Reengineering archival access through the OAI protocols

Publication Date01 Jun 2003
AuthorChristopher J. Prom
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
Reengineering archival
access through the OAI
Christopher J. Prom
In 1997, Dennis Meissner argued that as
painful as the process might be, archivists need
actively to engage in a process of rethinking the
way in which they undertake archival
description so that information might be
presented to users in a more understandable
way (Meissner, 1997). Examining the plethora
of Web sites now available to those interested in
cultural heritage materials, it is clear that
archival access itself, not just the process of
creating finding aids, is being reengineered.
This reengineering presents the digital library
and archival community with some specific
challenges. To take but one example, it
demands that we find a way to make systems
more interoperable.
The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) protocols
present one opportunity to reengineer access to
archival materials in order to provide for greater
interoperability. With funding from the Andrew
W. Mellon Foundation, the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been testing
the feasibility of using OAI for exchanging,
aggregating, and searching descriptions of
archival materials, regardless of the electronic
formats in which the metadata was originally
created (Shreeves et al., 2003). Complete
information, a search portal, and open source
tools are available through the project Web
site[1]. As one of its goals, the project seeks to
determine how archival metadata, particularly
metadata from encoded archival description
(EAD) files, might be exchanged, retrieved, and
searched alongside other metadata describing
other cultural heritage resources. Based on the
project results, this paper provides some
conclusions regarding the potential suitability of
the OAI protocols for indexing, searching, and
retrieving archival metadata from EAD files. An
understanding of these issues emerges against a
background provided by an understanding of
archival theory and practice.
Attempting to use OAI with archival metadata
presents some not insignificant technical
challenges, but also holds forth several potential
benefits to the archival/digital library
The author
Christopher J. Prom is Assistant University Archivist and
Assistant Professor of Library Administration at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois,
Data collection, Data administration, Archiving
The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) Protocol for Metadata
Harvesting presents one promising method by which
metadata regarding archives and manuscripts can be shared
and made more interoperable with metadata from other
sources. Against the background of archival descriptive
theory and practice, this article outlines a method for
exposing deep, hierarchical metadata from encoded archival
description (EAD) files and assesses some theoretical and
practical issues that will need to be confronted by
institutions choosing to provide or harvest OAI records
generated from EAD files. Using OAI on top of existing EAD
implementations would allow institutions to repurpose their
data and potentially reach more users but would also
accelerate the process of reengineering archival access
mechanisms. Archivists and technologists using OAI with
EAD must pay careful attention to the necessity of
preserving archival context and provenance.
Electronic access
The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is
available at
Library Hi Tech
Volume 21 .Number 2 .2003 .pp. 199-209
#MCB UP Limited .ISSN 0737-8831
DOI 10.1108/07378830310479839

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