CPA Newsletter #97, Mar 1997

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Commission on Preservation and Access

Newsletter

March 1997

Number 97

Preserving Access to Finding Aids:  Test of Encoded Archival Description Underway

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evelopers of the Encoded Archival Description Document Type Definition (EAD DTD) have announced a beta test version of this proposed standard for the encoding of archival finding aids.

In a letter accompanying a final report to the Council on Library Resources, Susan Fox, Executive Director of the Society of American Archivists, stated that the EAD DTD represents a significant advance in archival theory and practice, and positions the archival community to assume a role of leadership in the delivery of historical, cultural, and research information over the Internet. The beta test version is intended to be used for field testing and preliminary implementation by archivists and other interested parties.

Finding aids include inventories, registers, indexes, and other documents created by archives, libraries, museums, and manuscript repositories to support the use of their holdings. They provide access to and control of largely unpublished collections of primary-source materials, such as historical manuscripts, photographs, and correspondence.

According to the developers, Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), as applied in this suite of DTDs and related files, can provide a single standardized encoding through which archival descriptions can be exchanged and used. SGML is a set of rules for defining and expressing the logical structure of documents. The rules are to be applied in the form of codes that can be imbedded in an electronic document to identify relationships among component parts. Motivating forces for developing the EAD DTD were the growing role of networks in access to information about holdings and the desire to go beyond the information provided by traditional machine-readable cataloging (MARC) records. The EAD DTD also should simplify the process of creating machine-readable finding aids in the future, as the use of SGML tools becomes more widespread.

The development of the EAD DTD can be traced to a project initiated by the Library of the University of California, Berkeley, in 1993. The goal was to investigate the desirability and feasibility of developing a non-proprietary encoding standard for machine-readable finding aids. The project was the recipient of a U.S. Department of Education Title II-B Research and Demonstration Grant and was also supported by the Bentley Fellowship Program.

The project has been a collaborative one since its beginnings. In April 1995, the Commission funded a conference on the project at the University of California, Berkeley, attended by 50 representatives of special collections, archives, libraries, and museums. (See Newsletters of February and June 1995.)

In August 1995, the Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Archival Information Exchange (CAIE) agreed to assume responsibility for involving interested archivists. In December of that year, the Society of American Archivists received funding from the Council on Library Resources to create application guidelines for EAD.

During the current beta test stage, developers are relying on users to provide information about how workable the implementation of SGML is for finding aids. Work on the project is documented at the Library of Congress Web site on EAD at http://lcweb.loc.gov/loc/standards/ead/. Developers are encouraging experiments as soon as possible. The results will affect the first production release, expected this year. Those interested in the effort can subscribe to the EAD electronic forum by sending a subscription message to “listserv@loc.gov“.

IN THIS ISSUE
The Task Force on Hispanic Resources, headed by Nicolas Kanellos, director of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project at the University of Houston, has issued a report  that argues the need to identify, preserve, and create access to the rich store of Spanish-language materials relevant to the Hispanic heritage of the United States. The report calls for coordinated action by librarians, archivists, scholars, Hispanic community leaders, and funding sources to achieve these goals in a timely and comprehensive fashion.

Collaboration to Produce Electronic Archiving Pilot

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he Commission and Council are working with other institutions and OCLC in a pilot project to test electronic archiving technology. With two repository partners–the Museum of the Confederacy and Knox College–the Council assembled a selection of Civil War regimental histories and veteran memoirs to be made available online to segmented audiences in order to study and measure user response and needs. OCLC recently announced that the information in the pilot project also will include photographs from the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Robinson Collection of All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, 50,000 pages from New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and images from the Library of Congress’ Mathew B. Brady Collection of Civil War photographs, along with materials from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Photograph of Girls Baseball Team

One of the 1,000 photographs from the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Robinson Collection of All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Part of the Electronic Archiving Pilot Project. (Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Library)

For this project, the information is being digitized without harming or altering the original media, which will remain the property of the owners. Materials will be made accessible through the OCLC FirstSearch service. The pilot project provides a way to explore electronic archiving as a way to offer broad access to rare materials, preserving information in a way that supplements traditional formats. 

–Adapted from OCLC Press Release

Update on Conference on Collections Environments

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he format of an international conference on collections environments, to be held in September 1997, has changed. (See October 1996 newsletter.) The Conservation Analytical Laboratory (CAL) of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training will use a format similar to the Gordon Conferences, where a number of invited specialists freely present and discuss ongoing research issues in an informal setting. According to Chairman Frank D. Preusser, invited participants, including conservators, conservation scientists, and engineers, will discuss current issues in collections environments. Emphasis will be on a holistic approach, not looking at individual issues in isolation. The colloquium will take place from September 3 to September 5, 1997. A publication on the results of the meeting is planned. Suggestions for discussion topics or other contributions can be sent to Preusser at the e-mail address: fdp@earthlink.net

What's New on the Web
Listing of new Oberlin Sponsors of the Commission on Preservation and Access. See “What’s New” top of Commission home page.
The complete mid-year report from the Yale University pilot project to preserve digital information in the university’s Social Science Data Archives, conducted under contract to the Commission. See “What’s New” top of Commission home page. (For background, see February 1997 Newsletter, page 2.)
The National Task Force on Emergency Response announces that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has posted on its Web site a task force article on salvaging books. The article is in FEMA’s News Desk section at http://www.fema.gov/fema/Fldbks.html. The Commission is a member of the task force, which is an initiative of FEMA, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property.

NIC Surveys Find Americans Value Preservation

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mericans value collections preservation, but believe the nation’s cultural institutions lack the necessary resources to preserve their collections. So conclude two surveys of the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property (NIC), which were conducted independently of one another in 1995 and 1996.

Both the “NIC Awareness Study,” conducted by the Gallup Organization in 1996, and a visitor survey conducted at 12 NIC member institutions in 1995 interviewed more than 1,000 individuals about their attitudes toward, interest in and need for conservation and preservation within cultural institutions as well as outside the institutional realm. Because the Gallup poll was conducted by telephone, the results can be applied to the entire population.

In each study, 95% of the respondents agree that collections in our cultural institutions need to be preserved. However, far fewer respondents (53 percent in the Gallup study and 39 percent in the NIC visitor surveys) believe these institutions have the resources to preserve their collections. In addition, nearly half of the respondents in both studies would like to know more about preserving collections in museums and libraries.

Copies of the Gallup poll and NIC survey are available from NIC, 3299 K Street, NW, Suite 602, Washington, DC 20007-4415.

— Excerpted from the Fall 1996 Council Update, a Dispatch from the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property

Indiana University Joins Commission Sponsors
Indiana University Libraries has become a sponsor of theCommission on Preservation and Access. Sponsorship of colleges, universities, publishers, libraries, archives, and other allied organizations enables the Commission to engage in a variety of preservation activities to ensure long-term access to our cultural and scholarly heritage. Sponsors receive all Commission publications on a complimentary basis. 

IPI Provides Guidance on Digital Imaging of Historic Materials

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he quality of the first digitization of historical documents and photographs will affect all future copies and re-generations, say scientists of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences. Alongside its traditional film and microfilm preservation work, IPI is in the middle of a two-year investigation funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities into “technical issues and problems of digital imaging for use in library and archive photographic collections.” The findings will appear in a printed report.

This academic year, the Library of Congress called upon IPI to advise on standards for vendors who will perform electronic scanning of invaluable historical materials for the new National Digital Library Program (NDLP). The library intends to have 5 million digital images scanned by the year 2000. Archival items include handwritten letters, maps, documents, microfilm, and photographs.

The NDLP contracted IPI for technical guidance in areas such as “capture resolution and tonality after scanning,” says Franziska Frey, IPI research scientist. IPI recently presented its findings to the library, which will provide the written report on its Web site. “Our job was to advise on test targets and quality standards–for example, what’s on the market, what equipment others are using on digitized projects, and the quality of scanning required for various materials,” explains Frey. “We looked at the extreme range of materials to go into NDLP’s electronic library and then analyzed how to set quality controls for vendors.”

Setting global digital standards will take time, advises James Reilly, director of IPI. “It took more than 50 years for traditional photography to develop its current standards, and those are not always applicable to digital work. The technology is evolving so fast that the standards lag behind.” Reilly’s concerns on the fast jump to electronic storage include:

  • Little or no standardization of software and hardware; therefore, each new electronic imaging system reproduces the pictorial information slightly differently.
  • Risk of relying on electronic storage to the point of not saving originals, although he notes that, for now, some institutions, including Yale and Harvard, are building off-site storage facilities.
  • Lack of considering environmental decay factors–anything organic deteriorates–even electronic storage devices.

–Adapted from Rochester Institute of Technology Press Release

Quotation

The Commission distributes this newsletter to selected organizations and individuals around the world. Distribution is limited to sponsors and other key constituencies working to provide enduring and equitable access to our historical and cultural heritage.

 

Newsletter Insert

Task Force on Hispanic Resources Issues Recommendations

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panish, the language spoken by the majority of the inhabitants of the Western hemisphere, has an unbroken written tradition in North America older than that of English. Currently, the United States is the fourth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanic inhabitants will make up approximately one third of the U.S. population by the year 2050. Yet the vital contribution of Hispanic civilization to the development of the United States has too often gone unrecognized. A Task Force on Hispanic Resources, headed by Nicolas Kanellos, director of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project at the University of Houston, has issued a report that argues the need for identifying, preserving, and creating access to the rich store of Spanish-language materials relevant to the Hispanic heritage of the United States. The Task Force urges that documents tracing the history of Hispanics in North America and their role in the shaping of its culture be recovered and saved, that they receive adequate bibliographic attention, and that they be made available to scholars and the wider public. The report calls for coordinated action by librarians, archivists, scholars, Hispanic community leaders, and funding sources to achieve these goals in a timely and comprehensive fashion.

The Task Force notes that Hispanic culture in the United States has been perceived largely as “a working-class culture.” But working-class Hispanics produced “an important and vast body of written and published works, artifacts filled with knowledge worthy of preservation for generations to come.” Communities supported hundreds of Spanish-language newspapers, professional theaters (for which dramatic literature was created), publishing houses, and bookstores. From these communities there survive the records, newsletters, correspondence, and other documents of thousands of societies, unions, and local organizations founded and maintained by Hispanics. According to the Task Force, the nature of Hispanic cultural production and an anti-Hispanic prejudice in the larger society help explain why these materials have not been collected and cataloged on an appropriate scale by libraries and museums, or described adequately in indexes and finding aids.

The report cites other factors “that complicate the creation of strategies for searching, preserving, describing and making accessible this heritage.” The Hispanic legacy of the United States extends well beyond this country’s geographical boundaries: “It is international in scope precisely because of the expanding borders of the U.S. over time, as well as because of the nature of migration and immigration from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico and other Hispanic American countries.” Often it is difficult to identify the nationality or citizenship of authors: “The very bicultural and international experience of Hispanics creates a slew of searching, preserving, accessioning, indexing, and describing problems.” The only extant copies of many documents are held abroad, as part of the cultural patrimony of other countries, “when in fact the documents may have been generated here or may be relevant to the life of the author while he/she lived in the United States.” This geographical dispersion makes it unlikely that many of the materials will ever be recovered. Others are in private but unidentified collections, belonging to families, estates, and ethnic societies. The report notes, as an additional complicating factor, that “the gestation of Hispanic cultural identity, through writing, printing and publishing, actually took place in the United States during that very period when acid paper was used.” Hence, the materials carry an inherent risk of deterioration.

Members of the Task Force believe that the most critical problem in preserving and making accessible the Hispanic documentary legacy will be to convince foundations and agencies at every level of the society of the significance of what is at stake, and then to persuade them of the scale and urgency of the funding needs: “The loss of the Hispanic cultural heritage of this country has not been identified as a problem, and both private and public institutions have not created, and are hesitant to create, programs and funding categories that will specifically address this glaring need.”

The report concludes with seven recommendations:

  1. Regional, national, and international surveys of Hispanic materials should be undertaken as soon as possible to locate and register materials and assess their risk of loss.
  2. Agencies and foundations should create specific categories of funding to address these issues of preservation and access, and they should apportion an adequate level of resources to each category. The preservation of materials should have the highest priority, but projects should be encouraged that recognize as well the need to organize, describe, and disseminate materials.
  3. Community-based projects should be created to work with local institutions (in particular, with branch libraries), scholars, and families in Hispanic communities to further preservation and access efforts and to promote the use of Hispanic-heritage materials in education at the local level, through exhibits, conferences, workshops, and school-based projects.
  4. Regional and state governments should play an appropriate role in recovering the cultural legacy of their areas–for example, by funding regional and local archives and community organizations.
  5. More bilingual librarians and archivists should be trained. In the meantime, individuals creating bibliographic records for Hispanic materials should work with professionals who know Spanish.
  6. Professional associations, such as ALA, LASA, MLA, and the various Hispanic scholarly organizations, should become more conscious of the full range of issues involved in documenting the Hispanic heritage of the United States.
  7. A task force or working group, to include representatives from foreign institutions, should be established, maintained, and funded to address these issues on a national and international basis.
For more information, contact Nicolas Kanellos, director of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, University of Houston, (713)743-3129, e-mail artrec@jetson.uh.edu.

Commission on Preservation and Access
1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740
Washington, DC 20036-2217
(202) 939-3400 Fax: (202) 939-3407

The Commission on Preservation and Access was established in 1986 to foster and support collaboration among libraries and allied organizations in order to ensure the preservation of the published and documentary record in all formats and to provide enhanced access to scholarly information.

The Newsletter reports on cooperative national and international preservation activities and is written primarily for university administrators and faculty, library and archives administrators, preservation specialists and administrators, and representatives of consortia, governmental bodies, and other groups sharing in the Commission’s goals. The Newsletter is not copyrighted; its duplication and distribution are encouraged.

Deanna B. Marcum–President
James M. Morris–Vice President
Maxine K. Sitts–Program Officer, Editor