Empire Archival Discovery Cooperative

The Empire Archival Discovery Cooperative (Empire ADC – previously known as Building HARMONY) is one of the newest programs being developed through ESLN and the I2NY initiative. Specifically, Empire ADC works toward the creation and maintenance of a centralized online finding aid repository and index that will allow for the discovery of New York State’s vast and varied archival holdings through a single portal.  The collection descriptions found through this portal will use encoded archival description (or EAD), which is the structural encoding standard on which archival finding aids (or collection guides) are created for distribution and sharing on the web. Finding aids are surrogate records used by archivists and historical researchers to provide access to – and information about – a given collection.

In its pilot phase, the project collected and loaded approximately 200 EAD documents from around the state on a server at the Southeastern NY Library Resources Council.  Using the Extensible Text Framework (XTF), the pilot team constructed a preliminary index that could present encoded documents through a single portal.  Initial findings from the pilot suggest a variety of interpretations of the EAD standard and Describing Archives: a Content Standard (or DACS) that can be addressed through centralized metadata normalization and a comprehensive training program in descriptive standards and best practices.  As Empire ADC moves into development, it will be poised to offer metadata normalization at a statewide level which – in turn – opens myriad possibilities for reuse in open data initiatives and beyond.  A comprehensive training program that addresses best practices and archival descriptive standards will, in turn, promote a community of practice among archival professionals and encourage mentoring to less experienced professionals and/or volunteers whose organizations wish to participate in the program.

For organizations without existing encoded finding aids, the project is working toward further development of the EADitor, which will facilitate the creation of standards-based description in an easy-to-use fashion.  EADitor is a form-fill tool that presents its user with a DACS-informed template that automates production of well-formed EAD documents.  This removes less technically inclined users from the onus of understanding the encoding standard and should, as a result, promote faster more efficient publication of archival finding aids online.  Furthermore, while the template is DACS-informed, users will be bolstered through comprehensive training in archival description, which will only serve to enrich the archival metadata that moves through Empire ADC.

The goals of this project are rooted in the results of an August 2011 survey undertaken by a group of academic libraries to demonstrate the need and desire for such a repository.  Of 496 contacts established, the total number of responses equaled 178.  The three principal findings of the survey supported the following assertions:

  • Support for creating a repository is very high across all types of institutions. The total response in favor of contributing EAD to such a repository was 87%.
  • There is a substantial quantity (more than 20,000) of EAD finding aids created by institutions in New York State.
  • There is a serious digital divide demonstrated that is preventing many institutions from providing better access to their materials, whether through EAD or some other electronic means.

The ability for both patrons and staff members to readily access archival and manuscript materials is key to the missions of archives, libraries, historical societies, and other institutions that house these types of records.  This pivotal need for users to obtain information is a compelling reason to use EAD in the creation of archival finding aids.  The standard also provides greater consistency in record description allowing for finding aids from disparate repositories to contain common elements.  The tags make it easier to search for and retrieve specific data within a finding aid.

Providing an online index for these materials allows for enhanced discovery of materials for all of New York’s rich materials. It also provides a publishing platform for those institutions which may lack the technical infrastructure or means to produce and mount finding aids on their own, an important step in ensuring that New York’s rich historical resources are accessible to a wide variety of researchers. Finally, by collecting and normalizing finding aids from diverse contributors, the database has the potential to be the engine that prepares much of New York’s archival metadata for participation in a variety of large-scale digital infrastructure projects.

The Association is pleased to support the efforts of the pilot and looks forward to working with the archival community of New York.

Members of the Empire ADC Advisory Group include:

  • Hillel Arnold, The Rockefeller Archive Center
  • Andrew Arpey, New York State Archives
  • John Bewley, University of Buffalo
  • Jodi Boyle, University of Albany
  • Cheri Crist, Rochester Public Library
  • Lora Davis, Colgate University
  • John Diefenderfer, New York State Archives
  • Ethan Gruber, American Numismatic Society
  • Déirdre Joyce, CLRC, Project Manager
  • Jason Kovari, Cornell University
  • Jen Palmentiero, SENYLRC, Technical Liaison
  • Laura Streett, Vassar College
  • Sheryl Knab, ESLN Liaison

For more information, contact Déirdre Joyce, project manager.