Book Review


D-Lib Magazine
April 2003

Volume 9 Number 4

ISSN 1082-9873

Encoded Archival Description on the Internet

Reviewed by Helen R. Tibbo, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Encoded Archival Description on the Internet

Daniel V. Pitti and Wendy M. Duff, eds.
Hardbound ISBN: 0789013975, $49.95
Paperback, ISBN: 0789013983, $29.95
241 pages
Haworth Press, Inc., 2002


In their introduction, Pitti and Duff note that they hope this collection of eleven papers "will provide an effective introduction to archival description and EAD, a useful overview of its use in various contexts, and an insight into its potential to revolutionize archival practices and services and to democratize and extend access to archival resources." (p. 6) This text, initially published as volume 4, numbers 3/4 2001 of the Journal of Internet Cataloging, succeeds admirably in these goals. Each article is informative and the compilation provides an excellent introduction to Encoded Archival Description and contextualization for its use. The articles discuss the fundamentals of archival arrangement and description and illustrate how EAD facilitates descriptive practice and extends reference and access in an electronic networked environment.

EAD, a data structure standard and encoding scheme initially built as an SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) DTD (Document Type Definition) for the encoding of electronic archival finding aids, is now an XML (Extensible Markup Language) compliant scheme. EAD maintains the multilevel and hierarchical nature of finding aids and facilitates structured presentation and searching of these tools in networked environments such as the World Wide Web.

In the first article, Kent Haworth lays the theoretical foundation for EAD with a discussion of the characteristics of archival materials and fundamental archival principles of respect des fonds, provenance, and original order derived from their organic and hierarchical nature. These principles have lead to current archival descriptive practice in the form of finding aids that provide information regarding the content and context of the records. EAD is the first tool to preserve the multilevel and hierarchical description manifest in finding aids by providing structures in which to describe entire record collections and increasingly smaller subcomponents thereof such as series, subseries, folders, and even items. In her article tracing the development and structure of EAD, Janice Ruth tells the story of EAD's predecessors, its creation as the FindAid DTD at Berkeley and the path it took in becoming a standard maintained by the Society of American Archivists. Michael Fox places EAD in relationship to other national and international archival and descriptive standards. In particular, he relates EAD's structure and function to the General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G) promulgated by the International Council on Archives (ICA), but he also discusses EAD's relationship with the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts, the USMARC Format for Bibliographic Data, and the Canadian Rules for Archival Description. Steven Hensen finishes this suite of articles with an analysis of the complementary roles of EAD and MARC cataloging of archival materials.

The next articles discuss the application of EAD in consortial settings. Charlotte Brown and Brian Schottlaender describe the development of the Online Archive of California (OAC) and EAD's fundamental role in the provision of universal union access to archival materials within this consortium, and they discuss "the efficiencies of scale, expertise, infrastructure, and funding" that a partnering such as the OAC can provide. Timothy Hoyer, Stephen Miller, and Alvin Pollock also discuss the consortial model for EAD deployment in the OAC and the American Heritage Virtual Archival Project. They stress the importance of the development of best practices and "an acceptable range of uniform practices" across consortium members. Anne Van Camp finishes this section with a discussion of the Research Libraries Group's (RLG) efforts to provide unified access to international primary research resources, especially their work with EAD.

The last group of articles explores the deployment and utility of EAD in a wide range of settings. Meg Sweet, Matthew Hillyard, Derek Breeden, and Bill Stockting trace the development of Great Britain's Public Records Office's (PRO) hierarchical Internet Catalog (PROCAT) and the role EAD has played in the context of a large national archive. Richard Rinehart moves EAD out of the archives and into museums, exploring how it can be used in non-archival settings to represent materials other than finding aids. Richard Szary discusses EAD's emerging role in archival reference service while Anne Gilliland-Swetland explores how EAD can make the finding aid a more accessible tool for a wide range of users.

This is a well-conceived and executed volume that all archivists should read. Perhaps more importantly, as XML gains popularity and numerous communities of practice develop their own DTDs (Document Type Definitions), the information presented here becomes relevant to a much wider audience. The history of EAD and the discussion of the theoretical principles underlying its development and implementation should be useful for many other encoding and standards development efforts. The collection of these articles together in a unified volume enhances the reader's understanding of EAD and its role in the universe of descriptive standards.

Despite this volume's usefulness in understanding EAD's birth, early development, and structure, eight years after the Berkeley FindAid conference and five years since the release of EAD Version 1.0, this volume leaves readers asking for more. It is time that this general overview of EAD be supplemented with a new text that explores its further development and implementation as EAD becomes an established standard and more institutions consider its use. While this volume explains the differences between EAD and MARC, a question many non-archivists pose, and explores the complementarity between these standards, there is a need to consider more deeply the usefulness of its hierarchical structure for materials other than archival finding aids. Is EAD truly a multipurpose encoding scheme or are those who use it for non-finding aid encoding stretching its functionality? Would EAD be better as a model for the development of other, community-specific DTDs, or is it natively equipped to deal with a wide array of hierarchical information, be it described with a finding aid or not?

Research is also needed on how to best employ EAD encoding as a digital access device. While encoding should be transparent to researchers, there is little or no research on how people use electronic finding aids. Gilliland-Swetland presents many possibilities for EAD to enhance and facilitate searching, but are people using electronic finding aids in these ways? Also, what assistance do users need to harness the full functionality of rich EAD documents? Such studies could lead to development of enhanced user instruction and insight into optimal website and finding aid design. This volume does discuss the role RLG has played in providing access to primary research materials, but it does not explore how researchers use this and other pathways to primary resources. What do users expect in archival websites? How can EAD finding aids be made most visible?

There is also need to present an analysis of the experience of early EAD adopters and that of the more recent implementers. How successful have the Society of American Archivist (SAA) training workshops been? What has been the effect of educational offerings provided by regional or statewide organizations? What are the challenges for large institutions and for small ones? Are smaller institutions really better off outsourcing their encoding to vendors rather than training staff members to use EAD? Such research should lead to cost-benefit models of EAD implementation for a variety of archival repositories, large and small.

Perhaps most importantly, as new metadata models, initiatives, and standards appear at a dizzying pace, the archival profession and, more broadly, the digital library arena need a thorough analysis of the relationship among these tools. Increasingly, archival institutions and other cultural heritage repositories are concerned that their collection metadata be compliant with the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) so that it can be harvested for inclusion in large union repositories built around the Dublin Core standard. Yet, OAI captures but a tiny fraction of the information resident in most finding aids and is even less rich than MARC records, which archivists have long lamented for their inability to represent hierarchical archival metadata.

Studies of the relationship between the data represented in EAD, MARC, and the OAI standard are needed and must be analyzed in relationship to how archival users search for information. When will it be most efficacious for researchers to use search OAI records in large national or international databases? When will it be best for them to search the Web for the finding aids themselves? Will MARC records in repository online catalogs continue to play a vital role between the OAI and EAD levels of complexity? How will repositories invest in all these metadata schemes so as to best preserve and make accessible their materials?

For those who know little about EAD, Encoded Archival Description on the Internet is an excellent introduction from the key individuals who have guided its development. For those already using or familiar with EAD, this book should raise many questions and venues for exploration.

Copyright © 2003 Helen R. Tibbo

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DOI: 10.1045/april2003-bookreview