DRT Library Now Participating in Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO)
Last year, the DRT Library joined Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), a website that publishes finding aids for archival collections held in archives and libraries across the state. Archival materials about a particular person, family, organization, event, or topic are often located in multiple collections in multiple repositories. The benefit of TARO is that it allows researchers to search descriptions of archival collections held by more than thirty institutions across Texas at one time. Moreover, researchers using Google or other general search engines can also find TARO finding aids, often near the top of results lists.
In order to publish its finding aids to TARO, staff members at the DRT Library will be converting legacy finding aids created using Microsoft Word or Access into encoded archival description (EAD). According to a report recently published earlier this year by OCLC,
EAD is an international standard for encoding finding aids established to meet the needs of both end-users and archivists. EAD is represented in XML (Extensible Markup Language), a platform-neutral data format that ensures data longevity when migrated from one software environment to another. EAD ensures the long-term viability of your data by encoding intellectual rather than only presentational data (HTML, for example, only accomplishes the latter). EAD can be produced from (or mapped to) a variety of formats, including relational databases, MARC, Dublin Core, HTML and others, which makes it an excellent format for porting data. In addition researchers can have a more robust interaction with EAD finding aids because EAD enables better searching and subsequent delivery from a single source document.
Archivist Caitlin Donnelly is spearheading the DRT Library’s conversion process. After revising the library’s processing manual and developing new cataloging and encoding procedures and standards, she has started encoding legacy finding aids and submitting them to TARO for publication. As part of this process, she is also updating catalog records for all archival collections to ensure consistency and more fully implementing another current descriptive standard, Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS).
The result of this multi-year project will be that all of the DRT Library’s archival collections (approximately 450 in all) will have encoded finding aids that are published online through the TARO website and the DRT Library’s online catalog. Therefore, all finding aids will be full-text searchable in the library’s catalog (currently only some are) and through search engines such as Google (currently only others are). Moreover, given that the TARO website had more than 1.5 million hits between July 2008 and October 2008, joining TARO has the potential to dramatically increase the number of researchers who know about and use the wonderful archival materials at the DRT Library.
While increasing numbers of archival repositories are developing encoded finding aids, many substantial implementation barriers remain, particularly for small institutions with small staffs and limited technological infrastructure. Fortunately, the DRT Library has been able to overcome many of these obstacles.
- The encoding initiative builds upon and advances the important, requisite work already accomplished by Warren Stricker, DRT Library archivist between 1991 and 2008. Due to his efforts, the library has a minimal backlog of unprocessed collections, an impressive accomplishment in an era when many archival repositories face massive backlogs. In processing collections, Warren also conducted extensive research about the donors and provenance of materials. Additionally, he created a catalog record for all processed archival collections; these records provide a basic level of access to materials. Warren also developed finding aids or container lists for many of the library’s archival collections. These documents need only minimal revision, reflecting the quality of the work completed previously. In contrast, many other institutions encounter a barrier to EAD implementation upon discovering that they must redo poorly-done finding aids before encoding them.
- Encoding archival finding aids that meet current descriptive standards and publishing them online are processes that necessitate sophisticated technological tools, which require significant time and technical expertise to develop. While large archives (i.e. government repositories and those at leading colleges and universities) have the needed technological infrastructure and personnel, many small institutions like the DRT Library do not. TARO removes this substantial implementation barrier by providing the necessary technological tools, including supporting files, style sheets, and, most significantly, a production server that publishes encoded finding aids on the Internet. TARO staff members and colleagues at repositories participating in TARO also provide an important network of support and assistance.
- Finally, special thanks go to Nikki Lynn Thomas, Manuscripts Curator, and Sean Heyliger, University Archivist, at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Special Collections department. These colleagues provided copies of UTSA’s encoding template and guidelines, which formed the basis of corresponding documents developed for the DRT Library. Sean also spent a morning at the library helping install necessary software.
Thus far, approximately twenty DRT Library finding aids have been encoded and published through TARO; a list of these collections can be found at our main TARO page. Every couple of weeks or so, we will post lists of newly-published TARO finding aids here at “Inside the Gates.” Check back for updates on our progress!