Archival Description Working Group Releases Whitepaper

By DPLA, November 3, 2016.
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The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs), and makes them freely available to the world. LAMs share much in common, but can differ widely in description practices. Archives, in particular, differ from the other two in the use of hierarchical description that situates materials within the context of other records or documents that share the same provenance.

To accomplish DPLA’s initial goal of creating an aggregation of metadata for cultural heritage materials, the technological infrastructure developed centered on the item-centric library model for description: one descriptive metadata record for each individual digital “object.” While this method works very well for items catalogued singly, like books, it doesn’t reflect the diversity of descriptive practice. Archives and special collections have increasingly focused on aggregate-level description in digital objects, which more closely mirrors their traditional descriptive practices. This kind of description typically creates a single descriptive record for a grouping of related or similar objects.

In 2015, DPLA announced the formation of the Archival Description Working Group to find ways to accommodate this diversity in descriptive practice within our data. Today that group is releasing its whitepaper Aggregating and Representing Collections in the Digital Public Library of America. The working group’s goal was to make two types of recommendations:

  1. Recommendations for aggregate-level archival objects
  2. Recommendation for providing context through collection-level metadata for digital objects, whether they originate from archives or not.

The working group met virtually over the last year to do a significant degree of research in the professional literature, review of exemplary and peer projects, and development of recommendations and requirements. The report recommends the incorporation of aggregate level records into DPLA and recommendations about how such metadata could be created, gathered, and displayed.

The working group further recommends that collection information be made more accessible in DPLA records by adding it to the DPLA’s portal. The amount of collection metadata recommended for display remains relatively minimal– just title, description and a URL to a longer description, like a home page or a finding aid on the web – in order to be widely applicable.

DPLA would like to thank the working group members for their dedication and hard work:

  • Gretchen Gueguen, DPLA (chair)
  • Jodi Allison-Bunnel, OrbisCascade Alliance
  • Mark Custer, Yale University
  • Bradley Daigle, University of Virginia
  • Jackie Dean, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Max Eckard, University of Michigan
  • Ben Goldman, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Kris Keisling, University of Minnesota
  • Leigh Grinstead, LYRASIS
  • Adrian Turner, California Digital Library

In addition, the working group had an Advisory Board that helped the workgroup by reviewing drafts before public release and providing feedback. Advisory Board members include:

  • Shawn Averkamp, New York Public Library
  • Erin Hawkins, World Digital Library, Library of Congress
  • Sheila McAlister, Digital Library of Georgia
  • Sandra McIntyre, HathiTrust
  • Anne Van Camp, Smithsonian Institution

The recommendations found in Aggregating and Representing Collections in the Digital Public Library of America need to be tested and revised before implementation. They were not intended to be put in place overnight, or even in fact to be implemented as is. They are recommendations on the general direction to take in regards to collection description in aggregated records. DPLA is looking forward to the future collaboration with our partners as we take on these important challenges.

The paper can be found at: