Nevertheless, some of the terms, descriptive practices, and encoding concepts found herein are likely to be new to many readers, and you may find it helpful to read through the entire chapter once for a general understanding of EAD's structure, and then a second time to master some of the finer points of specific elements. Although for the most part these Guidelines separate the discussion of implementation issues and technical matters from the explanation of the DTD's structure and choice of elements, some overlap is unavoidable. At each point in chapter 3 where a technical term or implementation issue is relevant to the discussion of an element or group of elements, a very brief explanation is given on the spot, and a cross reference leads you to a more substantial discussion of the topic elsewhere in the Guidelines.
The next three sections of this chapter comprise an orientation to EAD within the context of archival description:
Section 3.5, the core of the chapter, provides a step-by-step description of the process of creating an EAD finding aid, focusing on the relationship between the parts of a finding aid that most archivists find familiar and their corresponding elements and attributes in EAD. When various encoding approaches are possible, the pros and cons of each are discussed. It is suggested that you also refer to the corresponding element descriptions and examples in the EAD Tag Library as you read this section.
Finally, section 3.6 explains how to include metadata or bibliographic information about the finding aid itself, which is essential for publishing your finding aids on the Web.
Until you are comfortable with the EAD structure and tag set, you may want to refer back to this chapter while encoding your finding aids. The chapter's section structure will assist you in locating the information you need. It may also be useful to refer to appendix A, Minimum Recommended Finding Aid Elements, to correlate the use of particular EAD elements with good descriptive practice.
The more information that can be captured at this stage the better, especially if the facts are based on oral sources and are unrecorded elsewhere. This initial collection-level description may be viewed by the archivist more as inventory control than an access tool, but gathering and recording the information is an investment in archival description that will reap significant rewards when the data is teased apart and easily mapped to counterpart EAD data categories. From these earliest acquisition and accessioning records, a finding aid author can begin to extract a fundamental description of the collection in its entirety (what we later refer to in section section 188.8.131.52 as the "high-level <did>") and start to outline important background information about how the collection was acquired and the conditions under which it is administered by the repository and used by researchers. This latter "administrative information" (explored further in section 184.108.40.206) will help future finding aid readers know how to approach the collection and make use of the data they find.
At the outset of processing the collection, additional information suitable for inclusion in an EAD finding aid is assembled. In an effort to educate yourself about the materials, you may track down biographies, agency histories, or corporate chronologies about the creator. You may prepare a crib sheet to refer to during processing that identifies the key dates and events in a person's or organization's life. As suggested in section 220.127.116.11, this processing aid can become a public reference tool when included in an EAD finding aid as a biographical note or agency history designed to enhance researchers' understanding of the origins and context of the archival materials. Also easily accommodated in EAD are bibliographies, such as the list of sources you may have prepared during your background research, and other types of "adjunct descriptive data" described in section 3.5.4.
Background reading and consultation of external sources continues throughout processing, but the next stage of organizing and describing a collection involves studying its existing order and structure to identify its majors parts and deduce how those parts have been or could be divided into smaller components. Once the organization has been determined, the focus shifts to issues of arrangement, which relate to how the materials are filed (alphabetical, chronological, etc.) within the higher-level components. During the analysis of the collection, you will likely record information about its current organization and arrangement and may incorporate such information into a processing proposal, which outlines how the various parts will be prepared for research use. In delineating both the original and projected structure of the collection, the processing proposal lays the groundwork for building a multilevel EAD finding aid, which, as described in section 3.4, provides a summary description of the whole collection, followed by progressively more detailed descriptions of the parts.
As you work your way through the collection, you begin to build a description of its components. This accomplishes two key purposes: to reflect the components' relationship to the whole and to one another, and to assign to each component key pieces of information such as a title, date, physical location, quantity, and others. Section 3.4 discusses this whole-to-part relationship, while section 3.5.2 explores how the component descriptions are incorporated into an EAD finding aid.
At the same time that you are creating your component descriptions, you are also perhaps recording the major themes and topics covered in the collection, identifying the types of materials represented, listing people and organizations of interest, and noting the existence of alternative finding aids and access tools. All of these are important pieces of description that have clearly defined places in the EAD structure, as illustrated in later sections of this chapter.
As you read through these subsequent sections, you are likely to recognize that EAD incorporates much of what you currently do in the area of archival arrangement and description. Please note, however, that EAD is more than a structure for accommodating current descriptive practices; it has the potential to improve those practices. EAD already has begun to force archivists to think more critically about our descriptive practices and to encourage us to bring local, national, and international practices into a more rigorously conceived framework. Furthermore, EAD paves the way for finding aids to become more dynamic in an online environment and offers possibilities for building multirepository union databases of finding aids, conducting searches across multiple finding aids and repositories using one or more elements contained in EAD, and manipulating individual finding aids in new ways as we become more aware of how our researchers approach and use these tools.
It is therefore essential that encoded finding aids be clear and intelligible to remote users who will encounter them online. If they are not clear, then you have gained nothing by encoding and disseminating your finding aids in this fashion and may actually discourage some users. Before attempting to embark on an EAD project, it is recommended that you consider the various issues raised in chapter 2 and appendix D and conduct a careful analysis of existing finding aid practices. In terms of the latter, look at each individual piece of information and how it is currently structured in your finding aids. You should then determine if this information belongs in more than one EAD data element, in which case it may be best to divide the data appropriately among elements to ensure the long-term usefulness of the information. Also be sure to ask yourself what function a piece of information serves in the finding aid and whether it would be intelligible if presented to a user in an online environment where an archivist is unavailable to elucidate its meaning. If the information included in an existing finding aid is not sufficiently self-explanatory or helpful, then it should either be revised before inclusion, or it should be eliminated.
It is equally important to consider the completeness of your finding aids. Oftentimes a repository has only a container list for a collection, which may be adequate as a retrieval tool within the confines of the institution, but which may be utterly useless to a researcher in an online environment due to lack of contextual information, such as a biographical sketch or agency history and a summary of the contents. Though it will take time to add this critical, even if brief, information to the encoded finding aid, untold benefits will accrue to the repository and to researchers. We need to reevaluate our assumptions about users' understanding of the information being presented in our finding aids. Even such seemingly insignificant aspects as headings for the various sections of a finding aid should be reviewed in a new light.
In addition to consulting national and international standards, be consistent locally in how you create finding aids, for example, by requiring certain key elements to be completed for every finding aid or standardizing the way in which component descriptions are created. EAD does not, for the most part, require that elements be presented in a given order, but it does support a logical progression of information, as outlined in subsequent sections of this chapter. As in MARC, only a handful of elements are required to produce a valid EAD document.(48) Employing only the required EAD elements does not mean, however, that the MARC record or the encoded finding aid is a good or even adequate representation of the collection. It is perfectly possible to have a valid EAD-encoded document that contains nothing but empty elements;(49) the SGML authoring software can detect only that the required elements are present and that certain elements are in the correct order. There are no MARC police, as the saying goes, and there won't be any EAD police either. Each repository must be responsible for ensuring that key elements are included in every finding aid and that the elements are used as intended.
Careful reading of these Guidelines and the EAD Tag Library should help encourage responsible and effective use of the EAD element set. Both documents are intended to foster community-wide discussion and usage by providing a sound explanation of the EAD structure, identifying key options permitted by the DTD, and theorizing on potential costs and benefits of various approaches. It would be premature at this stage of EAD's development to dictate a uniform sequence of elements across repositories or to recommend a particular degree or depth of encoding. Additional analysis of how markup affects display and retrieval must be done, and greater input and feedback from the user community should be gathered. The important things for now are to make certain that you are including those elements about which the community has achieved some consensus (as recommended by these Guidelines and by relevant external standards), that you are using elements and attributes in accordance with the DTD, and that the data included in within each element matches the element's definition.
Appendix A and subsequent sections of these Guidelines identify a core set of about 30 elements considered necessary to construct a minimum useful and logical description of a collection. While including these elements does not guarantee the quality of the information entered into each, it does at least ensure that the most important intellectual pieces of a finding aid are available to users. While all finding aids should incorporate at least the EAD elements given in appendix A, you always have the option of including more elements and may at any point revise a finding aid to add more information.
When encoding selected personal, corporate, or geographic names, functions, occupations, subjects, or genres and forms, use controlled vocabularies such as the following:(50)
As with most things, however, there is a trade-off between the amount of time you spend identifying and entering authorized forms for data and the long-term benefits in access that accrue. The capabilities of available software may influence how you evaluate this trade-off, although you should bear in mind that system capabilities will change over time. You may decide that you will use standardized data for major access points in encoded finding aids, but not for minor ones, especially if your system is likely to search and display high-level elements first. For example, the title of a collection, its span dates, and personal, corporate, and place names appearing in the highest level scope and content note (which reflect the major aspects of the collection) might be controlled, but not those appearing at lower levels in finding aids.
As an alternative, you might choose to add controlled access points such as names and subject headings only at those points where such names or subjects appear in the materials being described, at the series, file, or even item level. The benefit of this approach would be that users' searches could take them directly to relevant materials in a finding aid. For repositories that are already creating authority-controlled subject and added entries for their MARC records, specifying these same terms in the finding aid does not entail additional work. These and others issues concerning the use of controlled vocabulary terms are discussed in greater detail in section 3.5.3.
Section 3.5.3 also describes another means by which EAD-encoded finding aids can interact with existing standards, namely through the use of encoding analogs. Encoding analogs are attributes on EAD elements that correspond in type and function to fields or subfields found within other data structure standards such as MARC. Encoding analogs have been included in EAD to permit the exchange of finding aid data in systems that conform to relevant national and international data structure standards. As described in section 1.6, a potential benefit for repositories heavily invested in MARC cataloging is to be able to extract a skeletal MARC record from the encoded finding aid, or conversely, to build the framework of an encoded finding aid from an exported MARC record.
The EAD structure was formulated in an environment that was fairly independent of technical considerations. EAD's developers focused much of their discussion on the content of finding aids, that is, the types of information that are conveyed about a body of archival materials. The group never lost sight of the fact that the structure had to be translated into SGML at some point, but much of the analysis involved teasing apart and identifying the structural components of archival description. Through this analysis, the group determined that the same types of information recur throughout a single finding aid at all levels of description. Steve DeRose, the group's SGML consultant, looked at a sample finding aid and remarked that there were actually three finding aids in that document: one that describes the collection as a whole, one that describes the large groupings of materials within the collection, and one that describes the files or items within the groupings.(51) This led to conceptualizing different "views" of a collection as represented in a finding aid.
A typical finding aid has two or three views of a collection, each of which describes the same body of materials, but at varying levels of detail. The first level describes the entire collection in a very general way. It usually gives an overview of the types of material present, points out significant people and subjects represented, and provides provenance and access information. This first level of description may include a biographical sketch or agency history and a scope and content note that describes the collection in its entirety.
The next level might focus on groupings of material within the collection, describing each in more detail than was done at the first level, highlighting more specific material types and additional individuals and subjects represented. This mid-level description may be represented in a finding aid by narrative descriptions of series or subseries within the whole. Depending on the complexity of the collection and institutional practices, this mid-level description may be unnecessary.
Finally, each file, or possibly each item, may be described. This description often takes the form of a container or folder list, which explicitly lays out the intellectual hierarchy of the materials and is used by researchers to request materials.
As explained more fully in subsequent sections of this chapter, the Archival Description <archdesc> element encompasses these unfolding, hierarchical levels by first allowing a descriptive overview of the whole, followed by more detailed views of the parts, or Components <c> (see section 3.5.2). The descriptions of the parts are bundled inside one or more Description of Subordinate Components <dsc> elements (see section 18.104.22.168), which represent the mid-level and file-level views noted above. Data elements used to describe the whole unit at the <archdesc> level are available or repeatable at all the <c> levels within the <dsc> (see Figure 3.4a). In addition, information is inherited at each level from the higher levels that precede it.
Figure 3.4a. High-Level Model for the Encoded Archival Description (EAD) DTD.
In embracing the concept of multilevel description, EAD captured the spirit and intent of two other important archival standards: ISAD(G) and the Canadian Rules for Archival Description (RAD). As noted in section 3.3.2, ISAD(G)(52) provides a mechanism for first describing an entire body of archival materials and then proceeding to describe the parts of the fonds or collection using the same areas of description or elements that were used at the top level. The sum total of these descriptions, presented in a hierarchy, constitute "multilevel description." This whole-to-part relationship is also directly addressed in RAD, a national data content standard that reflects the ISAD(G) structure. RAD states: "The description of the fonds as a whole constitutes the highest or first level of description and the descriptions of its parts constitute lower levels of description. The description of the fonds in these rules consists of a set of descriptions which show the fonds as a dynamic and organic whole, consisting of series which in turn may consist of files which in turn may contain items. Each of these parts becomes (or has the potential to become) an object of description, resulting in multiple descriptions that need to be linked hierarchically to represent the part-to-whole structure of a fonds."(53)
The rules expressed in ISAD(G) and RAD are intended to encompass complete finding aid systems, including archival inventories and registers, MARC records, databases, and any other type of descriptive mechanism employed by archivists.
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