EADfying Lowell Thomas Papers


In 2007, Marist College Archives & Special Collections received a grant from National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) to arrange, describe, preserve and make the collection of one of our nation’s best known journalists and explorers, Lowell Thomas accessible to all interested researchers and educators. The Lowell Thomas Papers consists of approximately 36,000 photographs, hundreds of hours of audio, thousands of feet of motion picture film, numerous artifacts and over one million pages of manuscript materials that date from 1789 to 1984. To make this collection accessible, the project proposed to arrange and describe the entire collection down to item level and create a finding aid marked up in EAD format.


The initial cataloging was done on word document which had to be converted to EAD. However, there were number of questions that needed to be answered. The most critical of which was to decide whether to use EAD as just a data communication format--i.e. create it on the fly by maintaining the metadata in a relational database--or to directly manage metadata in EAD format and use XSLT to render it on web. After examining the finding aid for the Lowell Thomas Papers, we discovered two distinct types of item organization, single level where the common items or files were archived directly in a box and multi level where items specially images were first organized within a folder and then archived in the box. So, to bypass the complexity of reflecting these inconsistencies in a relational database, we opted to maintain metadata directly within the EAD files.

The next challenge was to come up with a template by identifying appropriate EAD elements and attributes that can do justice to both these distinct types of organization. The official EAD Version 2002 website from Library of Congress was of great help for this. Along with the template, we also created the css and XSLT files that act as a foundation to present the EAD encoded finding aids on the web. The XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation) transforms EAD into XHTML that is recognized by the browser while CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) gives the appearance and the layout to the EAD pages.

Finally, to bring all these disparate files (css, xslt and EADs) together and automate the whole EAD creation process, we had to come up with an effective mechanism. Moreover, we planned to hire our own students to create these EADs who did not have any Archives background. Therefore, the process also had to be user friendly. So, to cater to these requirements, we ended up developing our own tool, ‘Box Builder’ in c#. See Fig 1. Box Builder in action.

The goal behind ‘Box Builder’ was to simplify EAD creation by taking the web development and encoding processes under the hood and provide a simple interface that any user with basic computer skills can master. Moreover, it also provides a stepwise guide that acquaints the user with the whole process, making it intuitive to follow.

Enhancements using jQuery

 Since the whole website for the collection would be based on EADs, we wanted to make it intuitive and user friendly for both researchers and other casual users. The flexibility of this framework--i.e. EAD attached with CSS and XSLT--allowed us to create our own add ons on top of EADs using jQuery (javascript library). For example we included a jQuery script that allow users to expand and collapse boxes as they need providing an uncluttered interface for browsing. Additionally, for this project, we had an image viewer that displayed the jpeg images of digitized Graphic Materials. Similarly, we created ‘Research Cart’ where researchers can add their selected items for research just as in any online shopping cart. Currently we are researching a feature that would give users option to generate their own galleries from the images selected in their Research Cart. These dynamic galleries would also have a social commenting features for a social and collaborative research. See Fig 2. Using jQuery code to expand and collapse boxes in a need to basis, on bottom-left Research Cart using jQuery.


The “Lowell Thomas Papers” digitization project gave us an opportunity to convert our finding aids from word document catalogs to an EAD encoded websites. Additionally, our goal was not only to encode this one project but also to develop necessary tools and workflow that we could refer to “EADfying” our other collections. After the successful completion of the “Lowell Thomas Papers” project, by reusing the same workflow, Box Builder and lots of help from our students we were able to encode our other 48 collections within a year.

Moreover, the flexibility of the framework gave us the freedom to customize the functionality of the website using our own jQuery scripts. It encouraged us to develop features such as Research Cart and Imageviewer, both of which were deeply integrated within the EAD files. Most crucially it enabled us to take advantage of the latest web technologies and constantly improve on the usability and presentation of our EAD finding aids.


Monish M. Singh
Digital Archivist
Marist College Archives & Special Collections

Figure 1: Box Builder in action151.07 KB
Figure 2: Using jQuery code to expand and collapse boxes in a need to basis, on bottom-left Research Cart using jQuery.444.09 KB