That was the topic discussed recently by OCLC Research Library Partners metadata managers, initiated by Roxanne Missingham of Australian National University and Stephen Hearn of the University of Minnesota. Archival collections are in many ways the jewels in the crown of collections as they are unique research resources that provide insights into the world across many centuries, the fodder for creating new research. Creating visibility for these collections reaps significant benefits for both researchers and libraries/archives. Archives are, however, complex, and present different metadata issues compared to traditional library collections. As institutions turn to ArchiveSpace and other content management systems to provide infrastructures for structured archival metadata, various issues are emerging.
OCLC Research Library Partners use a variety of standards to describe archival collections: Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and MARC are common in the United States; Rules for Archival Description (RAD) in Canada; and the International Council on Archives’ (ICA) International Standard Archival Description (ISAD) in Australia, the United Kingdom and other Western nations. Discovery is through local portals and regional networks, and aggregations such as the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC), ArchiveGrid, Trove (in Australia) and WorldCat.
Some highlights from the discussions:
- Identifiers: Many would like to assign identifiers to parts of a collection in addition to the overall collection. The Smithsonian has been using ARKs (Archival Resource Key), assigning the same stem to parts of a collection providing a type of hierarchical approach to constructing identifiers. The number of personal names in archival collections can be so large that most are uncontrolled and without identifiers. George Washington University is experimenting with automatically generating entities from finding aids with good results.
- Improving exposure to archival collections: RAMP (Remixing Archival Metadata Project), developed by the University of Miami Libraries, is a tool that extracts biographical and historical data from EAD finding aids and then generates enhanced authority records and publishes the content as Wikipedia pages. (OCLC Research sponsored a webinar in 2014, “Beyond EAD: Tools for Creating and Editing EAC-CPF Records and ‘Remixing’ Archival Metadata” featuring a demonstration of RAMP.) The Wikipedia Library’s 1Lib1Ref campaigns encourage librarians to add one reference to an existing Wikipedia article, which could be to an archival collection. OCLC recently won a Knight News Challenge to promote collaboration between public libraries and Wikipedia, which could also include more exposure to archival collections. (See 16 June 2016 news release and WebJunction’s project page, Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together.)
- Differences between archivists and librarians: Archives have had more autonomy than libraries within their institutions because they have unique collections with their own population of users. Some institutions have integrated archival processing within technical services, but most maintain a separate unit. Even so, a significant shift to metadata standardization from “artisanal archival approaches” has been occurring. Archivists do not have the tradition of creating authority records and sharing identifiers for the same entity as is common among librarians. Archivists tend to use the fullest form of a name based on the information found in collections, while librarians focus on “preferred” form found in publications. Some differences arise from the technology used; for example, ArchiveSpace does not connect authority records to collection descriptions, a major hindrance to data integration.
Among the questions raised:
- How can archivists and librarians best integrate their data and name authority practices when their administrative units are separate?
- The contextual information that archivists provide for personal and organizational entities would enrich the information provided in authority files – how could they be linked?
- Do different needs arise when describing born-digital archival materials? Physical “extent” does not apply, while the original “carrier” may be considered a crucial element. The work underway by the OCLC Research Web Archiving Metadata Working Group led by my colleagues Jackie Dooley and Dennis Massie may address some of these differences.