Search the Collections – Nightly Updates and More

Digital Media
April 26, 2017
Varty’s Series of Domestic & Wild Animals, Frederick Robinson, 1846, London, E.273-1901, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As regular users may have noticed, there have been some small – but significant changes to the V&A’s Search the Collections (StC) website in the last few months. This post gives a brief overview of the changes of most relevance to users of StC, which is otherwise serenely gliding along, as it has since 2009.  A follow-up post will provide details of the technical changes that have taken place (which, much like the swan, have involved a furious amount of paddling to keep everything running serenely) which may be more relevant to those interested in the intricacies of museum data workflows.

Nightly updates

The most obvious benefit is that updates made to an object record will now be published to Search the Collections nightly (UK time), whereas previously this happened monthly. The precise time the records are updated will vary depending on the quantity of updates, but should complete most days by 2AM GMT.

Presentation changes

Although the records themselves have not changed in our collection management system, the path they take through the Museum’s digital infrastructure to reach the website has, and this changes how the record is displayed as follows:

  • Aspects of objects are no longer displayed. The use of aspects is to be reviewed by Collection Management
  • Default values are no longer provided for fields. We only publish the data as provided (this includes no longer using 1 Jan / 31 Dec as default dates for a year when the date precision is only available at the year level or above)
  • Collection codes have been replaced by the relevant (and more readable) departmental name (e.g. “T&P” is now displayed as “Theatre and Performance”)
  • Part level information is not currently displayed, this is under review as part of a more comprehensive redevelopment of Search the Collections
  • Removal of mapping information (which was based on a now defunct geomapping service)

Search changes

We have switched to using Elasticsearch for searching and filtering the object records. This is covered in greater detail in the technical blog post, but you may find the following points useful when formulating a search:

  • Search terms are all lower cased (so case is irrelevant)
  • Searches are carried out against all fields in the collection record, specific fields can be searched using the Advanced Search option
  • Boolean searches can now be carried out. By default multiple search terms are AND-ed together (so all search terms must appear in the matching document), also available are OR (‘|’) and NOT (-). Further details on this are available on the search documentation page
  • Phrases can be searched for by surrounding the search terms  with quotation marks. E.g. compare results for searching for ‘deep purple‘ compared to ‘“deep purple”
  • Shorter field lengths carry more weight. E.g. a word match in the ‘title’ or ‘summary’ field will be considered more relevant than matching in longer  fields – and those matches will appear higher in the search results
  • Search matches in the title, object name and artist name will also always appear higher in the results than matches in any other fields

Hopefully these changes will help you in your searching and enable you to access our most recent collection information as it is published. If you notice any problems with a search that used to work and now doesn’t, we would be keen to hear from you, please do get in touch with us at

Many thanks to everyone who has helped with this big infrastructure change, from everyone in the Collection Management & IT departments to volunteers on the helpdesk testing the new system out.

About the author

Digital Media
April 26, 2017

Is a web developer at the V&A interested in data and systems, and the complicated connections between them. ORCID: 0000-0002-3177-1313

More from Richard Palmer
1 comment so far, view or add yours


WOW, Amazing painting. Its wonderful art. Being as artist I really appreciate the work done. Its the best one I can find.

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