good to hear the news that a stable version is now available for use.

The DC Collections AP specifies how to construct a DC metadata description set that provides one or more collection-level descriptions, i.e. descriptions where the resource described is the collection, rather than an individual item within that collection. In his paper describing the entity-relational model on which the simpler model underpinning the DC Collections AP is based, Mike Heaney used a geographical metaphor (which I admit I used to quote an awful lot when I was doing presentations on the topic!), which I think captures quite nicely the sort of "view" of resources that a collection-level description can provide:

The information landscape can be seen as a contour map in which there are mountains, hillocks, valleys, plains and plateaux. A large general collection of information – say a research library – can be seen as a plateau, raised above the surrounding plain. A specialized collection of particular importance is like a sharp peak. Upon a plateau there might be undulations representing strengths and weaknesses.

The scholar surveying this landscape is looking for the high points. A high point represents an area where the potential for gleaning desired information by visiting that spot (physically or by remote means) is greater than that of other areas. To continue the analogy, the scholar is concerned at the initial survey to identify areas rather than specific features – to identify rainforest rather than to retrieve an analysis of the canopy fauna of the Amazon basin. This model attempts to characterise that initial part of the process of information retrieval.

The work within DCMI on the collections DCAP has been something of a protracted process, I readily admit! But it's worth noting that the contributors have faced the challenges not only of grappling with some occasionally complex issues related to what we wanted to say about collections and their relationships to resources of other types, but also of adjusting to what has been something of an "evolving" understanding within DCMI of "what a DC application profile really is" - a topic about which I jotted some thoughts a few weeks ago - and about how a DCAP should be presented and documented. However, I'd like to think that the outcome is that the resulting profile is now based on firm foundations within the framework provided by the DCAM.

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