“Building a National Finding Aid Network” addresses a fundamental challenge faced by researchers of all types: the significant barriers to locating relevant archival materials across the vast, distributed, and unevenly supported field of cultural heritage institutions. Digital aggregations of finding aids (descriptions of archival collections) are often siloed and at-risk as their infrastructure ages and budgets dwindle, and many institutions’ finding aids are not available or easily discoverable online. As a result, much of the stewarded archival content in the United States is essentially invisible, and the voices documented therein are poorly represented in the historical record.
This 2.5-year research and demonstration project (September 2020 to February 2023) is rooted in the goal of providing inclusive, comprehensive, and persistent access to finding aids by laying the foundation for a national finding aid network available to all contributors and researchers.
The California Digital Library (CDL) is coordinating the project, in collaboration with Chain Bridge Group, OCLC, Shift Collective, and the University of Virginia Library (UVA), and in close partnership with statewide/regional finding aid aggregators and LYRASIS (ArchivesSpace).
The vision for this network comprises a suite of shared infrastructure and services supporting:
Meaningful, inclusive, and low-barrier pathways to participation by any cultural heritage institution in the US, accepting formats beyond Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and MARC21 and providing tools and support to easily create and publish finding aids.
An extensive and continually updated registry of institutions, regardless of whether or not they have finding aids, to increase the awareness among researchers of organizational profiles and holdings.
A primary or supplemental publication platform (as needed by the holding institution) with comprehensive aggregation of and persistent access to finding aids, as well as integration with related context and content (e.g., SNAC, DPLA).
For an expanded summary of envisioned functions, see pp. 10-13 in the action plan that guides our project activities
This project includes four concurrent activity streams:
Research on end-user and contributor needs in relation to finding aid aggregations and evaluation of the quality of existing finding aid data.
Technical assessments of potential systems to support network functions, including a registry of institutions and the integration of finding aid data with related content and context (e.g.SNAC), and the formulation of system requirements for a minimum viable product instantiation of the network.
Community building and broad engagement with aggregators, individual cultural heritage institutions, and other stakeholders to support the development and implementation of the network.
Market research and business modeling to identify viable sustainability and governance strategies for the network in subsequent phases.
Findings summarizing the needs of both researchers and cultural heritage institutions.
Findings summarizing finding aid data quality, represented within current aggregations.
A report comprising a "blueprint" for building and launching the network in subsequent phases, including the following topics:
Prototype systems and demonstrations of potential functional aspects of the network.
Summaries of assessments of existing finding aid indexing/display systems and repository registry systems.
Requirements, timeline, and plan to establish a minimum viable instantiation of the network, to implement beyond the 2020-2022 research and demonstration phase.
Proposed initial business, governance, and organizational models, to implement beyond the 2020-2023 research and demonstration phase.
Identifying a network convener/organizational home (or homes), to coordinate activities beyond the 2020-2023 research and demonstration phase.
Formal agreements/commitments from aggregators to support activities beyond the 2020-2023 research and demonstration phase.