Deutsch-Amerikanische Arbeitsgruppe Online-Findmittel

Report on the first meeting in Washington

On June the 23rd and 24th the German American task group on further development of the use of the internet for the presentation of access information to archives met in Washington for the first of two scheduled meetings. The meeting was organized by the Archive School Marburg and was sponsored by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) the German National Science Foundation. Prior to the meeting the German participants had placed their papers and slide shows on the school's own BSCW server, thus providing the grounds for a lively debate. The German side focused on eight major questions concerning the navigation between the archival finding aids and repository guides, navigation within the individual finding aid, presentation of the results of search engines, capacity of the encoding systems in regard to voluminous fonds, methods of tagging, language and translation problems, influence of the systems on the archival descriptive methods, and finally the handling of the processing records as well as the presentation of additional information.

In the beginning the discussion centred on:

  • A comparison of traditional American and German filing methods. Starting point is not the description of an individual record or file but the fonds as a whole by way of an 'authority record'. These link the often changing and developing agencies to the lasting filing structures they developed. The authority records provide information about the agency history and the condition of access and use of the individual group of records. They also serve as a narrative information about the context. Originally they were developed by librarians to maintain internal consistency in regard to personal and place names. They were slightly modified for archival use.

  • A similar purpose serve the 'collection records', which are compiled using the American library exchange format MARC and the categories as defined by the MARC-AMC standard. 'Collection records' provide the user with extensive information about fonds and other archival material. The records are added for instance to the national bibliographic database RLIN (sponsored by RLG) and replaced the earlier printed repository guides. However the use of the categories defined by MARC obliterated the structural connection between individual record groups, a fact that is now considered a drawback. Therefore the possibility of MIDOSA to present a structural overview of the whole body of records with a repository guide was well received.

  • The arrangement of any repository guide or finding aid tends to reflect the structure of the organisation, where the records originate from. For a more flexible approach new possibilities of structuring were discussed, for example according to specific tasks and competences.

  • The role of ISAD(G) in regard to the international standardization of archival description was mentioned. Back feed from several countries show, that although the professionals judge the standard very favourably they did not implement them in their daily work. The use in international co-operation is negligible.

  • Another topic of discussion was EAD, specifically its relevance and function regarding the practical filing done at the archives. For illustration EAD was integrated into a system of standards, which were defined as:

    • structural standards: EAD, ISAD(G) with a list of the necessary or suggested tools

    • Contents standards: guidelines for encoding the data

    • Value standards: the 'authority records' with their rules for the construction of personal and place names.

    • Communication standards: the different mark-up languages XML, SGML, HTML

  • This would mean EAD aims to be a structural standard, that needs to be supplemented by the other three aspects. At present there are several different tools to create an EAD-database and various forms to display them onscreen. A move to standardization in these areas was not yet discussed.

  • Finally the MIDOSA system was introduced. Several problems were solved, that had occurred during the presentation on the RLG-server of a EAD-finding aid, which had been converted from the MIDOSA system. A debate about the function of the database during data input started. It was discussed, whether the use of mark-ups as in EAD and style sheets wouldn't lead to the same end. That way set template would ensure the consistency of the data. The sorting function which produces a structured list of titles could be incorporated into the style sheets. These could control the printout, which in turn would make a report generator unnecessary.

The general discussion led to some fundamental questions about the aim of EAD. Is it to provide a universal encoding system or should it facilitate the access to archives. Should the latter be the case, does the experience up to date meet the expectation of the Americans? Do the users understand the information provided by the online finding aids? By which criteria is the success of EAD evaluated? What is the overall purpose of archival description? Should the fonds just be inventoried and documented? What additional information on the records should be provided to facilitate the access?

The SAA , who developed EAD as an encoding standard, had considered to present EAD as a standard by ISO or ICA but abstained from it for several reasons. Therefore the work of the bilateral working group now will take on the character of a pilot-project for internationalisation of archival methods. It could serve as a model for similar undertakings and will thus be documented.

The result of the first meeting is a work schedule for smaller bilateral task groups, which will concentrate on specific aspects till the second meeting in spring 2001 in Marburg. The main items are:

  1. International experience with the use of EAD. Among other things the EAD working group of the SAA will review the MIDOSA system. A terminology, which hopefully will facilitate the reception of English literature on the subject in Germany will be prepared.

  2. Development of criteria and standards for the evaluation of the successful implementation of online presentation.

  3. Development of recommendations for and agreements on the online presentation of finding aids and search results.

  4. Criteria for tools to facilitate the retrieval and use of information.

  5. Systematic documentation of all ongoing actions of this project to serve as a pilot for international standardization.

  6. Compilation of future tasks and research agendas.

The members of the German task group were pleasantly surprised by the candour of their American counterparts at this first meeting, who were quite prepared to discuss the implication of their work on international cooperation and to swap information about encoding and accessing. All participants viewed the discussion as very informative and as a good starting point for further cooperation.

The American group was represented by:

Jackie Dooley, Head of Special Collections and University Archives, University of California, Irvine
Michael Fox, Acting Assistant Director for Library and Archives, Minnesota Historical Society
Steven Hensen, Director, Planning and Project Development, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University
Kris Kiesling, Head, Department of Manuscripts and Archives, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin
Kathleen Roe, Coordinator, Documentary Heritage Services, New York State Archives and Records Administration
Richard Szary, Head, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University

The German group was represented by:

Dr. Nicole Bickhoff, Landesarchivdirektion Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart,
Dr. Mechthild Black-Veldtrup, Nordrheinwestfälisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Düsseldorf,
Dr. Edgar Büttner, Bundesarchiv, Koblenz,
Beate Friedrich, Bundesarchiv, Stiftung Parteien und Massenorganisationen der DDR, Berlin,
Bernhard Grau,Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv München,
Dr. Angelika Menne-Haritz, Archivschule Marburg,
Klaus Tempel, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin,
Katharina Tiemann, Westfälisches Archivamt, Münster.

© Angelika Menne-Haritz, 11. Juli 2000

© 2000, Stand: 21.07.2009