Tuesday, 1 March 2011

What is a Collection?

A collection is a group of resources that are related to each other in some identifiable way. The relationship might be through a topic, a place, a person, an organisation or a type of object.

A collection may be divided into smaller parts, or sub-collections, which may in turn be divided into smaller parts. For example, a library collection might be divided into fiction and non-fiction stock, with the non-fiction stock divided into lending and reference stock, while a museum might have collections of ceramics, textiles, coins and silverware, with the coins divided into categories or sub-collections by time period - Roman, Anglo-Saxon, medieval, etc.

How Many Items Make a Collection?

There is no minimum number of items for a collection - in theory it is possible to have a collection containing only one item! Collections can also be very large and, typically, large collections will divided into a number of sub-collections.

Physical or Digital?

The items in a collection can be physical (books, objects, paintings, etc.) or digital (e-books, digital images, databases). It is also possible for collections to be hybrids, and contain both physical and digital items. A collection may also contain digital items that are surrogates of physical items in that collection.

Whether physical, digital or a combination, the items do not have to be in the same location and can be distributed over multiple locations. Locations may also be a factor in creating sub-collections; a public library may have a number of branch libraries each with its own stock collection. 

Permanent or Temporary? 

A collection, whether physical, digital or combined, does not have to be a permanent resource. For example a collection of digital items may:
  • exist only for the duration of a search - the results display
  • be limited for a current subscription - an e-journals bundle
A collection of physical items may:
  • have existed in the past but the individual items have been distributed to other permanent collections - the findings from an archaeological excavation
  • be brought together from other collections on a temporary basis - an exhibition  
Exclusive or Inclusive?  
Items can belong to more than one collection or sub-collection at a time, although placed in a single physical location. A coin can be designated as part of a coin collection and part of the Roman collection. Likewise, a map could simultaneously be part of a library local studies collection, part of a maps collection and / or part of the reference collection. A donor bequest collection that either has no topic focus or has several could be split into several collections (theology, natural history, railways) but still retain its identity as a set of items collected and donated by someone.

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