A few thoughs on context and content

I have been reading with interest the post and comments on Mark Matienzo’s blog: http://thesecretmirror.com. He asks ‘Must contextual description be bound to records description?’

I tend to agree with his point of view that this is not a good thing. The Archives Hub uses EAD, and our contributors happily add very excellent biographical and administrative history information into their descriptions, via the tag, information that I am sure is very valuable for researchers. But should our descriptions leave out this sort of information and be just descriptions of the collection and no more? Wouldn’t it be so much more sensible to then link to contextual information that is stored separately?
Possibly, on the other side of the argument, if archivists created separate biographical/administrative history records, would they still want to contextualise them for specific collection descriptions anyway? It makes perfect sense to have the information separate to the collection description if it is going to be shared, but will archivists want to modify it to make it relevant to particular collections? Is it sensible to link to a comprehensive biographical record for someone when you are describing a very small collection that only refers to a year in their life?
Of course, we don’t have the issue with EAD at the moment, in so far as we can’t include an EAC-CPF record in an EAD record anyway, because it doesn’t allow stuff to be included from other XML schemas (no components from other namespaces can be used in EAD). But I can’t help thinking that an attractive model for something like the Archives Hub would be collection descriptions (including sub-fonds, series, items), that can link to whatever contextual information is appropriate, whether that information is stored by us or elsewhere. This brings me back to my current interest – Linked Data. If the Web is truly moving towards the Linked Data model, then maybe EAD should be revised in line with this? By breaking information down into logical components, it can be recombined in more imaginative ways – open and flexible data!

About Jane Stevenson

Archives Hub Service Manager.
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