The American Heritage Virtual Archive Project a collaboration
between the University of
California, Berkeley, Stanford
University, Duke University,
and the University of
is funded in part by the National
Endowment for the Humanities. The Project is creating a shared
database of EAD-encoded finding aids describing and providing access to
collections documenting American history and culture.
goal of this project will be the development of a demonstration system,
which will also provide a test bed to evaluate both the effectiveness of
the prototype's "virtual archive" in providing access to distributed
digital library resources, and the feasibility of the decentralized
production methods of the project. To achieve its goal, the project will
explore intellectual, political, technical, and economic concerns.
Project participants will look at
potential finding aid content standards necessary for finding aids from
diverse institutions to coexist harmoniously in the same database. They
will also develop mechanisms to link and integrate related collections
contributed by different institutions so that they can be navigated as
part of a single virtual collection. For example, the University of
Virginia and Berkeley will explore ways to integrate their separate
collections of Mark Twain letters. The project will investigate hypertext
mechanisms for linking and navigating both within individual collections
and across intellectually-related collections.
Participants will develop policies and procedures for local creation and
maintenance of collection-level catalog records and finding aids that
will ensure consistent metadata that can be successfully integrated into the
virtual archive. Authority over and management of the virtual archive
will be systematically reviewed. Potential problems associated with data
ownership and responsibility will be explored. Training, user support,
and documentation needs will be studied.
Participants will explore technical issues of access,
description, and control that arise when finding aids for collections
with related subject material from different institutions are combined
and used in the same database. Participants will also study
various methods for creation and maintenance of finding aids to be made
available in a remote central database. Collaborating institutions
will also experiment with different software than that used at Berkeley,
in order to help separate, by comparison and contrast,
application-related issues from encoding and intellectual-content issues.
Participants will continue the study of finding aid conversion costs
begun in the Berkeley Finding Aid Project. They will also investigate
costs of data input and database maintenance, staff training and
documentation, and system maintenance, including equipment renewal,
database refreshing and migration, and telecommunications. The economic
aspects of this demonstration project will be as important as the
intellectual, political, and technical questions; the cost-effectiveness
of the finding aid model will be a key factor in its long-term
acceptability as a strategy for creating large-scale digital libraries of
During the week of November 11, 1996, representatives from
Stanford, Virginia, Duke, and Berkeley met in Berkeley to plan the
project. The central objective of this meeting was to arrive at an
"acceptable range of uniform practice" in the application of EAD to the
conversion of existing finding aids from each of the participating
institutions. This effort used local policy and procedure developed at
Berkeley as a starting point, and with a minimum of controversy arrived
at preliminary agreement on uniform practice for the project.
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