> 1. Once you have the finding aid available in EAD, how do researchers go
> about requesting material? Is there a way to allow researchers to login to
> the system and put in call slips for items they want to use in the reading
> room? Or would you need a separate database to handle requests and issues?
We are adding an "Ask a Question About This Collection" link to all our finding aids, on the left-hand side following the table of contents.  The link uses a perl script to generate a form which the researcher can fill out to request further information etc.  Part of the script captures the URL of the finding aid being viewed so that we can see at a glance which collection the researcher was viewing when s/he launched the form.  The script also generates an email to the appropriate staff member as well as a confirmation email to the requestor, and writes information to a log file so that we have historical data on questions asked.

2. How time consuming is the work of creating the EAD finding aids as
compared to say creating the finding aid in a word processing package or
spreadsheet or database? Are there any packages available that allow the
process to happen more or less automatically or do staff have to key in all
the code?
Our process at the moment is to create new finding aids originally in Word, since a finding aid may go through several iterations before it (and the collection) settle into a final form.  Once the finding aid is electronic, how time-consuming it is to convert to EAD depends to a large extent on two things: how "regular" the finding aid is (irregular or "weird" ones take longer), and how familiar you are with EAD.  I've got 9 years of experience with SGML and XML and I can take a Word document to complete validated EAD in about an hour, depending on the length.
Other institutions have developed databases to store the information, with built-in code that generates the EAD document on request (someone talked about theirs fairly recently on-list but I can't recall who).  The California Digital Library's Online Archive of California (http://www.oac.cdlib.org/)  has created a number of pretty slick HTML templates for their member institutions; you simply fill out the HTML form, press a button and EAD is generated.  See some examples here http://www.cdlib.org/inside/projects/oac/toolkit/templates/ .  The OAC also has some great general EAD resources here http://www.cdlib.org/inside/projects/oac/ .
Re. the question of "keying in all the code" -- if you mean typing in all the elements etc by hand, no you shouldn't have to do that.  Any fairly robust XML editor should be able to read in the EAD dtd and then assist you in creating the appropriate elements and attributes.  Altova XMLSpy is quite good, though the free version lacks some editing assistance such as restricting you to legal tags.  XMeTaL is quite good, an established company and application that's been around for quite a while (it used to be HoTMetaL, an HTML editor).

3. What are the benefits for both researchers and the archives institution
in using EAD as opposed other methods of making finding aids more available?
The greatest benefit I see is that it results in a consistent set of data both within and across institutions.  Within an institution, it means all your finding aids have the same look and feel, rather than some Excel and some Word and some another format, etc.   Looks more professional, easier for researchers to use, ensures that all necessary data is there, etc.  The EAD dtd also allows you to store a lot more information about a collection since you can hide or show various items from the viewer (you can store appraisal information for example, but not show it publicly).  So you can maintain a single record instead of several.  Across institutions -- well, that's pretty obvious: it makes possible searching a vast selection of data through a single query, since all the data is in a consistent form, kind of like MARC records and OCLC.
Michele Rothenberger
Syracuse University Special Collection Research Center