Descriptive Metadata for Digitization of Maps in Books: A British Library Project

By Kowal, Kimberly C.; Martyn, Christophe | Library Resources & Technical Services, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Descriptive Metadata for Digitization of Maps in Books: A British Library Project


Kowal, Kimberly C., Martyn, Christophe, Library Resources & Technical Services


Hidden special collections are increasingly being made visible and accessible by small digitization projects. In the project described in this paper, the British Library employed existing library standards and systems to accomplish key functions of a project to digitize a selection of maps contained within rare books. The integrated library system, using the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR) and Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) format, acted as a lynchpin, linking directly bibliographic descriptions of both the original and the digital copies of the map, the book containing the map, the digital image, and preservation data and strategy, making the items widely searchable and visible while uniting them with the broader collections.

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In tandem with the surge of mass book digitization projects has been a movement to highlight small special collections with digitization and cataloging. The Library of Congress (LC) Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control recommended as a priority enhancing access to rare, unique, and special hidden materials, encouraging digitization and creation of detailed descriptions, as well as integrating access to these materials with wider institutional holdings. (1) With the capabilities of today's library systems, a surprisingly large number of these tasks are possible in many libraries using existing library skills and resources.

In the project described in this paper, the British Library (BL) employed existing and emerging library standards and systems to accomplish key functions in a project to digitize a selection of maps and views contained

within rare books. While the project involved a number of stages and areas of expertise, this paper will explicate the manner in which the authors handled the need for descriptive metadata identifying the item and its source, documenting copy-specific attributes, and making the record and its digital surrogate accessible. The main library system in the BL, the Aleph 500 integrated library system (ILS) produced by Ex Libris, acted as a lynchpin, linking directly bibliographic descriptions of both the original and the digital copies of the map and the book in which the map appears, the digital image files captured, and the preservation strategy, making them widely searchable and visible while uniting them with the broader collections. This project represents the first use in the BL of the digital asset module in Aleph.

Description of the BL Project

The Vulnerable Collection Items Project was undertaken at the BL to select, digitize, and collect metadata for maps held within the rare printed books collection. Following thefts of valuable maps contained within books from multiple institutions that included the BL, it was thought that a method should be developed to firmly identify the unique copies of rare and important BL holdings to better protect valuable collection materials considered vulnerable. The resulting process combined sets of high-resolution security photographs, bibliographic metadata to describe the physical object (which includes copy--specific descriptive metadata such as condition descriptions), metadata for the digitized image, and linking this and the image to the bibliographic metadata. This enabled the highest possible level of identification of distinguishing features that existing BL systems can accommodate, improving the security of the selected maps. (2)

The original, security-oriented project aims eventually blossomed into something of more universal use and wider research value. Having acquired digital photographs of the collection items and associated metadata, it became clear that sharing the information would contribute to accomplishing other BL strategic priorities. The project could serve to answer the library's security concerns while enhancing user access to the collections by providing publicly accessible metadata for, and images of, the maps under consideration. …

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