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Encoded Archival Description (EAD) at UW Libraries

EAD Links

Finding Aids: Archival finding aids are tools that describe unpublished collections of personal papers and organizational records. Although finding aids take many forms, a more standardized structure has emerged over the past decade or so. The typical finding aid contains basic identifying elements such as name of creator, title, and date range. It also provides background information about the organization or person who created the records, a note on the content and formats included in the collection, statements concerning copyright and other possible restrictions, and sometimes access points like name and subject headings. Next comes an inventory that describes the components of the collection in more detail.

As useful as archival finding aids are, their availability has been limited: Some finding aids have been published or presented on the Web as HTML documents, but most are available only in the repositories that generated them.

EAD: In 2001-2002, members of MIG and the Monographic Services Division assisted the Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives Division in preparing the Libraries' first EAD-encoded finding aids. Encoded Archival Description is a non-proprietary standard for delineating the structural parts of a finding aid with defined SGML or XML markup tags that are embedded throughout the document. What those tags are and how they may be used in a finding aid is outlined in the EAD DTD (Document Type Definition), a set of rules and definitions against which an encoded finding aid is checked.

The resulting electronic finding aid is both human- and machine-readable, can be displayed on the Web or formatted for printing, and may be saved as a plain text file. Because they share a standard structure, EAD-encoded finding aids from one or from many different repositories may be cross-searched in a database (see for example, ArchiveGrid, an online union catalog of EAD-encoded finding aids).

Multi-level Description: EAD was designed to accommodate the hierarchical structure that archivists impose on large collections of unpublished material. The inventory section of a finding aid begins by describing the major groups into which a collection has been organized. For example, a collection might be organized at the broadest level into series such as "Correspondence," "Financial Records," "Writings," and "Clippings." Each of these broad categories might be broken into smaller subseries such as "Incoming Letters" and "Outgoing Letters." Subseries may then be divided into files ("Outgoing Letters A-M"). Here's how a broad Correspondence series, along with its narrower subseries level and still narrower file level, would be displayed as part of an EAD-encoded finding aid at UW:


    Incoming Letters
    Outgoing Letters

EAD-encoded finding aids prepared at the UW Libraries are XML files, but because most Web browsers (with the exception of Internet Explorer 6.0) are unable to display XML files as of 2002, we also create an HTML version of each finding aid for presentation on the Web. To create the HTML file from the encoded XML file, we use a customized version of XSLT stylesheet #2 in the EAD Cookbook 1.0.