C.F.W. Coker Award for Description

Purpose and Criteria for Selection:

Established in 1984, this award recognizes finding aids, finding aid systems, projects that involve innovative development in archival description, or descriptive tools that enable archivists to produce effective finding aids. To merit serious consideration for the award, nominees must, in some significant way, set national standards, represent a model for archival description, or otherwise have a substantial impact on descriptive practices. The following types of works or activities may be considered:

  1. Finding aids, including, among others, multi-institutional guides, record surveys, repository guides, special subject lists, finding aids to individual collections or records groups, and narrative descriptions of holdings.
  2. Finding aid systems, including, among others, manual or automatic indexing systems, computer databases, or current awareness systems for notifying users of holdings.
  3. Descriptive tools that enable archivists to produce more effective finding aids, including, among others, subject thesauri, authority files, data element dictionaries, manuals establishing descriptive standards, and such reference works as atlases and administrative histories.
  4. Projects that involve innovative developments in archival description, including, among others, cooperative ventures that result in the exchange of finding aid information among repositories, efforts at building national information systems, and survey projects.


Individuals, institutions, or groups of individuals or institutions. There are no restrictions on the format in which information is presented and formats may include printed volumes, card catalogs, computerized files, microforms, and slide presentations. Both published and unpublished works produced during the preceding calendar year are eligible. This award is not intended for books or articles on descriptive theory. Works and activities must involve projects located primarily in North America.

Nomination Requirements:

A completed nomination form and the required number of copies of the finding aid.

Sponsor and Funding:

The Society of American Archivists Foundation, in memory of C.F.W. Coker, a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists who worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress, where he was the head of the Reference and Reader Service Section in the Manuscript Division. Coker was also director of the Modern Archives Institute, editor of The American Archivist, and general editor of the first SAA Basic Manual Series.


A certificate and a cash prize of $250.

First Awarded:


Selection Committee:

The Coker Award Subcommittee of the SAA Awards Committee consists of four members of the Society of American Archivists (one of whom shall be the current chair of the Description Section, who shall serve a term concurrent with his or her office) and one of the co-chairs of the Awards Committee (ex officio). One of the remaining members of the subcommittee shall be appointed each year by the SAA President-elect to serve a three-year term. The senior member of the subcommittee in years of service shall serve as chair and present the award.

Application Deadline and Nomination Form:

All nominations shall be submitted to SAA by February 28 of each year.  CLICK HERE to download the application form.

C.F.W. Coker Award Recipients:

1984:   Roy Turnbaugh

1985:   Debra L. Newman

1986:   Nancy Sahli, Lisa B. Weber

1987:   Not awarded

1988:   Frederick Honhart

1989:   Scott Cline

1990:   The Center for Legislative Archives (NARA)

1991:   David Brumberg, Elaine Engst

1992:   Not awarded

1993:   Diane Vogt-O'Connor

1994:   Not awarded

1995:   Robert M. Kvasnicka

1996:   Not awarded

1997:   Robert B. Matchette; Honorable Mention: Mary Lynn McCree Bryan

1998:   Encoded Archival Description Working Group

1999:   Francis X. Blouin, Leonard A. Coombs, Claudia Carlen, Elizabeth Yakel, Katherine J. Gill

2000:   Not awarded

2001:   Waverly Lowell, Kelcy Shepherd

2002:   Not awarded

2003:   Not awarded

2004:   RLG's EAD Advisory Group

2005:   Online Archives of California

2006:  The Walt Whitman Archive

2007:   Greg Bradsher

2008:   The Archivists’ Toolkit™ (AT)

2009:   World War II: Guide to Records Relating to U.S. Military Participation

2010:  North Carolina State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center

2011:  John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

2012:  Not awarded

2013:  Princeton University Library Archival Description Working Group: 
          Daniel Santamaria (chair), Maureen Callahan, John Delaney, Shaun Ellis, Regine Heberlein, 
          Jon Stroop, and Don Thornbury

2014:  Remixing Archival Metadata Project, University of Miami

2015:  The Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Project