Thursday, April 2, 2009

Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA) spring meeting

Beth Ann Koelsch’s Notes from the Spring 2009 SNCA (Society of North Carolina) meeting at Duke University, March 12-13, 2009

On Thursday, March 12 I attended the all day workshop: “Photographic Formats: Identification and Preservation for Archival Processing” taught by Stephen Fletcher, Photographic Archivist, UNC-Chapel Hill. Fletcher provided information about the physical characteristics of different photographic formats and taught us ways to identify these different formats and how to best preserve them. The second half of the workshop focused upon the enclosures, storage containers, and environmental conditions. Fletcher emphasized the importance of maintaining a consistent microclimate.

If you haven’t seen this, the UNC-Chapel Hill photographic archives has a GREAT processing blog at:

On Friday, March 13, the opening plenary was a talk by historian David Cecelski about his use of archives and how archivists helped him with his research for his new book, a biography about the slave, abolitionist, and Union spy Abraham Galloway. Cecelski was a great speaker and his story about his research that took him to over 50 archives was very entertaining.

The first session was a project update from Endeca EAD Task Group of the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) which is exploring how to index finding aids. TRLN is a collaborative consortium comprised of Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Endeca is a search application with metadata support. The goal of the project is to allow users to be able to simultaneously search the online catalogs of the member institutions from one portal, thus making collections more visible and increasing inter-institutional borrowing.

The group has completed the harvesting of MARC records and transformed them into a new data model as well as bringing metadata in from other sources. They are working towards enabling the discovery of EAD content with full text catalog browsing by merging MARC and EAD into XML using Endeca. They discussed the merging of data from MARC fields with elements in EAD. One of their aims is to make finding aids more user-friendly by eliminating jargon (e.g. changing “Bioghist” to “Historical Note.”)
The group had been working with Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT), which is “an XML-based language used for the transformation of XML documents into other XML or "human-readable" documents” (Wikipedia). The strength of this method is that the user can go directly to the search term in the finding aid. However, the current limitations are single word search capability and the lack of date range search option.

The next step was EAD/XSLT 1.0 which allowed for multiple word searches and date range searches, but a search could only find exact phrase matches and could not handle neither “the” and “a”, nor punctuation.

XSLT 2.0 has solved those problems but there are still issues such as date searches and problems with nested tags that need to be sorted out.

The greatest challenge to the project is that member institutions not only have idiosyncratic finding aid styles, but also has inconsistencies among their own finding aids.

Information about the TRLN Endeca project can be found at their website at:

The final session was “The Sky is NOT Falling: How to Keep Your Institution Afloat in a Bad Economy.” This panel discussion covered strategies that archival repositories are using to operate in the current financial environment. Jan Blodgett, the College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator at Davidson College, related that there is a hiring freeze at Davidson and they plan on reducing access hours by 50%. They also are temporarily eliminating conducting oral histories, cataloging of archival collections, and postponing conservation projects. Sarah Koonts, Head, Collection Management Branch, North Carolina State Archives discussed strategies for economic survival. She advocated educating oneself about the budget process and the people who make the budgeting decisions. By cultivating relationships with budgeters and learning how the process works, archivists can better present their case to the people who control the purse strings. Koonts also emphasized making sure that your institutions are serving users’ needs, looking at your mission statement to ensure that you are focusing on your core functions, asking donors for processing funds, making use of interns and applying for grants.

Finally, one of the most important aspects of any conference is the opportunity to network with other archivists and share news about what is going on in other local archives.