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Naturalist John Burroughs and Industrialist, Henry Ford in first Ford Car, 1913

Naturalist John Burroughs and industrialist, Henry Ford in first Ford Car, 1913

 The AMNH Library has been very, very…very! busy lately. This year started with the web migration in January that resulted in our magnificent new web site (kudos to Mai Reitmeyer, Gregory Raml, Jen Cwiok and Susan Lynch and Tom Baione, our fearless Library Director). http://library.amnh.org

Some web links were lost in transition but have been repaired and the new site is a welcome improvement. Look for our new image database to be launched in the fall!

The new CLIR grant began in February and Iris Lee and Becca Morgan and I spent the spring planning and developing the project. Our summer interns are here and working away as you can see from Cara and Alison’s insightful postings below. We will be interviewing interns for the fall term at the end of next week. Nick Krabbenhoeft joined our team on July 15th for a six month practicum for his degree at the University of Michigan and has been consulting with Tom Trombone from AMNH Ornithology, Lawrence Gall from Yale’s Peabody Museum and Brian Wilson from The Henry Ford about the intricacies and vagaries of KE EMu software used by many of the AMNH science departments for their collections. We are investigating how the program might be used for AMNH archival records and whether it can be used to keep the EAC-CPF records that we’ve begun to produce. EMu does accommodate archival collection records in EAD in its cataloging module. Next on the list to investigate is ArchiveSpace. Iris has begun drafting the functional requirements for a system that can be used for our project to develop a cyberinfrastructure to hold our growing stores of data and based on that document, we will begin to make structured comparisons based on need, functionality and costs.

Creating and harnessing the data (sometimes this does feel like the Manhattan project!) has begun and we are struggling with issues like documenting workflows and managing permissions for the data sets in the spread sheets. Right now, Iris is the data master. This is one of the main reasons we need a content management system for the collection records (in EAD) that we created during the last CLIR project along with the creator records for names of persons and of expeditions (in EAC-CPF), and finally, for the biographical and historical notes that will relate and link many of the records, whether for collections or their creators. It’s a very interesting technological puzzle and we’re also in contact with a group working on a NYC Linked Open Data initiative.
Meanwhile, Becca, with her interns, is grappling with the conceptual issues regarding the creation of the narrative contextual notes that will be shared, in time, not only within the Museum but with other institutions. We’re closely following the development of a National Archival Authorities Infrastructure and the NAAC project. Our work shows the need for a redefinition of the contextual notes that were traditionally associated with collection descriptions but are now also associated with entity descriptions and that will be shared among institutions. For example, how long should these notes be? The answer will depend upon a number of factors, including available time, of course, and the relevance of the entity to the institution. Expect more to come on this. It gets surprisingly complex. This is not your mother’s finding aid.

Finally, anticipating our next major project to digitize some 10,000 photographs in the AMNH collection depicting North American Anthropology, we’ve been identifying images directly associated with specific expeditions and developing the biographical and historical notes to associate with those archival collections. We want to get copies of these images back to their source communities working with library school students in programs that emphasize Native American and First Nation curricula. It all comes around and we will implement a collection level approach in our image database where we can use the contextual notes generated for this project for finding aids for the photographs, many of which were taken on Museum expeditions.

Yup, a little busy. I’ll be at the Society of American Archivists meeting on a panel chaired by Sarah Demb from the Museum of London, on Thursday August 15th, called “Pushing the Envelope: Using Object Collections Management Systems to Catalog Archives” along with Carol O. Bartels from the Historic New Orleans Collection, the aforementioned Brian Wilson from The Henry Ford, and Mary E. Hope from the U.S. Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage. Hope to see you in New Orleans!

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”.

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Over the past year, we have been gathering descriptive data in spreadsheets for archival collections in the Library and Science Departments. Collection records are then converted into MARC and batchloaded into the catalog. EAD-encoded collection-level finding aids will also be generated using Archivists’ Toolkit. The ultimate goal is to publish catalog records and finding aids on the web for resource discovery. (You may be asking yourself) what in the world does all this mean? Here, let me illustrate the journey of data in this colorful, and hopefully more intelligible flowchart. Click here for a PDF. And look for links to handy guidelines!

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