Converting Legacy Finding Aids to EAD (Forgive the Archival Mumbo-Jumbo — Pretty Pictures Coming Soon)

January 30, 2009

At our archives (as at any archives) public access is the goal and the grail — while our collections provide us joy in their very existence, we understand that their value is greatly diminished when they are inaccessible and under-studied.

Our current approach to resource discovery is decidedly analog — finding aids live in folders on our reference desk, grouped by collection type and curatorial area. Since the archives’ founding, approximately one zillion person-hours (yes, this is a scientific estimate) have gone into appraising collections, processing them, describing them and referring patrons to them. It’s in our and our researchers’ best interests that these finding aids make their way to the web — but how?

There are a few ways to approach this.

  • We could convert our word documents to HTML and slap them up on the web, no problem. This would be much better remote access than we currently have, but they won’t parse and we won’t be able to search them the way we want to.
  • The standard for archival finding aids is EAD encoding — this is a way of telling the machine that something is a title, or a date, or a folder, or a place, which means that we can then search using these criteria. Back in the day, archivists would hand-code EAD, which takes forever and is a huge pain to fix when there’s a mistake.
  • It’s premature to say too much about this, but some Penn repositories are collaborating to create an EAD portal. The group decided to use Archivists’ Toolkit to validate the EAD, which is a really great process for new finding aids, but I’m curious how the workflow goes for legacy finding aids. In other words, that’s a lot of cut and paste.
  • Soooo I remembered that some of my colleagues in graduate school were using MS Word macros developed by the Bentley Historical Library to convert legacy finding aids into EAD. I could then import THOSE into Archivists’ Toolkit so that they can be validated. But how long will marking these up with macros take? Consider this my Friday afternoon project.
  • I’m extremely open to other suggestions from any archivists out there.

Annnnnd for everyone who can’t believe they just read that whole thing, here’s a really great photo of a camel!

From a box of junk in the archives.
From a box of junk in the archives.