Kelcy Shepherd wrote:

> ...  in order to get the
> display I really want, I expect to have to learn a lot more about XSL.
> ...  I think that a workshop that went beyond just
> stylesheets would be very helpful.

Just positing a question that has been nagging at me for a while now.  I =
don't want to pick on Kelcy here, but just to use an excerpt from her rec=
ent message to hopefully make a point that I think this profession--espec=
ially those of us engaged in marking up and delivering archival informati=
on, whether in EAD, HTML, off-the-shelf databases, or as digital object d=
escriptions--really need to think, and more importantly talk *a lot*, abo=

We seem obsessed with getting online displays that we as individuals (or =
as individual repostiories or consortia) want.  I wonder if this isn't wa=
ndering down the garden path into the same quagmire in which the U.S. arc=
hival profession has been wallowing for years--the idea that our own repo=
sitory's finding aids are so specialized that we really each need to be d=
isplaying them in some sort of repository-specific way in our online pres=
entations of information.

It seems to me that if we continue our obsession with using XSL and simil=
ar stylesheet technologies to get the display that *we* want, we will hav=
e allowed the real revolution in Web technologies, which IMHO is to incre=
asingly allow online information seekers and users to look at information=
 in a way that *they* want, to pass above our collective professional hea=
ds. Yes, we can all learn how to do XSL transformations and manipulations=
 individually, but wouldn't it be better if we spent at least some of tha=
t effort in talking to and learning about how end users from a variety of=
 communities actually find, comprehend, manipulate, collocate, enhance, a=
nd redact the information that we provide them in online descriptions--fr=
om collection-level to item-level--of our stuff in order to utilize that =
information in a way that *they* find meaningful.

I realize that we all are feeling increasing pressure to get stuff online=
=2E I wonder if instead of focusing our efforts on learning to re-write s=
tylesheets we wouldn't be better off turning our attention more toward fi=
guring out how we could encode and enhance our data in order to have it w=
ork with an existing stylesheet, say one of the options offered in the EA=
D Cookbook? That might allow us to have a profession-wide (or at least EA=
D-list-wide) conversation about *why* the Cookbook stylesheets are the wa=
y they are, to better understand how a more standardized display of findi=
ng aids (maybe *not* the standardized display that we initially provide) =
might be of use to end users, and to work on a collective effort to defin=
e a broader "stylesheet" for online archival finding aids that we could s=
tart using to educate our end users--whether in our reading rooms and ins=
titutions or via e-mail with off-site users--about how to find and unders=
tand the description we do regardless of which repository's online tools =
they happen to be using.

And further, I wonder if a workshop sponsored by SAA or any other organiz=
ation to assist archivists in dealing with the technological realities we=
 all face doesn't need to be more broadly focused than just on stylesheet=
s. I could certainly be wrong, but it seems to me that we absolutely must=
, as a profession and as individual archivists, start working in some con=
certed way to better understand the following:

1) how the data we create in describing out stuff (whether as collection-=
level finding aids or individual digital objects) and the decisions we ma=
ke in implementing an encoding scheme (or a plain old off-the-shelf datab=
ase for that matter) have a huge impact on the future manipulation and us=
e of that data by ourselves and our end users
2) how end user populations--who will rapidly become proficient in intera=
cting with state-of-the-art information systems--will search, retrieve, m=
anipulate, amalgamate, share, and whatever else they'll creatively think =
about doing with it, the information that we provide online with informat=
ion they find from other resources they use, whether digital or paper-bas=

Obviously no single workshop anywhere will be able to do that. I hope, th=
ough, that a national professional organization like SAA will at the very=
 least, if it does offer a stylesheet workshop, make sure that there's a =
bigger picture of (and maybe a rationalized series of workshops) that enc=
ourage stylesheet-workshop participants to think about what they're learn=
ing in a context that is much broader and more professionally viable than=
 just achieving an online finding aid display that an individual reposito=
ry wants.

Sorry, this got a bit longer than I'd originally intended it to be!


| Bill Landis
| Manuscripts Librarian, Special Collections and Archives
| The UCI Libraries, University of California
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