EAD 101: An Introduction to Encoded Archival Description


EAD 101: An Introduction to

Encoded Archival Description

XML and the Encoded Archival Description:

Providing Access to Collections

Oregon Library Association

Eugene, Oregon

April 16, 2004

Elizabeth Nielsen, Senior Staff Archivist

Oregon State University Libraries http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu


• Background on the description of archival materials.

• The nuts and bolts of EAD including examples of elements and attributes.

• Why is EAD (in addition to MARC) important to archivists?

• Demonstrate the NWDA finding aids database.


• Inform potential users/patrons about collections -- especially important for archival collections which are not

“browsable” and with which most patrons are not familiar.

• Enhance access/use of collections by providing more detailed information.

• Improve reference assistance.

Principles for Description of

Archival Materials

• Different materials best served by different types/levels of description.

• Collection-level.

• Hierarchical.

• Item-level description only for certain materials (e.g. photographs).

What’s a Finding Aid?

• Document that describes an archives collection.

• Two parts:

– Collection-level information.

– Inventory or container list at folder- (or item-) level.

What Form Now?

• Usually created initially as word processing files.

• Posted on the web as HTML files.

• MARC records created and posted to local OPAC (OASIS), Summit (Orbis

Cascades Alliance), and OCLC.

Alice Edwards Papers

• HTML finding aid (OSU Archives website)

• MARC record

Limitations to HTML and MARC

• Only “full text” searching of HTML finding aids.

• MARC records have to be created “by hand” from finding aid.

• Lack of consistency in format and content.

What is EAD?




EAD is …

A set of rules for designating the intellectual and physical parts of archival finding aids so that the information can be searched, retrieved, displayed and exchanged in a predictable, platform-independent manner.

EAD Rules

• Written in the form of an SGML (or XML) Document

Type Definition (DTD).

• The DTD mandates which elements are mandatory for a “valid” EAD document; which attributes are mandatory; and the order for elements and attributes.

• DTD is NOT a content standard.

• DTDs are read by computers … humans prefer the

Tag Library

EAD development

• Development began in early 1990s.

• Version 1 of the DTD released in 1998.

• Version 2002 released in late


Tag Library and

Application Guidelines

• Computers read DTDs …

• Humans prefer Tag Library and additional guidance.

• Standard maintained by the Library of

Congress Network Development and MARC

Standards Office.

• Tag Library and Application Guidelines published by Society of American Archivists


Best Practice Guidelines

• Online Archive of California

• Research Libraries Group

• Northwest Digital Archives

Role of BPG

• Ensure uniformity in structure and encoding of finding aids.

• Promote interoperability within the

NWDA database among finding aids from diverse repositories.

3 high-level elements

• <eadheader> -- provides information about the creation, revision, publication of a finding aid

• <archdesc> -- information about a body of archival materials at collection level

• <dsc> -- description of subordinate components; hierarchical

Sample <archdesc> elements

• <unittitle>

• <unitdate>

• <origination>

• <abstract>

• <physdesc><extent>

• <scopecontent>

• <bioghist>

• <controlaccess><persname>

Attributes for <unitdate> type= era= calendar= normal= certainty= encodinganalog=


<unitdate type="inclusive" encodinganalog="245$f“ era="ce" calendar="gregorian" normal="1895/1962">



Sample <dsc> elements

<c01> -- [subgroup]

– <unitid>

– <origination>

– <unittitle>

– <unitdate>

<c02> -- [series]




<c03> --[item or folder]

Back to Alice Edwards …

• Look at various pieces of encoded finding aid.

Primary Reasons

• Search

• Retrieve

• Display

• Exchange

• Retain hierarchy of folder- or item-level description.

Northwest Digital Archives


Database of EAD finding aids from 13 institutions in Oregon, Washington,

Montana, and Idaho being developed with grant from National Endowment for the Humanities.


• NWDA database under development.

• Being moved to new server at this time.

• Stylesheet being enhanced and customized.

• Search engine not customized yet.

• Database only includes ~300 XML files at this time.


Browse by Repository

Browse List of OSU Finding Aids

Edwards EAD Finding Aid


Keyword Search

One Hit!

Hits in Context

Advanced Search

Hits for “Oregon State University”

Application to Other


• Vertical Files

• Pamphlet Files

• Poster Collections

• Any integrated group of materials with common features that benefits from collection-level as well as more detailed description (especially if that is hierarchical).

Thank You.

Elizabeth Nielsen [email protected]