I’d like to welcome everyone, once again, to this session. For my part, I will not only explain the curious and long-winded title that I’ve chosen – which would certainly beg the question, “What is this document?” – but I will also touch upon five major themes: First, an overview of EAD’s history Next, I’ll talk about the archivist’s relationship with EAD Third: The researchers relationship with EAD (which both Joyce and Noah will cover in more detail) Fourth, I’ll preview the redesign of our EAD delivery system at ECU And finally, I’ll conclude by looking at the state of EAD in North Carolina Some of you probably already recognize that I am borrowing part of my title from Stephen Hawking’s book, “A brief history of time.” Now, in order to also explain the presence of this “timeless turtle,” I’d like to begin by reading aloud the first paragraph of Hawking’s book, in which he wrote: A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. But CLICK SLIDE It’s turtles all the way down!” Ignoring the stereotypical roles presented in this clearly apocryphal story, it is interesting to consider the symbolism that is inherent in this primitive myth, wherein a turtle’s shell is envisioned as our world’s support. American anthropologist, Frank Speck – whose papers are housed at the American Philosophical Society, and described here in this online finding aid,
thanks to EAD – has noted that the Delaware Indians respected certain qualities in turtles that they also valued in life. Namely: perseverance, longevity, and steadfastness (qualities that certainly any archivist would value as well). Further, Frank Speck contended that the Delaware Indians viewed “all life, time, and turtles” to be in a slow, but constant motion, from east to west. Of course, our modern, western view of time’s passing is generally presented in the same direction in which we read, from left to right. So it will be from that perspective, then, that I will provide a brief history
of EAD, with this timeline.
The phrase “Encoded Archival Description” was not coined until about 1995, but for the purposes of this introduction I’d like us to first look back to 1973 CLICK SLIDE when a new material type, specifically for manuscripts, was first added to the Library of Congress’s MARC standard. This addition was largely ignored by the archival community, however, because it strictly focused on the manuscript at the item-level. CLICK SLIDE Later, in 1977, SAA formed the National Information Systems Task Force in order to investigate different means for sharing information about archival holdings. This was also the same year, by the way, that OCLC expanded beyond the 88 counties of Ohio. A major outcome of what started in 1977 was the release CLICK SLIDE of the MARC AMC format, right around 1985. This standard was developed as a partnership between the Society of American Archivists and the Library of Congress, much like EAD would be when it would follow later on.
Skipping ahead to the next decade, EAD was conceived as a result of the “Berkeley project” – later called the “Berkeley finding aid project” – which formed in 1993 and was headed by Daniel Pitti. It wasn’t until about five years later, though, that the first, official version of EAD was released. CLICK SLIDE Quite forward-thinking, it was comprised of a Document Type Definition that was written in the SGML web standard. The document defined a total of 145 different elements that could be used to encode and exchange information that specifically pertained to archival holdings. Shortly after this release, in 2000, Michael Fox developed his first version of the EAD cookbook CLICK SLIDE which is a set of tools that was not only intended to help archivists create EAD records, but it also contained stylesheets to help deliver them on the web. Two short years later, a new, updated version of EAD was released – now known as EAD 2002. This time, the number of elements increased to 146 (with 8 elements discontinued, and 9 new elements added).
To coincide with this new version, Michael Fox released an updated version of his cookbook in March 2004 CLICK SLIDE which was the same month that SAA officially adopted DACS (or “Describing Archives: a content standard”) as an official standard for description. A few years prior to this, in 2002, NC EAD became a part of the NCECHO project. The most recent release of the NC EAD best practice guidelines was finished in 2005, and it is still accessible online. CLICK SLIDE And finally, the last date that I would like to point out, is last year’s release CLICK SLIDE of the test version of EAC, or Encoded Archival Context. Soon to be finalized, it is my opinion that this standard’s success and effectiveness -- for both archivists and researchers alike -- will be entirely dependent on our profession’s local cooperation and openness. But, before I stray too far away from EAD, I am going to shift discussion to my second theme by looking at
EAD, as it is viewed by Archivists. Admittedly, I didn’t start working with EAD until 2007, so in my mind, the only way that I can now envision how EAD was first introduced to the archival world, is solely affixed to the cover of an issue of the American Archivist journal that might’ve arrived in your mailbox in the fall of 1997…
Now, if there is any way to introduce EAD in a gentler, more non-threatening manner than this, I’m certainly not creative enough come up with it. (and, truth be told, it’s my favorite cover of a journal ever.) Further, there are two interesting things that strike me about this image. First, this Big Bird document has exactly three high-level elements: CLICK SLIDE head, torso, and legs. Interestingly -- and surely this was a coincidence -- but that corresponds exactly with the three high-level elements of any EAD document, which are better known as CLICK SLIDE “ eadheader”,“frontmatter”, and “archival description”. The second thing that strikes me is how strange and serendipitous it truly is that SAA once cast Big Bird as the ambassador of EAD, to only now have OCLC release this document, just last week
entitled “Over, under, around, and through,” which – I kid you not – attributes its title to a line by Grover in a 1971 episode of Sesame Street. So, clearly Archivists don’t need to sing, “can you tell me how to get to EAD street” anymore…. And, I would certainly encourage you to read this document if you want practical advice and an even broader perspective about our professional relationship to this standard.
But since that report already covers this topic so thoroughly, I am now going to move on to the topic of EAD and researchers.
And, to researchers, all that EAD could possibly mean, is a finding aid that they can find online, preferably via a search engine. So, using one of our collections as an example, I will simulate a search for the “elias carr papers” in Google.
Almost all of these results on page one have an interesting story behind them, but for right now I just want to point to result number 4. CLICK SLIDE Clicking on it will take us to what’s called the “Sankofagen wiki”
which is a website that describes itself as a place to research U.S. Antebellum plantations (and other places) that had once used African slave labor. Interestingly, it should be noted that this wiki is a form of collaborative research that is comprised of genealogists who are geographically separated.
And, since our collection is online, and thereby reference-able in a friendly way, CLICK SLIDE the creator of this site has linked to our Elias Carr papers, clearly indicating that she has read the description and that she is interested in visiting to research this collection hands-on. Before visiting, though, a researcher will indeed most often first arrive at a finding aid online, and perhaps it might look something like this one,
which – I’ll now confess – is exactly where I have lifted the title for this session. So, a big thank you to the Forest History Society. And, given the diversity of documents that one might encounter while online, it’s reasonable that someone might initially ask themselves CLICK SLIDE “ Well, what is this document?”.
And here, they provide any user with a simple method to interact with and read a clear explanation of what this finding aid document is.
Now I’d like to turn our attention, albeit briefly, to the EAD redesign that I’ve been working on at East Carolina University.
Here is an image of the Elias Carr papers. It would take me an entire other presentation to point out all of the new additions that we’ve added in our new EAD delivery system, so for this presentation, I just want to point out two small enhancements. CLICK SLIDE First, every finding aid will now have a description located at the top right-hand side of the page,
which will explain what a finding aid is, and if that particular collection has any digitized objects available online.
And second, I wanted to do something different with our “controlled access headings”
rather than provide them as static text, as we had done before. Certainly they do have a lot of value in aiding keyword searching to enhance the discoverability of a collection, but what so often goes un-used is their ability to connect one collection to another. CLICK SLIDE In this case, I will go ahead and click on the “Populist Party” library of congress subject heading.
Presently, I have this setup so that each link will take you out of the collection and into our instance of Worldcat local. This subject heading links to just 52 different records in the worldcat database,including 19 books, 8 manuscript collections, 7 ebooks, 5 articles, and one oral history.
Now, if I restrict the format to manuscript collections only, we’ll get just 8 results, including the finding aid that directed us here. All total, then, this provides access to 7 more archival collections in North Carolina. Five of those collections reside at UNC-Chapel Hill, 1 more at East Carolina University, and 1 at Duke University. Clearly this result-set is biased toward larger institutions that are providing OCLC with MARC records. Ideally, though, if there were an NC consortium of finding aids – something similar to the Online Archive of California, or the Kentuckiana digital library -- subject headings could be used to direct researchers to that database, providing a much wider representation of local institutions.
So finally, I would like to consider the state of EAD in North Carolina. And, to do that, I am going to reference a paper that Joshua McKim wrote concerning the NCEAD project in a 2002 issue of the Journal of North Carolina Archivists.
In it, he clearly outlines 4 steps:
First, he mentions developing a local set of guidelines, and as I illustrated in the timeline, this certainly was accomplished.
Second, he mentions tools, which would be similar to the EAD cookbook, and these too are available online at NCECHO
Third, he brings experimenting with new display forms for finding aids, and Joyce will have much more to say about this. Further, I would just add that as the web evolves, so too would delivery methods need to evolve.
And finally he lists this: develop indexing and searching capabilities.
Further, he goes on to add that “[t]he most difficult and most interesting part will be providing researchers with sophisticated access tools to search a multi-institutional bank of finding aids.” This is still a problem today, and there are a number of ways to tackle such an issue. But my point is, is that it cannot be tackled alone. And this leads me to what I find to be the most interesting classification scheme that I have ever heard described, which is simply referred to as the “principle of the good neighbor”.
Here, contained within a footnote at the end of a collected set of essays by Giorgio Agamben, the author describes Aby Warburg’s library (which is now known as the Warburg Institute in London).
It is described that “Warburg ordered his books according to his interests and his system of thought, to the point of rearranging his books whenever his methods of research changed.” It goes on to say: CLICK SLIDE “ The law guiding the library was that of the ‘good neighbor,’ which states that the solution of one’s own problem is contained not in the book one is looking for but in the one beside it. CLICK SLIDE Like a true maze, the library led the reader to his goal by leading him astray, from one “good neighbor” to another. What I have been trying to illustrate, then – in hopes of not leading us too far astray -- is that the reading room of the 21 st century is full of surprising discoveries and connections: from astronomy, Frank Speck, Wikis for genealogists, the continued convergence of libraries and archives, Sesame Street,
and turtles all the way down, it seems that there are, perhaps, an endless stream of “good neighbors” just waiting to be arranged and introduced to our archival collections. CLICK SLIDE So, with proper support, an archival focus on longevity and, hopefully, due to the impending standard of EAC, an increase in collaboration I think that we’ll be able to reach a very significant goal. And that goal, for me, is helping to ensure that even more archival descriptions are available and reference-able online, from a much wider array of archives, and having those collections be connected and deemed useful in the most unanticipated of ways.
A Brief History of EAD From 1973 to East Carolina University’s most recent redesign and