Authority Control at TARO: Common Encoding Issues

Last week I posted the first (summary) section of the report I wrote about the use of EAD <controlaccess> index terms by TARO’s forty-plus contributing repositories. The second section of the report, below, outlines some of the more frequent encoding inconsistencies and problems, issues that make difficult the automated aggregation of terms necessary for faceted browsing/navigation. —Tim Kindseth


 

No values

In over 400 instances, a <controlaccess> element was used with null values. In other cases, the value is populated with placeholder text resembling encoder comments, which is likely residue from an EAD template.

  • <persname></persname>
  • <persname>NAME (SPECIFY SOURCE, ADD MORE AS NEEDED)</persname>

 

Syntax (of attributes)

EAD does not require either the @encodinganalog or @source attribute to appear before or after the other. Inconsistent syntax, though, makes it extremely difficult to extract data for analysis and normalization.

  • <persname encodinganalog=”600″ source=”lcnaf”>Ferguson, Miriam Amanda, 1875-1961.</persname>
  • <persname source=”lcnaf” encodinganalog=”600″>Ferguson, Miriam Amanda, 1875-1961.</persname>

 

Periods

LCSH and LCNAF values, when properly written, end in a period. Whether or not TARO wishes to retain this convention, terms should be constructed either with or without an ending period, not both ways.

  • <persname encodinganalog=”600″ source=”lcnaf”>Ferguson, Miriam Amanda, 1875-1961.</persname>
  • <persname encodinganalog=”600″ source=”lcnaf”>Ferguson, Miriam Amanda, 1875-1961</persname>

 

Dashes & spaces

Value subdivisions are sometimes separated by two dashes with no spaces between the dashes and values, or two dashes with a space between the dashes and values; at other times the subdivisions are delineated by an em dash with (or without) spaces between the dash and values.

  • <subject>Mexican Americans––Civil rights––Texas.</subject>
  • <subject>Mexican Americans –– Civil rights –– Texas.</subject>
  • <subject>Mexican Americans—Civil rights—Texas.</subject>
  • <subject>Mexican Americans — Civil rights — Texas.</subject>

 

Element confusion

 With place names in particular, Library of Congress subject headings are often encoded incorrectly as <geogname> control access terms. Many authorized Library of Congress subject headings are built by appending a time period or subject to a city or country name, which may explain why what is technically a subject (Dallas (Tex.)––History.) so often ends up being encoded as a geographic name. EAD3 (discussed later) allows for the parsing of encoded values and may help eliminate this confusion.

  • <geogname>Houston (Tex.)––History.</geogname>
  • SHOULD BE <subject>Houston (Tex.)––History.</subject>
  • OR <geogname>Houston (Tex.)</geogname>

 

Contradictory/dissimilar values

A set of birth and death years might appear within one <persname> element while a different set (or none at all) appears in another, even though both occurrences refer to the same individual. This happens both across and within repositories.

  • <persname>Moore, Charles Willard, 1925-1993</persname>
  • <persname>Moore, Charles Willard, 1925-1992</persname>
  • <persname>Lipscomb, Mance</persname>
  • <persname>Lipscomb, Mance, 1895-1976<persname>

 

Encoding levels

EAD2002 allows <controlaccess> terms to be nested within a main <controlaccess> heading. Repositories sometimes include <controlaccess> elements within this top level, sometimes one level down, and sometimes at both levels. When extracting TARO’s 153,000 index terms, BaseX queries thus had to be performed at two levels. This could cause unnecessary problems for a script that attempts to cull all <controlaccess> instances for display during search and retrieval.

  • <controlaccess><head>Index Terms</head><corpname>Daughters of the Republic of Texas.</corpname></controlaccess>
  • <controlaccess><head>Index Terms</head><controlaccess><head>Organizations:</head <corpname>Daughters of the Republic of Texas.</corpname></controlaccess></controlaccess>

Authority Control at TARO

Yesterday, TARO Steering Committee Co-chair Amy Bowman e-mailed members of the consortium a link to all of the EAD <controlaccess> datasets, broken down by repository, that we extracted and wrangled this spring. I spoke briefly about our work during last month’s TARO brown bag presentation at the Society of Southwest Archivists’ annual meeting in Oklahoma City. Both Amy and I also thought it would be a good idea to publish here on TARO Today the more relevant sections of the report on consortial authority control that I wrote and submitted to the TARO standards committee as part of my final master’s degree Capstone project at UT-Austin’s School of Information. Each (work) day for the next week or so I’ll be posting, sequentially, another section of the document, beginning with the overview below. For a copy of the full report, please get in touch with Amy or e-mail me at tim [dot] kindseth [at] utexas [dot] edu. —Tim Kindseth


 

OVERVIEW

Control access, or index, terms are a well-established bibliographic convention. Within archival practice, however, the selection, use, search, and browsing of such terms is not so straightforward. Whereas books and other published items typically have well-defined scopes (and thereby topics), making the choice of control access terms rather intuitive or self-evident, it is much more difficult to choose just a handful of subjects or other authorities (persons, corporate bodies, genres, geographic place names) for, say, a collection of twenty-five boxes of unpublished manuscript material generated over four decades in the course of entirely unrelated activities and life events. Yet since the adoption of Encoded Archival Description in the late 1990s, archivists across the United States, Texas included, have been trying to do just that: select three to five (occasionally ten or more) representative index terms that will somehow do justice, will encompass, the startling breadth and depth of topics that a single archival collection can cover.

The hope is that these representative control access terms might function as arterials into archival finding aids, a genre that is still the source of much researcher confusion. Before EAD, the reference archivist was, for most researchers, among the main sources of information about any particular repository’s collections. Online EAD finding aids, one could argue, have come to play a similar role, transmitting to researchers, many of whom cannot easily travel to this or that collecting institution, not just information about individual collections but, in the case of an EAD consortium like the Online Archive of California (OAC) or Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), information about how those collections relate to one another as well.

Relational collection mapping in theory makes material easier to find, more accessible and retrievable, and is the basis and goal of larger movements within information science like Linked Open Data and the Semantic Web. To get collections to talk to collections, though, is no easy task. Metadata from one finding aid must be able to converse with that of another, which requires an unforgiving level of shared data structure. For index terms to link up and self-aggregate across the repositories that comprise any consortium, control access terms must be crafted in exactly the same way across potentially dozens of institutions with varied familiarity with EAD and generally differing levels of archival expertise. Enter controlled vocabularies and best practices guidelines, both gentle nudges toward synchronicity in the ways in which archivists, many with dissimilar levels of experience or institutional support, encode their repository’s finding aids.

Rules are one thing; following them, however, is another. Katherine M. Wisser and Jackie Dean’s analysis of EAD tag usage across 1,136 finding aids from 108 anonymized repositories, published in The American Archivist in 2013, found that “little uniformity exists in encoding practices.” They concluded, “Variability in implementation of encoding standards has the potential to diminish the ability to aggregate records and effectively leverage structures for management and retrievability.” In 2014, Dr. Ciaran Trace and three others at UT-Austin looked at a set of 8,729 TARO finding aids and reached similar conclusions as Wisser and Dean about EAD data quality. “With humans in the mix,” they realized, “issues with the quality of the encoding can be expected.” This human hurdle must first be recognized before the issue of inconsistency can be surmounted. “Finding and documenting such problems with EAD encoding,” they argued, “is a key first step in instituting more rigorous control over descriptive and encoding practices that facilitate the aggregation, visualization and analysis of archival data.” Such aggregations and visualizations, which make possible the subject browsing and searching (faceted or otherwise) features that TARO is considering during its redesign, require clean data, and in order to clean it, you first have to locate the mess.

From January through May 2016, for my master’s Capstone project at UT-Austin’s School of Information, that was precisely my task: find where and in which ways TARO <controlaccess> values were dirty and, moreover, come up with ways to clean, or normalize, that data so that index terms, not currently searchable through TARO’s online interface, might in the future, with a revamping of that interface, be harnessed to provide subject searching and/or browsing, thereby increasing discoverability of the archival material described by TARO’s online finding aids. Amy Bowman of the Briscoe Center for American History, who supervised the project, and I performed BaseX queries on the more than 14,000 EAD documents from 46 repositories currently stored on TARO’s server. Over 153,000 <controlaccess> terms were extracted, converted into spreadsheets (grouped both by institution and by EAD element), and analyzed for common encoding errors or inconsistencies using OpenRefine’s clustering algorithms. All the while, a literature review on authority control and subject searching in archival settings was conducted. Several underlying, interrelated, unresolved sets questions emerged during the project:

  • If the 153,000-plus <controlaccess> terms encoded in TARO finding aids are to be normalized, against which controlled vocabularies should they be reconciled, and should the reconciliation occur federally (by TARO) or individually by each contributing repository?
  • What are the online information-seeking behaviors of archives researchers? In the age of Google and keyword searching, is topic/name browsing a thing of the past? If so, is consortial authority control a hobgoblin, an unnecessary expenditure of time and other resources? Have subject browsing features been effective for the consortiums, like Archives West, that have implemented them?
  • How will eventual implementation of EAD3, which was released last year, change the way contributing institutions must encode <controlaccess> terms, and what will be the benefits for search and discovery? To avoid repeating the same (rather complicated and onerous) process twice, should TARO wait until consortial adoption of EAD3 to normalize those terms in accordance with new encoding requirements?
  • How can the future selection and encoding of index terms (whether per EAD2002 or EAD3) be standardized (and remain so) across 46 contributing repositories? What best practices should be in place, and how strictly should they be enforced?

That final set of questions is perhaps the most crucial. My own personal belief is that for authority control to work, control must be part of the equation. Even if TARO is able to normalize all of its current <controlaccess> terms, without consortial enforcement of some kind there will be no guarantee, given the heterogeneous ways that institutions encode finding aids (manually keying the EAD in a text editor vs. generating it automatically with archival management software tools like ArchivesSpace), that future <controlaccess> metadata will be crafted uniformly across all repositories. To date, as our extraction and analysis of TARO’s 153,000 index terms has revealed, there has been very little consistency in the encoding of such terms. Tables breaking down the extracted data in various broad categories, by element, by controlled vocabulary, and by individual repository, can be found near the end of this document. What follows in the next section details some of the more frequent encoding errors and inconsistencies both across and within TARO’s contributing members. It is not at all unusual, for instance, for a subject, person, corporation, place, or other <controlaccess> element to be encoded in divergent ways by the same repository.

The section following that is more speculative, outlining general issues to bear in mind as TARO redesigns its interface. How well that interface functions hinges on the quality of the metadata beneath it, which the title of a 2009 OCLC report written by Jennifer Schaffner makes clear: “The Metadata is the Interface.” Schaffner emphasizes what’s at stake in any effort (like TARO’s) to improve the quality of descriptive metadata: “It would be heartbreaking,” she writes, “if special collections and archives remained invisible because they might not have the kinds of metadata that can easily be discovered by users on the open Web.”

1st draft available for review: TARO schema-compliant encoding guidelines

On behalf of Rebecca Romanchuk and Carla Alvarez, TARO Standards Committee co-chairs, please read the following asking for your feedback on the new schema-compliant encoding guidelines, which will be used by all TARO repositories after each repository is converted to schema compliance later this year.
Please know that doing your conversion, you will have oneonone contact with a TARO volunteer to help you get started submitting finding aids in schema format using these guidelines, but we welcome your feedback on the guidelines now. ___________________________________________________________________________The TARO Standards subcommittee is pleased to announce that we have completed our first draft of the
EAD 2002 Schema Best Practice Guidelines for TARO!

Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), Texas’ EAD finding aid consortial site – https://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/, is in the midst of an NEH planning grant to develop improved systems and updated standards for TARO as it achieves sustainability to serve the archival research community into the future. Part of this work is to create new encoding guidelines for TARO repositories that c onform to the EAD 2002 Schema encoding standard, which TARO will complete conversion to in 2016. These best practice guidelines (BPG) are available as a PDF at http://bit.ly/1Wk6p6W. The BPG appendices are a TARO-friendly sample Schema-compliant template for EAD encoding for your use, and an EAD finding aid ex ample. These appendices are also available at the same link as XML files.

We welcome feedback addressing every aspect of our BPG.

Go to http://goo.gl/forms/gaJXiCVtp4 to complete a brief survey to give us your ideas for how the BPG can better address your needs for EAD encoding. The survey is configured to adapt its questions depending on whether your repository is a TARO member, or if you are in Texas and have not yet joined TARO, or if you are outside of Texas and want to give us your general feedback.

Please complete the survey by Friday, June 3, 2016.

If you encode for TARO, we need to hear from you. The BPG, which will be a key tool for TARO participants, offers detailed guidance on creating EAD XML files. Even participants who export XML from software such as ArchivesSpace (and don’t see the raw XML) will need to follow TARO protocols as described in the BPG, such as formatting the <eadid>. You will need to follow the BPG in order to submit your Schema-compliant files to TARO, which each repository will be required to do by the end of 2016.

The co-chairs of the TARO Standards subcommittee extend sincere thanks to its members for their superb contributions to the BPG. Invaluable support has been provided during our drafting process by TARO Steering Committee co-chairs Amanda Focke and Amy Bowman, UT Libraries TARO technical support staff Minnie Rangel, and our NEH planning grant project manager Leigh Grinstead and grant consultant Jodi Allison-Bunnell. We are also grateful to the EAD consortial community at large for the encoding documentation they make available online, in particular Online Archive of California and Archives West, which are models that have guided us.

Cordially,

Carla Alvarez, MA, CA (co-chair – TARO Standards subcommittee)
Rare Books and Manuscripts
Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection
University of Texas at Austin

Rebecca Romanchuk, MLIS, CA (co-chair – TARO Standards subcommittee)
Team Lead, Archives / Archivist II
Archives and Information Services
Texas State Library and Archives Commission

TARO Standards subcommittee members:  
Maristella Feustle (UNT-Music Library),
Cynthia Franco (SMU-DeGolyer Library),
Molly Hults (Austin Public Library-Austin History Center),
Benna Vaughan (Baylor University-Texas Collection),
Jeffrey Warner (Rice University-Woodson Research Center).

Reminder: comments due by April15

Friendly reminder! Comments due on this document with TARO’s mission, vision, and more due by April 15. Thanks!

The TARO Steering Committee has worked with Leigh Grinstead, TARO’s NEH Planning Grant Manager, to create the following  collection development document articulating TARO’s purpose, background, mission, vision, audience, project scope, participation criteria and more.

This document is an important beginning step toward formalizing TARO. Additional documents will also be developed, such as TARO Best Practices Guidelines, and we continue to explore organizational issues and new platform options.

We invite you to read this collection development document and send any comments by April 15
to the TARO listserv (taro-lib@utlists.utexas.edu)
or directly to the co-chairs and project manager:

Co-chairs:
Amanda Focke, Rice University, afocke@rice.edu &
Amy Bowman, Briscoe Center for American Studies, a.bowman@austin.utexas.edu

Project Manager for NEH Planning Grant:
Leigh Grinstead, Lyrasis, leigh.grinstead@lyrasis.org
Thanks,
Amanda

Want to see more details such as meeting minutes and more? Go to the TARO wiki.

for public comment – TARO collection development policy

The TARO Steering Committee has worked with Leigh Grinstead, TARO’s NEH Planning Grant Manager, to create the following  collection development document articulating TARO’s purpose, background, mission, vision, audience, project scope, participation criteria and more.

This document is an important beginning step toward formalizing TARO. Additional documents will also be developed, such as TARO Best Practices Guidelines, and we continue to explore organizational issues and new platform options.

We invite you to read this collection development document and send any comments by April 15
to the TARO listserv (taro-lib@utlists.utexas.edu)
or directly to the co-chairs and project manager:

Co-chairs:
Amanda Focke, Rice University, afocke@rice.edu &
Amy Bowman, Briscoe Center for American Studies, a.bowman@austin.utexas.edu

Project Manager for NEH Planning Grant:
Leigh Grinstead, Lyrasis, leigh.grinstead@lyrasis.org
Thanks,
Amanda

Want to see more details such as meeting minutes and more? Go to the TARO wiki.

Schema transition underway – see the year’s rough schedule

TARO repositories have been sorted into three groups for the purposes of working through schema conversion process.

Each repository will be worked with individually to ensure their documentation and training needs are met.

Scroll down to see what to expect and where your repository is grouped, and please know we will be in touch with your repository to discuss this process and the timing.
Questions right now? Contact Amanda Focke

  • Group A – Spring / early Summer 2016: repositories already creating schema compliant XML with software such as ArchivesSpace, ArchivistsToolkit, CuadraStar, Archon.
  • Group B –   Summer – Fall 2016: repositories encoding by hand in XML editor of some sort, significant current staff experience and documentation
  • Group C –  Winter – early 2017: encoding by hand in XML or text editor, little or no current staff experience and documentation

TARO workflow steps for repositories moving to schema compliant XML submissions, 2016

What to expect: Overall, each repository should expect the conversion process to take about a week, with the work happening via a script run by Minnie Rangel, and the repository not having account access during that time. After that, the repository can submit edited or new finding aids as long as they are schema compliant, and guidance will be provided on how to do that.

  1. Scheduling the conversion, repository by repository

Minnie Rangel and Amanda Focke  to schedule conversion with repository at a convenient time.

  1. Blocking repository account access during conversion

Tuesday of the scheduled conversion week, the repository’s account access is blocked by Minnie to prevent any submissions during the conversions.

  1. Schema conversion of existing files at TARO
    Wednesday of the scheduled conversion week, Minnie runs the dtd-to-schema conversion script on the repository’s existing files in TARO. This may take 2-3 days depending on the number and size of the files. (For example, 800 files might take 2-3 days.) At the end of this process, all the XML files on TARO’s server for this repository will be schema compliant and valid, with no need for the repository to take further steps on them, unless there was an error (see below for further info on errors). The HTML webpage for the finding aids that researchers see online will not have changed at all.
  2. Repository to download their dtd files and new schema files for local backup.

Repository will log in to their TARO account in the usual manner as access will have been restored, and use the secure-shell client’s tools to download all their files. The old DTD XML will be in one folder and should no longer be used for current finding aid editing, only as an archived copy. The newly created schema compliant files can be used for editing if needed.

  1. Error correction on schema compliant XML

In the event of any errors, Minnie will supply a list of such errors which will be helpful in correcting them.

  • Please note that the correction of these errors is required but can be done at the convenience of the repository, since the finding aid seen by users is still the HTML as generated by the old DTD file.
  • Advice and troubleshooting will be available from the TARO Outreach and Committee, and possibly other TARO committee members as needed.
  1. Any new or edited XML submitted will need to be schema compliant and valid

Going forward from your conversion, any edits to files, such as for updates to a finding aid, will need to be submitted as a valid schema compliant XML file in order for it to process correctly and show online as HTML. You will be given the documentation and other info needed in order to do this using essentially the same workflow you already have, it is not a huge change.


 

A note about groups — if you think your repository is in the wrong group, or you don’t see your repository at all, please contact Amanda Focke. The groups were made based on survey responses in Fall 2015 or by email / phone in early Spring 2016.

Group A: roughly scheduled for Spring / early Summer

African American Library at the Gregory School (AS)
Baylor University (CuadraStar)
Rice University, Fondren Library, Woodson Research Center (AS)
Texas General Land Office Archives and Records (AT)
Texas A&M Corpus Christi (AS)
Texas A&M University Cushing Memorial Library (Archon)
University of Houston Libraries, Special Collections (Archon) University of North Texas Archives (Archon)
Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University (AS)

Group B: Roughly scheduled for Summer / early Fall

Austin History Center, Austin Public Library (NoteTab)
Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Notepad++)
Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo (Oxygen) Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin(Oxygen)
Houston Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center Library, John P. McGovern Historical Collections and Research Center (Oxygen) Houston Public Library, Houston Metropolitan Research Center (limbo between AT/AS)
San Jacinto Museum of History (Oxygen)
Southern Methodist University (Oxygen)
Stark Center, University of Texas at Austin (Notepad++)
Stephen F. Austin University (limbo between Archon/AS)
Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas at Austin (Oxygen)
Texas State Library and Archives Commission (Oxygen)
Texas Tech University Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library (Oxygen)
Texas/Dallas History and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library (NoteTab)
Texas State University (Oxygen)
The University of Texas at Austin. Alexander Architectural Archive (Oxygen) –CONVERTED FEB 2016 IN TARO PILOT WORK
The University of Texas at Austin. Benson Latin American Collection (Oxygen)
The University of Texas at Austin. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History (Oxygen)
Truman G. Blocker, Jr. History of Medicine Collections,
Moody Medical Library, University of Texas Medical Branch (Oxygen)
University Archives and Special Collections The University of Texas at Tyler (limbo between Archon/AS)
University of Texas Arlington Library, Special Collections (XMetal)
University of Texas San Antonio (Oxygen)

Group C:  early 2017

Tyrrell Historical Library (Oxygen)
Concordia University Texas Historical Online Collection (Oxygen)
Lamar University’s Archives and Special Collections (NoteTab)
Robert E. Nail, Jr. Historical Archives at Old Jail Art Center (NoteTab)
San Antonio Municipal Archives
South Texas Archives at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (Oxygen)
Texas Woman’s University, the Woman’s Collection (Oxygen)
University of St. Thomas Archives
University of Texas El Paso (Oxygen)
University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (Oxygen)
UT Health Science Center San Antonio
UT Human Rights Documentation Initiative


 

Scheduling the transition to schema compliance in 2016

Dear fellow TARO members,

Our progress towards updating TARO files to schema compliance continues.

Thanks to your participation in our Fall 2015 survey regarding your repositories’ methods for creating EAD finding aids, we have been able to group our TARO repositories into 3 groups for the purpose of scheduling each repository’s schema updates in 2016:

  • Group A includes repositories already creating schema compliant finding aids (for example those using collection management software which exports schema compliant EAD). This group would go through the schema transition first (Spring 2016).
  • Group B includes repositories creating dtd compliant finding aids with significant staff experience and workflow documentation. This group would go through the schema transition second, with assistance from members of the TARO team (timeframe to be determined).
  • Group C includes repositories creating dtd compliant finding aids with less staff experience and workflow documentation, as well as those who are close to creating dtd compliant finding aids and who need training or other support to get started. This group would go through the schema transition third, with assistance from members of the TARO team (timeframe to be determined).

About half of TARO repositories responded to the survey which allows us to sort repositories into these groups for planning purposes.
Our next step will be to follow up in the next two weeks with the repositories who did not respond so we can plan the year’s schema compliance work accordingly. We do realize that in some cases where repositories did not respond, the contact email we have could have been out of date, and we will do our best correct that situation.

Questions about this schema compliance planning process? Contact Amanda Focke at afocke@rice.edu.

Otherwise, stay tuned!
Thanks,
Amanda
TARO Steering Committee Co-chair
TARO blog for public news Wiki as working committee records

Upgrading to schema compliance in 2016!

As promised in August 2015, we at TARO have been working diligently on preparing our system to move to the more modern format of schema-compliant EAD.
We have conducted our pilot project for moving to schema-compliance.

We will start with volunteers for early conversion with the rest following as training and support allows. No one will be rushed into conversion.
We will contact you in January 2016 to discuss this process, answer your questions,  and hear when your repository would consider participating.
A specific TARO contact person will be available to you for questions and assistance throughout this process.

We will be ready starting in January 2016 to begin working with each repository one at a time to:
1.) Convert the repository’s existing files which are on TARO over to schema compliance. TARO’s Minnie Rangel will use an automated process and then work with repositories on manually following up on any errors (at the repository’s convenience, or at the time when the repository wishes to reload a given file for content changes). The time needed for this will vary from repository to repository, but shouldn’t be significant, and is not on a particular deadline.
2.) Give you the information you need in order to start submitting schema-compliant files to TARO from then on.
(You may still submit dtd-compliant files all the way up until the time your repository converts to schema compliant submission.)

We look forward to working with you on this and appreciate your participation, as this step is the basis for any additional TARO improvements.

Sincerely,
Amanda Focke, on behalf of the TARO Steering Committee

Platform evaluation: One down!

Howdy TARO Members!

The WebTex Subcommittee and its team of volunteers have completed our first platform evaluation, as described in our posting from October 29. The platform under consideration for this first round of testing was Access to Memory, or AtoM.

The evaluation proceeded according to four user personas crafted to present the needs of a range of hypothetical *archival staff* end users with diverse job descriptions and levels of experience. That approach helped our volunteers step off of the “beaten path” of their own typical use of such a platform and into areas they might not otherwise consider. The varying levels of experience of the volunteers themselves also provided insights into how intuitive the front-end and back-end interfaces were, the initial learning curve for getting acquainted with the platform, and the strength of the documentation provided.

Testing with the user personas occurred in early November; after the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the Subcommittee held a conference call with the evaluation volunteers to discuss their experiences with the evaluation procedure, and the platform itself. That information will be helpful in planning our next platform evaluations, and the Subcommittee is grateful for the commitment of the volunteer pool to continue testing the other platforms.

Analysis of this round of platform evaluation will be complete before the holiday break. After the start of the new year, we will call on our volunteers again to put the next platform through its paces. The diversity of the institutions which participate in TARO — in size, history, mission, and personnel — makes a broad scope of input imperative as we update and enhance the services which TARO offers.

 

 

Overview of Encoding Survey

Last month, I solicited EAD templates and documentation from partner institutions to get a clearer picture of TARO’s EAD landscape. Thank you to the 24 institutions that answered the questionnaire and provided documentation. The responses and accompanying documentation illuminate some of the shared (or similar) encoding practices across the TARO partners, as well as areas of encoding diversity. This knowledge will help me and the Steering Committee make useful recommendations for incorporating a schema-compliant workflow into existing practices. The goal is to find that sweet point between breadth and specificity, so that participation in TARO is both convenient and beneficial.     

Overall, there is plenty of common ground amongst the respondents in regards to encoding workflows and processes. The following is a very general overview of the survey responses:   

24 total responses

17 of the 24 of the institutions that responded to the survey described a process of encoding by hand using previous finding aids and/or templates as guides. MS Word and Excel are common tools used for creating collection inventories that are then copied and pasted into an XML editor.   

13 use Oxygen XML editor  

Finding aid creation is a multi-step, multi-tool process for everyone, and common ground bodes well as TARO moves toward greater standardization. Common tools, such as MS Excel and Oxygen XML editor can be incorporated and leveraged in best practices guidelines.  

As of right now, fewer organizations use archival management systems, while a handful of respondents expressed plans to adopt an AMS in the near future.

7 use AMS

3 ArchivesSpace
2 Archivists’ Toolkit
1 Archon
1 CuadraStar

As you may be aware, ArchivesSpace generates schema-compliant EAD. In fact, the AS output is sometimes stricter than the EAD 2002 schema . Currently, the institutions that use these archival management systems must reverse edit their EAD back to DTD to make it TARO compliant. With more organizations adopting (or at least considering) management systems, TARO must plan to accommodate current and future developments in technology. Updating the XML in TARO will not only improve the front-end user experience, but will also broaden potential participation.

The greatest variation across the respondents appears (quite obviously) in the documentation, instructions, and templates of each contributing institution. A large consideration going forward is finding the optimal level of standardization that benefits all contributing institutions. Participation in TARO should be easy, perhaps effortless. With this goal in mind, the question we need to ask is:

How can we reduce redundancies between unique institutional workflows and contributing to TARO?

Feel free to continue this conversation, especially if you feel that the overview above does not represent how your institution creates EAD.