Allow me to be blunt – there is no efficient way to import finding aids created and saved as Microsoft Word documents into Archivists’ Toolkit without the painstaking exercise of copying and pasting lines of data into individual database cells.  For the past eighteen months, we have been writing finding aids for the archival collections in the Library thanks to the CLIR grant.  Twenty one finding aids have been completed and reviewed.  The final Word documents, once approved, are entered into the Toolkit, as mentioned, by copying and pasting data.  It can be a slow and tedious process, especially when dealing with numerous subject headings and name entities.  Entering lengthy container lists is even more dreary – dates must be input into multiple cells, a simple box and folder enumeration containing only two numbers is seven clicks from completion.  Not the best use of anyone’s time.  Not to mention the probability for error!  When your eyes are glazed over from transferring data piece-meal for hours, a “7” could easily look like a “1”.

It was time to look to other resources to aid in this process.  Luckily a quick search resulted in us finding a blog post on the PACSCL site (many thanks to Barbara Mathé for passing this on to me!).  Our fellow CLIR-recipient team in Philadelphia came up with a brilliant solution for importing container lists into Archivists’ Toolkit.  In a nutshell, they describe taking a container list from Word, converting it to EAD code in Excel and saving that into an xml file from Notepad++, an open-source code editor, for import into the Toolkit.

I am so grateful to PACSCL and Matt Herbison who created the Excel file and made it available for the rest of us.  Using his file as a starting point, I was able to modify a version for in-house use.  This new spreadsheet is much simpler and exposes the EAD code very deliberately.  Full disclosure: though I have experience and understanding of coding and standard schema tags, a programmer I am not.  Which is why we had initially hoped that Archivists’ Toolkit would simply create the EAD code for us.  But time is of the essence as we enter our last three or so months on this grant project, and we need solutions!  The color-coded spreadsheet visually breaks up the EAD elements that wrap around the descriptive data, alleviating the need to even pay attention to those necessary tags, but also allows for a modification of them if needed.

And …it worked!  253 series and folder titles imported seamlessly into the Jesup Wood Hall papers.  The task I completed in a few hours (consider a learning curve here!  Hoping with practice and repeated use this can be reduced to an hour or so), may have taken someone much longer with little reward in return.  I admit, there was dancing in my office when I saw those ‘children’ load.

Aside from the immediate benefits of getting the full finding aids created for CLIR into AT, the real long-term payback of this methodology is that we can now easily add container lists to our catalog records that will be in AT as collection-level resources.  One of the goals of this effort has been to create the data infrastructure from which to build.  1400+ minimal-level catalog records for the Library will be added to Archivists’ Toolkit by the end of the project (more on that forthcoming).  Contextual notes and container lists can be added to them over time.  The tools we create as a result of this grant will allow the Library to continue to flesh out its resources in an efficient way after the funding period, saving everyone’s valuable time and energy for more important tasks, like creating more finding aids!

Below are the spreadsheet and some guidelines for anyone who is interested.  I will be posting them as resources to the Process page soon, along with our finding template put together by an AMNH intern, Jordan Grooms, several years ago.  Jordan had the foresight to customize our Word document using the EAD Cookbook, so that the information entered into the template would not carry extraneous invisible characters, such as tabs.  That may sound like a small detail, but it made a huge difference when copying and pasting those container lists from Word to Excel.  Thanks Jordan!

Spreadsheet: AT-EAD_containerList
Guidelines: ContainerLists_ATimport

One Response to Working around Archivists’ Toolkit to work in Archivists’ Toolkit

  1. […] AT has at times seemed like what Iris called “a slow and tedious process” in one of her latest blog posts. Thankfully, though, no problem was ever too large to overcome and help was always available when I […]

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