C.F.W. Coker Award: The University of California Guidelines for Born-Digital Archival Description

The University of California (UC) Guidelines for Born-Digital Archival Description is the 2018 recipient of the C.F.W. Coker Award from the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The award recognizes finding aids, finding aid systems, innovative development in archival description, or descriptive tools that enable archivists to produce more effective finding aids. To merit consideration for the award, nominees must set national standards, represent a model for archives description, or otherwise have a substantial impact on national descriptive practice.

The Guidelines for Born-Digital Archival Description is a comprehensive, collaboratively-created document that provides much needed guidance for archivists. Developed by digital archivists Annalise Berdini (UC San Diego), Charles Macquarie (UC San Francisco), Shira Peltzman (UC Los Angeles), and Kate Tasker (UC Berkeley), the guidelines represent best practices based on a review of finding aids from across the country that assessed the state of born-digital archival description. The detailed crosswalks between multiple descriptive standards such as DACS, ISAD(G), MARC, ArchivesSpace, EAD3, and RDA make it an especially powerful document that is accessible to novices and experts alike and can be used by a wide range of institutions.

This best practices guide has since been adopted by all the University of California libraries, aiding in the standardization of description. In addition, the guidelines have been shared via GitHub (a web-based hosting service for version control) and the creators encourage others to submit pull requests from those outside the UC system.

As one supported noted, “The guide is easy to follow, flexible, and adaptable to institutions outside of the UC system. At the Computer History Museum [in Mountain View, California], we have been looking to the UC guidelines as we integrate software and other born-digital materials into our finding aids.”