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Collection descriptions

Scope - Database features - Methodology


The Mapping Asia collection description database is intended to help researchers and librarians to

  • identify libraries in the UK with holdings of significant research value in Asian, Middle Eastern and North African Studies
  • discriminate between holdings, at a practicable and useful level of detail, in terms of subject and area coverage, scope and depth of collecting
  • be referred to more specific data on the contents of the collections by links to the electronic catalogues and digital resources of the participating institutions and to related collections and resources
  • make effective use of the collections with the help of practical information on location, access and exploitation.

The database covers holdings in all subject areas of the humanities and social sciences, including interdisciplinary studies falling within and between these subjects. Material in the pure and natural sciences, technology, mathematics, agriculture and medicine, is excluded except where such material has a bearing on historical, social, environmental or economic aspects of those subjects in relation to any part of the geographical area covered by the database.

Database features

Collection description records are entered and maintained by the participating institutions. The institutions have full control over their own records and are responsible for keeping the information updated.

In the majority of cases the database contains two types of record per institution:

  • one 'parent' record to give a general overview of the institution and its materials
  • one or more 'child' records to describe the collection(s) within the institution in more detail.

The database utilises an additional 'grandparent' level in order to represent more adequately large institutional hierachies, e.g.:

  • University of Cambridge [no record]
    • University of Cambridge Christ's College Old Library
      • Robertson Smith Collection
      • Rouse Indian Collection
    • University of Cambridge Faculty of Oriental Studies Library
      • Assyriology Collection
      • Iranian Collection

Content of a collection description record:

  • Collection details (e.g. links to opening hours, access regulations, contact details, etc.)
  • Collection description (e.g. content, history and development, strengths)
  • Subjects of collection (e.g. regions, countries, languages, subjects, personal names)
  • Collection material and size of collection (e.g. material types, size of the collection)
  • Collection management information (e.g. annual intake, date range)
  • Online catalogue information (description and URL)
  • Printed guide information (description, bibliographic information)
  • Links to other relevant collections (links to collections within the same institution)


The quick search allows users to search for collection descriptions by entering a simple search word or phrase. Records are only retrieved if the search term entered is found in the 'free text' parts of the records (content, history and development, strengths, general arrangement and access regulations, personal names relevant to the collection).

  • Users may select whether they wish their search to retrieve (a) collection records (detailed descriptions of an institution's individual collections) or (b) institution records (general overview of an institution's holdings)
  • The results can be ordered according to institution, library or collection title
  • Additional fields (total collection size and content range) can be selected to view
  • The number of records listed per page can be changed.

The advanced search offers users two methods of performing more complex searches:

  • Firstly, by entering up to three separate search terms or phrases, and combining these terms using Boolean AND, OR and NOT operators, users can search the 'free text' parts of the records with greater precision
  • Secondly, a variety of filters can be set to limit the search results to a particular country, region, language, subject, material type, date, holding institution or UK location. Since these filters operate by checking defined values in the non-free text parts of the records, a search which combines these two methods (i.e. entering search term(s) and setting one or more filters) will operate on the entire content of the records, affording the most accurate results
  • Filters work in combination, so setting more than one filter will limit the search results even further.

The browse function allows users to browse the whole database, ordering the records according to country, region, language, subject, holding institution or UK location.

  • Users may select whether they wish their browse to retrieve (a) collection records (detailed descriptions of an institution's individual collections) or (b) institution records (general overview of an institution's holdings)
  • A variety of filters can be set to limit the browse results to a particular country, region, language, subject, holding institution or UK location. As with the filters in the advanced search, setting more than one filter will limit the browse even further.


    • A temporary project web-site was set up
    • Mailing lists were established to facilitate communication with the contributing partners and provide public information about the project
    • Information was gathered from a number of library directories and regional guides about libraries holding significant collections in order to establish the range of institutions to be included in the database
    • A preliminary survey of the institutions was conducted
    • Survey results were analysed and participants were selected for the main survey
    • The main survey forms were distributed to store incoming data
    • A list of non-respondents was compiled and potential new participants were approached
    • The collection description database was designed using project-specific terminology
    • A permanent web-site was established at
    • Survey data was uploaded to the site and institutions were invited to update their records
    • Further data is continually being added and amended by the contributors.

    This strand of the Mapping Asia project was part of an initiative by the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) and the UK Office for Library Networking (UKOLN) to provide, through digital channels, descriptions of holdings to administer resources more effectively and to enhance access to resources by disclosing information about their existence and availability. The UKOLN Collection Description Focus group has produced a briefing paper presenting an overview of approaches to collections and their description, available at