Inspired by the recent article When Archival Description Meets Digital Object Metadata: A Typological Study of Digital Archival Representation (GMU access only) by Jane Zhang and Dayne Mauney in the latest issue of the American Archivist (Spring/Summer 2013) I decided to take a look at and share how we at SC&A link finding aids and digital objects.

SC&A currently has 1460 digital objects on the content management system LUNA.  Each digital object in LUNA has many access points thanks to metadata fields. All digital objects include a metadata field with a link to a finding aid. Finding aids for collections that have digital objects link to digital objects in two ways: one way is a link found at the top of the finding aid under Administrative Information and Alternative Form Available. Another way is a link that is found with the description of the folder or item.

Excerpt from the Molka Reich papers finding aid that highlights a link to LUNA in the Administrative Information section.

The following examples provide more information on the two ways that digital objects in LUNA are connected to a finding aid and vice versa.

Example 1: The Arthur E. Scott photograph collection contains over 5,000 prints and negatives, 214 of which have been scanned and uploaded to LUNA. In LUNA the digital objects have metadata fields that include collection, title, subjects, original format, a link to the finding aid, physical location (in the format of collection number, period, box number), date, and more. Any of these fields can be searched to find related materials in either just the Scott collection or in all collections in LUNA.

Photograph in LUNA from the Arthur E. Scott photograph collection with metadata field highlighted.

The finding aid for the Scott collection can provide collection level context for the photograph but will not link back to the image directly. The subway image from LUNA is not described at the item level in the finding aid. Instead there is a box level description for box 22 titled “U.S. Capitol building” and a scopenote contains the information “35 negatives; includes Senate Subway”. The digital object and the finding aid provide different information and different ways of understanding the collection.

Excerpt from the Arthur E. Scott finding aid. The New Subway to New Senate Office Building dedication ceremonies photograph that appears in LUNA is not described in the finding aid. Instead there is a general description for photographic items in box 22.

Example 2: In this example the finding aid has a direct link to a specific digital object and the digital objects are fully described with multiple metadata fields in LUNA. Sometimes collections are fully digitized such as The Japanese Invasion of Manchuria photograph collection but this is not usually the case.

Since the Japanese Invasion collection is described at the item level in the finding aid, each line of description has a link (highlighted) to a digital object.

Providing a link in the finding aid does not mean that item level description has to exist in the finding aid. If a full folder of content has been scanned then a single link from the finding aid can connect viewers to all of the digitized objects from that folder that are in LUNA based on the metadata contained in the location field. There is an example of this in the finding aid for the Ralph Chessé papers. In this case each item is described at the item level in LUNA and the location field contains “box 1, folder 19”.

Excerpt from Ralph Chesse finding aid with link to digital objects in LUNA.
Ralph Chesse digital files in LUNA.

It is an ongoing task to reconcile the digital object that exists with lots of metadata and finding aids that provide collection level context and description. Finding aids excel at presenting collections with lots of context and allow archivists to describe collections at the collection level, series level, box level, folder level, or item level, and usually proceed from the general to the specific. In LUNA all digital objects exist at the same level and are described at the same level and thus lack the archival context that a finding aid provides.

At SC&A we are continuing to work on, and experiment with, connecting digital objects to finding aids and vice versa in meaningful deliberate ways in order to provide both context and easy discovery through description and metadata.

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