One of the nice things about being “retired” (even practice “retirement”) is that I get to work at home most of the time. There are few things that lure me to the Cornell campus these days—lunch with friends, maybe a lecture now and then—but I almost always go to the forums of the CUL Metadata Working Group. These started a few years ago and have been a godsend, both for those of us who have something to say (I’ve presented multiple times) and those of us who have something to learn (all of us). Like most such efforts, there’s some overhead in the form of a committee that schedules speakers, manages a small budget, etc., but the result is well worth it. Marketing efforts for the forums extend well past the library and often bring audiences from the campus IT organization, the computer and information science folks, and other orphans lodged in various departmental digital efforts.

This month the speaker was Daniel Pitti, Associate Director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. I’ve known Daniel since the first Dublin Core meeting in 1995 (when he was working at Berkeley), so was not going to miss the opportunity to hear him talking about where archival description was headed.

As advertised, Daniel gave some background about the EAD (Encoded Archival Description) as well as the EAC-CPF (Encoded Archival Context – corporate bodies, persons, and families). EAD is based on the the traditional archival finding aid, and focuses on the provenance-based description of archival resources where all records by a single created are treated as one unit. After setting the stage, Daniel spoke about the design of “post- finding aid” archival description systems, describing both the environment within which archival description is created and maintained and the possible published forms of the description that can be searched, rendered, and enhanced by users. I was interested, and pleased, to note that work on this post- finding aid world is based very much on a future I recognize, with a vision based both on what’s happening in libraries as well as what’s going on in the archival community. In a world where tectonic shifts are occurring in both areas, and the focus of library missions are shifting visibly towards the primary materials living in archival collections, this is a VERY GOOD THING.

One of the interesting themes of Daniel’s presentation was “re-imagining description and access.” Librarians may notice the similarity to RDA: Resource Description and Access, and I suspect this is not an accidental echo. The analysis that he described, and the direction that archival description seems to be headed, bodes well for both archivists and librarians—I came away with hope that the trajectory of both efforts will result in the ability for descriptions created by either to be available to users without the necessity of the kind of mediation now required. Not without blood and angst, but perhaps within our lifetimes!

Daniel also described the EAC-CPF, intended to provide a formal method for recording the description of record creators. I asked how this work correlated with similar efforts going on in libraries—FRAD, for instance. Daniel suggested that the inter-community dialog ought to start happening at this level, with the description of people. The first step in this has already happened, of course, with the inclusion of “Families” in RDA—a direct steal from archival description–but there are many steps yet to be taken.

With RDA and the wonderful possibilities for bringing the archival and library communities closer together swirling in my mind, I was struck by one of Daniel’s final points, where he noted that the community was now thinking of a two-pronged approach to the post- finding aid world: permissive on the whole but with less permissive possibilities, which would tend over time to move things forward. This is surely an approach that has been discussed in the RDA world, but not yet well articulated, in my view.

Daniel’s presentation is available on the CUL Metadata Working Group space on Cornell’s eCommons.

By Diane Hillmann, November 25, 2008, 12:26 pm (UTC-5)

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