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Digitizing Entire Collections: Chapter 1, Background

AAA’s large scale collection-level digitization initiative is a system and infrastructure that fully integrates the descriptive metadata found in EAD (Encoded Archival Description) finding aids with corresponding digital content at the collection level. The structured data inherent to EAD finding aids provides the only descriptive metadata for the digitized collection, and also serves as the contextual format for online navigation and access. The resulting online public view is a presentation that provides crucial context to the users and mimics the collection’s archival organization and arrangement as found in a finding aid - providing researchers with a virtual reading room experience.

The underlying database incorporates powerful programming and web interfaces that support and integrate internal archival and scanning workflows necessary for a large-scale digitization program. It is also a system of workflows, techniques, and equipment planned specifically to speed digitization output by focusing on increasing access and re-purposing archival resources, workflows, and descriptive information as much as possible. While we try to meet minimum levels of capture, the entire concept focuses on access.

The system does not rely on item-level metadata for digital content. Rather, the database captures all of the descriptive elements of the EAD XML formatted finding aid created by the processing archivist. The folder headings and other descriptive elements found in the finding aid serve as the only descriptive metadata for the digitized collection. The structure of the finding aid also serves as an easy to use online navigation tool.

It is important to stress that the folder level metadata is created only once–in the EAD finding aid. We do not “catalog” folders or folder titles as a separate workflow.

Although first realized in 2005 and fully mature by 2010, the earliest seeds of the concept can be traced back to AAA’s history of in-house microfilming. Our founding mission was to build a repository of microfilmed archival collections that would increase access to previously hidden resources that documented the history of art in America. Many of the workflows originally built to support microfilming have been “repurposed” to support large-scale digitization.