Description Expo 2012

2012 Description Expo

By Jennifer Meehan



ArchiveGrid, OCLC Research

After the subscription-free beta version of ArchiveGrid launched last year, its searchable index of online archival collection descriptions - imported from WorldCat and harvested directly from contributor websites - grew by nearly 25 percent to 1.7 million. In addition to MARC and EAD, descriptions in HTML, PDF, and Word formats are also harvested and included in ArchiveGrid, giving greater exposure to those collections. As the index count continues to rise, ArchiveGrid will also take on an emerging "sandbox" role as OCLC Research experiments with new tools that enhance discovery and access to institutions' archival and special collections materials for a broader range of researchers.

A few tools in our sandbox include:

  • A "rough and ready" finding aids project to make non-electronic collection descriptions discoverable in ArchiveGrid. This is being tested as a method to enable institutions to scan their paper finding aids, upload them into ArchiveGrid, and use optical character recognition software to index them.
  • Linked data using VIAF and Wikipedia. Using a set of trial records, the aim of this project is to enhance collection descriptions with additional information from Wikipedia and related sources. This will allow researchers to gain a deeper understanding of key terms within collection descriptions and pave the way for more collaboration between linked data and archival description in the future.
  • The ArchiveGrid blog, launched in January as a way to highlight collections, disseminate information and news specific to the archival industry, and to inform readers of OCLC Research projects and activities related to ArchiveGrid.
  • Changes to the ArchiveGrid interface, including additional parameters for users to narrow their search results, will advance discovery and access beyond its current capacities.

Explore ArchiveGrid at

Archives Project at the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is currently in the process of cataloging collection-level records for its archival holdings held in the Library and Science Departments.  Through the funding of two separate grants, the Council for Library and Information Resource’s (CLIR) Hidden Collections program and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) (which includes a comprehensive museum-wide risk assessment program), descriptive information for close to 3,300 archival collections was gathered in less than two years.  The CLIR grant also funded the production of twenty-one full finding aids for the AMNH Library.

To publish this large volume of data, the Library is using tools such as MarcEdit and Archivists’ Toolkit for batch processing MARC records and EAD-encoded finding aids.  Repurposing the descriptive data captured in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets allows for flexibility and control in converting metadata and provides a base for use with the Risk Assessment database.  For importing full finding aids written in MS Word, we use a spreadsheet template to create an EAD-encoded container list for import into Archivists’ Toolkit.  This time-saving solution was adopted and modified from the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections (PACSCL) team.  Full documentation is in process with drafts available on the project’s website at

Leveraging open-source tools and repurposing spreadsheet data has allowed us to identify, describe and publish a substantial amount of collections in a relatively short period without the usual barriers of time, money and extensive programming or cataloging expertise.  We now have a basic understanding of all our archival collections throughout the museum and a data infrastructure in place from which to build these records more fully.

Explore the American Museum of Natural History Archives project at


Disruptive Components: Reimagining Archival Access Systems at the Princeton University Library

Elizabeth Yakel has written that the recreation of traditional analog finding aids in online environments “inhibits creative use of networked information and the emergence of new digital representational forms for the representation of primary sources.”   It is not only the evolution of finding aids that is impeded, she argues, but access to archival content itself.

This submission describes Princeton University’s Archival Description Working Group’s attempt to respond to these issues. Building on descriptive data created by dozens of staff involved with aggressive processing and data conversion projects over the last seven years, the group developed, in collaboration with library digital initiatives staff, a new web application for delivering finding aids (available at )

Features of the new access system include: 

  • Direct access to EAD components from search results
  • Faceting and browsing options from search results
  • Delivery of images directly from the finding aid interface
  • Contents lists that are sortable by title, date, or physical location in the collection
  • Enhanced topic features, based on linked data principles
  • Support for delivery of EAC-CPF records
  • Better options for users to contact the library and connect with each other, including an "Ask a Question" (for reference requests) and a commenting feature for users wishing to request an enhancement to the description or discuss the content of the collection within the finding aid itself or share information within their own social networks
  • A more modular display of the finding aids, including ‘Component Records’ at each level of description that are intended to meet DACS Single-Level minimum requirements.
  • Aeon integration, including requesting without leaving the interface (after authentication)
  • Plans for indexing and delivering more than 700,000 EAD components in Primo, the University Library’s new discovery layer system.

Credits:  The implementation team includes: Maureen Callahan, John Delaney, Shaun Ellis, Regine Heberlien, Dan Santamaria, Jon Stroop, and Don Thornbury.  Please contact Dan Santamaria ( with any questions.

Explore the Princeton University archival access system at


Doris Duke Timeline, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University

The Doris Duke timeline is a web portal page that provides a collections overview, a chronological index, and selected digital media of materials held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University. It is the product of collaboration between archivists and developers, who combined the tag libraries of the Encoded Archival Description and Encoded Archival Context standards to represent a rich array of collection descriptions, dates, and resources related to Doris Duke as a research topic.

Archival finding aids are effective at presenting the arrangement of a collection, but less useful for research inquiries. The project team asked, what if we feature people and their lives as an entry point to our collections? A model for our work was the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) project, which appeared in the 2011 SAA Description Expo. We wanted to take the kind of "person page" that appears in SNAC and extend it with media, and a detailed, interactive timeline.

The team researched the EAD and EAC standards as means for representing the rich body of information assembled by archival staff from over a dozen archival collections related to Doris Duke, noted philanthropist and daughter of the university's founder. Archivists produced a hybrid EAC/EAD document, while team of developers adapted it for the WWW using the Django web framework. The team made use of a freely-available timeline tool, TimelineJS (

Following this pilot project, work continues on additional person pages for notable figures that feature in Duke's special collections. We see this approach as potentially helping to steer researchers who use web search engines to our collections.

Explore the Doris Duke timeline at

See also this blog post by Doris Duke Archivist, Mary Samouelian:


Field Book Project, Smithsonian Institution

The Field Book Project is developing a Registry for accessing catalog records and digitially imaged content from primary source materials related to biodiversity field research.  Field books are the original records of scientific research and discovery.  Typical field books might include scientific data on species, habitats, and environments.  They can also take the form of journals and diaries which provide a more personal perspective on field work including accounts of travels, people encountered, and daily events.

The Field Book Project has developed an innovative cataloging approach which capitalizes on the strengths of three metadata schemas from museums, libraries and archives to form one integrated solution.  From the museum community, Natural Collections Description supports collection level description, similar to an archives finding aid, with the added value of natural history specific metadata elements.  From the library community, Metadata Object Description Schema enables more granular access at the item level within a framework that was at once simpler than MARC and designed to crosswalk with MARC.  Finally, Encoded Archival Context ensures consistency of names for persons, organizations, and expeditions while also capturing contextual information on those entities and their relationships to each other.

Over 5,000 field books from over 450 Smithsonian collections have been cataloged as part of the Field Book Project and will be made available through an online Field Book Registry.  Once online, this Registry will be extended to accept content from other natural history collections in archives and museums throughout the world.

The Field Book Project is based at the Smithsonian Institution with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections Program, the National Park Service Save America’s Treasures program, and from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

Explore the Field Book Project through our website (, blog (, flickr sets (, and follow us on twitter (


Finding Aid Conversion Program, Smithsonian Institution Archives

The Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) has developed an in-house finding aid conversion tool to produce Encoded Archival Description finding aids. The program allows for the generation of individual EAD finding aids, as well as batch generation of up to 20 finding aids at a time. SIA adopted the EAD standard in 2009. Between August 2010 and September 2011, SIA generated over 4,000 finding aids that launched on the Archives' new website in September 2011. This number represents over 80% of its total holdings.

The program incorporates data from three primary files: 1) word processing documents including historical notes, descriptive entries, chronologies, series descriptions and box/folder lists; 2) text files taken from MARC bibliographic records including use/accession restrictions, volume calculations, and index terms; and 3) text files taken from SIA's Collections Management System including record creator, title, and dates. The program requires minimal manual tagging of word processing documents to parse out sections of EAD code.

SIA is also contributing its EAD content to the Social Networks and Archival Context Project (SNAC) and ArchiveGrid, and is currently developing ways to further enhance these finding aids with links to digitized materials such as PDF documents of entire folders and fieldbooks, archived websites, as well as images and image galleries.

SIA continues to generate new EAD finding aids (approximately 200 per year).

Explore the Smithsonian Institution Archives finding aids at


Large-Scale Digitization at the Triangle Research Libraries Network

As part of the grant project, "Content, Context, & Capacity: a Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina" the Triangle Research Libraries Network  -- composed of the university libraries at Duke, North Carolina Central, North Carolina State, and UNC-Chapel Hill -- has developed three systems for linking digital content directly from finding aids. These systems pull existing metadata from the EAD finding aids to automatically supply minimal description for each digital object, and use identifiers at the component-level to link scans to a given container (i.e., a folder).

The four partners are collaboratively digitizing 38 archival collections. Digital objects inherit basic descriptive metadata -- such as the folder title, series name, and collection title -- from their parent finding aid through automated processes. Each of the three partner institutions hosting digital content has developed their own publication platform that links digital content directly from the finding aids. All finding aids and digital content are available not only through individual institutions' websites, but also through the shared Search TRLN interface.

For detailed descriptions of the different systems for linking finding aids to digital content at the TRLN partner institutions, see the project webpage on Digital Access.


Marcel Breuer Digital Archive, Syracuse University Library

Syracuse University Library recently launched the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive.  The website ( represents a collaborative effort headed by the Library to digitize over 30,000 drawings, photographs, letters, and other materials related to the early career of Marcel Breuer, one of the most influential architects and furniture designers of the twentieth century.  The project unites resources from several international partner institutions, including the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, the Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Harvard University, the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, the University of East Anglia, and the Vitra Design Museum. 

Rich metadata allows for easy searching and enables researchers to make connections across media and among geographically dispersed materials.  High-quality, zoomable images permit even the faintest pencil sketch to be examined in detail, while project descriptions and biographies provide context for the individual objects and for Breuer’s career.  Syracuse University Library created a custom PHP/MySQL based database application that consolidates metadata and JPEG2000 images from SU’s collections and those of partner institutions.  This web application generates METS (Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard) XML objects for use in a web portal, drawing upon the California Digital Library’s open source eXtensible Text Framework (XTF).

The creation of the website and digitization of archival materials created prior to 1955 were funded by a 2009 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The Library is currently working to secure funding for the second phase of the project, which will allow the remainder of Breuer’s papers to be digitized. 

Explore the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive at

Nordic: The Norwegian-American Digital Catalog

In July 2010, Luther College (Decorah, Iowa), in partnership with Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, received a basic processing grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to fund a project designed to make available and accessible materials documenting the Norwegian-American experience. 

The project, titled "Journeys to America," has resulted in the catalog Nordic (Norwegian-American Digital Catalog): a single searchable catalog of archival materials held at Luther College and Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  Collectively, the two organizations have approximately 2500 feet of materials that document the history and culture of emigrants from Norway to the United States and their descendants, with additional emphasis on the origins of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, west of the Mississippi River, and the founding of Luther College, the first Norwegian-American college. 

Nordic ( went live in May 2012 and holds over 1,000 collections.  It contains finding aids created and published with the software Archon and includes box inventories describing materials down to the folder level. 

It is hoped that other Norwegian-American repositories may join the catalog in order to create a comprehensive, one-stop resource for students, genealogists, and researchers from around the world.  The end result is intended to add to the breadth of scholarship in the field of Norwegian-American studies and improve scholarship in emigration studies as a whole.

Explore Nordic: The Norwegian-American Digital Catalog at:


Uncovering Hidden Audiovisual Media Documenting Postmodern Art, Archives of American Art

The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, was recently awarded a grant from the CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) Hidden Collections program for “Uncovering Hidden Audiovisual Media Documenting Postmodern Art.”  

The collections targeted for this project contain large amounts of audiovisual media that document a period of contemporary American art when ephemeral and dynamic new visual art forms were emerging in studios, art communities, galleries, and art spaces across the country. The collections contain films, video and sound recordings created as a record of art, artists, exhibitions, and events; and those that are works of art in and of themselves–sound art, video art, outtakes, or elements of multimedia productions.  In many instances, this archival documentation may be the only remaining evidence of the artwork.

Lack of adequate and consistent description of audiovidual media is a chronic national problem for mixed-media manuscript collections.   A primary goal of the CLIR project is to develop benchmarks and guidelines for implementing an archival approach to processing and describing archival collections with audiovisual content – one that more closely aligns with workflows and practices most commonly associated with arranging and describing document-based archival collections v. item level description.

Prior to receiving the grant, AAA’s AV Archivist Megan McShea processed three collections containing large amounts of audiovisual media.  This pilot project tested the feasibility and effectiveness of integrating audiovisual processing and description into AAA’s established workflows and standards for processing manuscript collections.   The resulting finding aids are found on AAA's website:  Colette Roberts Papers and Interviews with Artists; Brooklyn Museum Interviews of Artists; and Bruce Bassett Papers relating to Jacques Lipchitz 

A complete list of collections targeted for processing and more information can be found on the Archives of American Art’s website or contact project director Barbara Aikens ( or AV archivist Megan McShea (

Still from “Face-off,” a video artwork by Robert and Ingrid Wiegand, 1979.  Robert Wiegand Papers and Video Art, 1953-1994.  Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 


Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation

Established in 1994 to preserve the testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: nearly 52,000 video testimonies in 32 languages and from 56 countries. Its mission is to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of the Institute’s visual history testimonies. The Foundation has developed a thesaurus, indexing software, and public applications to facilitate use by the general public, scholars, students and educators.

Indexing is applied at two levels—bibliographic data describes the interviewee’s biographical experience in brief and video indexing provides access points throughout the interview which is divided into 1 minute segments for that purpose. Each testimony offers unique insight into the recollections and perceptions of pre-genocide, genocide, and post-genocide experience as revealed by the interviewee.

Although the stories told are charged with emotion, the indexing itself strives to be neutral by focusing attention on  time, places, events, people, population movements, activities, organizations, political movements, religious affiliations, culture, and social practices.

As the result of cooperative agreements with like-minded organizations, the scope of the collection will soon be expanded to include interviews from the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide (Kigali Memorial Centre) and the Armenian Genocide (Armenian Film Foundation).

For more information about the USC Shoah Foundation go to

The Visual History Archive (VHA) is a subscription application offering access to the entire collection at institutions around the world. For information about partnership sites see

The Visual History Archive Online (VHA Online) at is available to the general public. All data found in the VHA is searchable, but only approximately 1100 English-language testimonies can be viewed from this site at the present time.

Explore the Visual History Archive at:



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