The Annual Joint Meeting of the Council of State Archives (CoSA), the National Association of Government Records Administrators and Archives (NAGARA), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) kicked off this morning.

Attendance and visibility may have been reduced the first day, but clarity of vision was not. The first breakout session focused on the effectiveness of structured data.

The session -- Structured Data is Essential for Effective Archival Description and Discovery: True or False? -- featured:

  • Moderator, Jackie M. Dooley (head of Special Collections and University Archives at the University of California, Irvine), with
  • Speaker, Michael J. Fox (Deputy Director of the Minnesota Historical Society),
  • Speaker, Barbara Aikens (Chief, Collections Processing of the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonium Institution), and
  • Speaker, Noah G. Huffman (Archivist for Metadata and Encoding for Duke University)

Widely recognized as one of the Founding Fathers of Encoded Archival Description (EAD), Fox raised concerns. The archives profession has invested in a whole range of metadata standards. What’s next?

He commented on resource discovery and identification as well as range and complexity of the electronic presentation of historical evidence. Context of historical materials must be understood, Fox stated. While the archival profession and its researchers enjoy a range of access to historical materials unseen before, access systems can’t be isolated. He encouraged the audience to think of the uses of structured metadata

The Benefits of Structured Metadata

Structured metadata forces archives staff to think systematically about the collective wisdom of the profession. Finding aids are data, not text. Structured metadata also facilitates the location and identification of desired resources; users benefit from searching data more precisely through defined data and structure in context and searching more content which is strictly defined.

Reliance on structured data places more burdens on the cataloger, however. Therefore, researcher and cataloger must think about content the same way. What then, Fox asked, is the balance for the two parties?

Discovery improves with more precise structure and users understand archival metadata schemes.  Fox cautioned the audience: archives rarely ask, “what is the cost-benefit ratio of implementing a metadata standard for our repository?” That, he said, must change quickly.

In the World of Discovery

Huffman showcased a project sponsored by Duke University, University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State to integrate Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) and EAD in a single discovery interface.  The project uses Endeca’s discovery layer to offer next generation cataloging in faceting, tabbed browsing and term suggestions.  While MARC offers concise description and is very structured, the dependency on Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) to search for records limits the number of researchers. EAD is more flexible, offers fuller descriptions, and enables finding aids to be found through Google.
The objectives of the user interface is three-fold: enable discovery of EAD alongside other library content; provide full-text searching and display of full EAD in catalog; and leverage Endeca’s “next generation” features. Google analytics data collected from February 2009 through July 2010 suggests 475% increase in traffic from Endeca to stand alone finding aids. The increase in quality traffic (475%) is significant reference activity.
Aikens asked how do we make our data more interesting and structured?  Are users confused by the actual structured data or the presentation of the structured data? Should we let our users tag data themselves? Aikens compared first generation EAD finding aids that are useful for printing but limited in functionality and context to second generation EAD finding aids that highlight improved, trustworthy, authoritative and reliable content. In conclusion, she stated, thanks to the dexterity that XML coding affords a programmer, archivists are only beginning to uncover the potential to increase the research pool.