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RLG Best Practice Guidelines for Encoded Archival Description

Date:      Fri, 27 Sep 2002 09:24:46 -0700
From:      Merrilee Proffitt <Merrilee_Proffitt@NOTES.RLG.ORG>
Reply-To: Encoded Archival Description List <>
To:        EAD@sun8.LOC.GOV
Subject:   RLG Best Practice Guidelines for Encoded Archival Description now available

I'm pleased to announce "RLG Best Practice Guidelines for Encoded Archival Description" (

These guidelines were developed by the RLG EAD Advisory Group between October 2001 and August 2002 to:

  • facilitate interoperability of resource discovery by imposing a basic degree of uniformity on the creation of valid EAD-encoded documents
  • encourage the inclusion of particular elements
  • develop a set of core data elements

In fall 2001, RLG charged a reconstituted EAD Advisory Group with revising RLG's existing guidelines for three reasons:

  1. an awareness that encoding practices have evolved considerably since pioneering repositories began submitting finding aids under the original 1998 RLG encoding guidelines

  2. an appreciation that the community of EAD practitioners has grown markedly since then, including a significant expansion outside the United States

  3. the knowledge that the impending release of EAD 2002, the updated version of the DTD would of itself require changes in the encoding guidelines

Nine experienced EAD users worked with program officer Merrilee Proffitt to evaluate and rework the existing guidelines: Greg Kinney (Bentley Library, University of Michigan), Mary Lacy (Library of Congress), Dennis Meissner (Minnesota Historical Society), Naomi Nelson (Emory University), Richard Rinehart (Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive), David Ruddy (Cornell University), William Stockting (Public Records Office, United Kingdom), Michael Webb (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford), and Timothy Young (Beinecke Library, Yale University). Members of the group surveyed best practice documents from a number of different repositories and projects before beginning their task.

Group members settled on two key objectives. One was to identify and define the use of a minimal set of EAD elements and attributes complete enough to assure that information in finding aids is adequate to serve the users' needs and yet parsimonious enough to prevent excessive encoding overhead on the creators.

Their second objective was to assure that the guidelines stand a reasonable chance of meeting the needs of an international encoding community. The advisory group had to be as sensitive to the requirements of international archival standards, such as ISAD(G) (General International Standard Archival Description) as it has to those of MARC and APPM (Archives, Personal Papers and Manuscripts is a widely used content standard for finding aids in the United States, written in the context of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd edition).

The advisory group went beyond its initial mandate and has sought to articulate a set of best practice guidelines for EAD encoding in a union environment. The guidelines recommend additional encoding that represent best practices for describing archival materials within the EAD environment.

Thanks are due not only to current and past members of the advisory group, but also to those who made their own guidelines available to the group for analysis, and to Hannah Frost for giving the group access to her comparison of guidelines produced in the United States. A group of outside reviewers (Christine Woodland, Bill Landis, Elizabeth Shaw, Elizabeth Dow, Michael Fox, Dorothy Johnston, Guenter Waibel, and Tim Hutchinson) offered commentary and additional revisions that helped the advisory group make the document stronger. Finally, thanks are due to Dennis Meissner for ably chairing the group. The discussion that produced this document all took place via email and conference calls, and Dennis provided strong, cheerful leadership to help move the document along in a virtual meeting space.

For more information, contact Merrilee Proffitt,

Merrilee Proffitt
Research Libraries Group
1200 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041 USA
voice: +1-650-691-2309

Prepared by Robin Cover for The XML Cover Pages archive. See "Encoded Archival Description (EAD)."

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