The University of Liverpool: A Case Study

A case study on the use of a distributed version of the Archives Hub at the University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives, by Roy Lumb, Archivist.

At the University of Liverpool we are very excited at the prospect of using the distributed version of the Archives Hub, or Spoke as it has become known. The Spoke provides us with the chance to have direct control over our EAD records and provide a user interface to search our archive collections alongside our library catalogue.

Special Collections and Archives have been creating finding aids using EAD since 1997. As well as the finding aids created in EAD, many of our earlier lists were created on a ProCite database with the intention of exporting the data into EAD files*

The vast majority of these full lists have not been included on the Archives Hub, as initially only collection level descriptions were incorporated onto the Hub. However, with the new Spoke software, we thought this would be the ideal time to add these 'full lists' onto our own Spoke instead of the collection level descriptions that form our old Hub data. As yet the finding aids had, in the majority, not been launched on the internet in any form, with the exception being the finding aid for the Rathbone Papers.

We worked through our back catalogue of EAD files, first converting them from EAD version 1.0 to EAD 2002 and then editing to bring them up to our current standards, which have evolved a great deal since the formative years of those first EAD files. We even tweaked our in-house guidelines to ensure that all EAD files we created could be launched on the Archives Hub - this required creating control access terms in Hub-friendly format, using controlled thesauri amongst other things.

Although the process was time consuming, it has been very rewarding, as the EAD files we had created are now destined to be fully searchable on the internet. In addition our finding aids now conform to our current EAD creation guidelines (which in turn conform to ISAD(G) 2nd edition). So although it was a lot of hard work, the need to revisit and edit our old finding aids was very worthwhile. The Archives Hub team now provide a service where they will send back the repositories' data from the current Hub, after converting it into EAD 2002.

Having the Spoke is also very useful in managing our current EAD files. Previously our files were spread out over a number of different directories in different staff work spaces. Now we have a central finding aid directory, and a strict policy governing when files can be moved into this area. First the file must validate, secondly it must conform to our guidelines, and as an additional check a hard copy of the file must be proof read by a senior member of staff.

It is the knowledge that each of the new finding aids we create will be actively used, not just in the reading room, but launched on the web that has helped to create a new pro-active method of managing our EAD files. This allows our library assistants to have another motivational factor, knowing that the finding aids they are creating will be published on the web.

So, what have we got out of the Spoke software?

All of our EAD files are in EAD 2002, they all conform to our guidelines, but most importantly, our finding aids are out there on the web for researchers.

Of course with greater control of your records comes greater responsibility. We needed hardware to host the Spoke software - a task for our computer services department, we run our Spoke on a dedicated desktop computer. It was also necessary to have back up copies of all of our files stored in a separate location, again this was something that encouraged good practice in our own electronic record keeping process.

The installation of the Spoke software was thankfully an easy one - with the whole process recorded in the Installation and maintenance guide, it was then a case of 'point and click' to install.

The addition and removal of records is the responsibility of the Spoke administrator, in this case me. This is simple to do, thanks to the easy to use administration interface with straightforward instructions like 'remove file' 'upload record' etc. The database automatically rebuilds every Sunday, so there is no need to disrupt access to the Spoke by rebuilding the records when they are added.

The evolution of the Hub software from centralised Hub to Spoke will be hugely beneficial to our users. The Spoke's advanced search, allows searching to item level, this means our users can now search and bring back the results and items they need through one easy search - Google-like searching for archives? It is not just this ability to upload and search entire finding aids that is an improvement it is also small tweaks which have vastly improved the Hub. Things like the easy to use print buttons, that offer the choice to print the results of a search. Although this seems a minor change this means users can now print out entire lists, sections of lists, or even individual items that will be of use to them.

The new on-line full archive catalogues will be hugely beneficial to our users, it will help with more targeted research, as users can already search and browse through our collections before visiting the archive and save the time they previously had to use on studying our old handlists in the reading room.

The chance to host our Spoke on the main library website has also been a big boost for the SCA, it helps to promote the collections in the University and also allows the full range and extent of our collections to be searched by our own library users as well as the extended research community.

The 'browse' feature and 'subject resolver' are other improvements. Subject based research enquiries are common in University archives (often with students desperately trying to find a juicy dissertation topic). Our collections are often interconnected so being able to search across them all is a big bonus.

Its all too easy to create EAD records and then just use them locally - print out a hard copy and use it in the reading room. The Spoke offers us the chance to host a 'search engine for archives' on our own website and when the distributed version of the Archives Hub goes live in July 2005 our Spoke data can be searched (along with the rest of the Spokes) through the central Archives Hub.

Having our own Spoke means we can utilise our EAD for its intended purpose - to create finding aids that are fully searchable on the internet.

* Reference: Paul B. Watry and Maureen M. Watry "Automating Archival Collections Using MARC-AMC and Z39.50 at the University of Liverpool: a case study" Journal of the Society of Archivists 17 (2), 1996.

(April 15, 2005)

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