A Case Study of Use-Centered Descriptions: Archival Descriptions of What Can Be Done with a Collection

A Case Study of Use-Centered Descriptions: Archival Descriptions of What Can Be Done with a Collection

Richard Butterworth (The Bridgeman Art Library, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-543-6.ch004
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This chapter argues the case that there is a mismatch between current meta-data standards for the description of archival holdings and what many users actually want to know about a collection. Standard archival descriptions objectively describe what is in a collection, whereas users wish to know what they can do with a collection. It is argued that matching users’ research questions to library resources that could help answer those questions is a crucial social role played by librarians, archivists and other front line staff. However placing descriptions of what is in a collection online for users to search directly risks disintermediating the users from library staff. ‘Use centred descriptions’ are proposed as a way of systematically describing what can be done with a collection, and are, in effect, an encoding of library staff’s knowledge about what can be done with a collection. Its is therefore argued that use centred descriptions repair some of dissintermediation gaps caused by putting collection descriptions online. A theoretical motivation for use centred descriptions is presented by showing how Heaney’s (1999) analytic model of collections, which underlies the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) collection description standard, only addresses finding and identifying resources. We augment this model to address selecting resources from a range of possibilities and show how use centred descriptions stem from this augmentation. A case study is presented demonstrating the experience of developing a set of use centred descriptions for the University of London as part of a project to encourage wider access to their archival holdings. The project had necessarily limited aims, and therefore conclusions are drawn about the viability of use centred descriptions in wider domains.

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