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I also believe this to be a marketing strategy on the part of HistoryIT, which as far as I can tell is a consulting firm for technical archival/digitization/web services.   It would appear that she is trying to get contracts with archives (although this tactic is certainly odd..at least to me) to do more detailed indexing – probably within finding aids or in their proprietary database.  This blog, however, convinces me that the company has little understanding of archival realities, backlogs, large scale digitization, nor archival descriptive standards and best practices.    

 

There is a place for item level description of digital content AND for findings aids.  But, a finding aid is the critical first step towards any later item level work.  To suggest that item level cataloging of everything is the only way to make archival materials discoverable is, frankly, a bit ridiculous.  Let the finding aid provide the foundation for prioritizing digitization, i.e., Digitization on Demand or User-driven Digitization.  Further, Kristen’s example of a finding aid is not necessarily representative of all finding aids.  Many finding aids provide substantially more detailed name access. 

 

And about the feasibility of an item level descriptive approach, here is some statistical information from AAA’s digitization program.  

 

·       From 8/1/2013-8/7/2013, we digitized 1,078 archival items, which were item level cataloged by a full-time cataloger whose primary job is to item level catalog digital items.  

·       During the same period, we digitized 12 archival collections measuring 76.5 cubic feet in their entirety, resulting in 97,376 digital items.  This work was completed according to our large scale digitization workflow wherein the EAD finding aid created by the processing archivist serves as the ONLY descriptive metadata for the digital content, and this description is on the folder level only. 

 

Has the lack of item level descriptions resulted in complaints from our users????  With this latter approach resulting in 1,440 cubic feet digitized and 1.8 million digital files available online – No complaints from our users!

 

Gotta run.....need to get some finding aids online!

 

 

Barbara D. Aikens

Head of Collections Processing | Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Email: [log in to unmask] | Phone: 202.633.7941

 

Visit our website and the Terra Foundation Center for Digital Collections.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

 

FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries: 750 9th Street, NW (at H) | Suite 2200 | Washington, DC 20001

U.S. Postal deliveries:  PO Box 37012 | Victor Building, Suite 2200, MRC 937 | Washington, DC 20013-7012

 

From: Encoded Archival Description List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Callahan, Maureen
Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2014 11:40 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Kill The Finding Aid Blog, Written by History IT CEO Kristen Gwinn-Baker

 

I think a few things about this:

 

1.      This is kind of a silly post based on misunderstandings of archival functions, and maybe we shouldn’t feed the trolls? Obviously, her point of view on this is financially advantageous to her. However, I do think that we can and should be digitizing more of our holdings. I wrote about this in the context of a job I had previously, here.

2.      That having been said, I don’t really understand the data model she’s proposing. A zillion item nodes, each beautifully described, floating in the cosmos of the internet? This, to me, is the digital equivalent of the garbage bag full of paper. The structure of a finding aid helps us understand what came before, what came after, and how it all relates to each other. More than that, it’s a way for us to record the stuff that isn’t in the records themselves – where this came from, what happened to it before it was here. And the best finding aids provide a descriptive superstructure that makes sense of it all, in a way that just trawling through the records can’t do.

3.      We can’t describe each item. Think of all the crazy projects in the 1960s and 1970s to create index cards for each piece of correspondence in a collection. In so many cases, the work was never finished – because it’s impossible and kind of unnecessary.

4.      Even if we could describe each item, we shouldn’t. I really think that our professional practice is about making choices about appropriate levels of description and giving the right kinds of meaningful information in that description. More, I really believe, isn’t better. Better is better. She’s not wrong that contents lists are often weak, but I don’t think that it’s because we don’t have enough information. I think it’s because we often give kind of useless information (“correspondence – general.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Why was it produced? What kinds of evidence of historical events does this provide?)

 

But that’s just me.

Maureen

 

Maureen Callahan

Archivist, Metadata Specialist

Manuscripts & Archives

Yale University Library

[log in to unmask]

203.432.3627

 

Webpage: web.library.yale.edu/mssa

Collections: drs.library.yale.edu

 

From: Encoded Archival Description List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Ethan Gruber
Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2014 11:23 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Kill The Finding Aid Blog, Written by History IT CEO Kristen Gwinn-Baker

 

If only we had billions of dollars to digitize and transcribe every item!

 

On Thu, Aug 7, 2014 at 11:08 AM, Aikens, Barbara <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

http://blog.historyit.com/

 

I can’t even comment further in public.

 

Barbara D. Aikens

Head of Collections Processing | Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Email: [log in to unmask] | Phone: 202.633.7941

 

Visit our website and the Terra Foundation Center for Digital Collections.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

 

FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries: 750 9th Street, NW (at H) | Suite 2200 | Washington, DC 20001

U.S. Postal deliveries:  PO Box 37012 | Victor Building, Suite 2200, MRC 937 | Washington, DC 20013-7012