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Total Archival Awareness:
The University of Illinois Archives
Holdings Database
Midwest Archives Conference
October 24, 2003
Christopher J. Prom
Assistant University Archivist
University of Illinois Archives
Much attention paid to EAD in past few years
What to do with legacy systems
Reengineering concept
Our approach
– Improve user services to improve archival awareness
for users and staff
– convert legacy systems to database
– lay groundwork for EAD/ ISAD(G) compatible system
U of I Archives and legacy systems
• 5,362 record series; 18,694.8 cubic feet
• 3 part RG/SG/RS classification system
• “PARADIGM” mainframe system described in Bill
Maher’s 1984 article
• Control cards (WordPerfect 5.1 for Dos)
• Location database (DOS R-Base)
• Supplementary finding aids (WordPerfect 5.1 for
• Separate accession register database (Access
97), administrative histories (WordPerfect 4.2?)
• No Catalog (MARC-AMC) records
Conversion Issues
• Technical
– Lots of file formats/data structures
– Related information did not interoperate in legacy
– Data not regularized
• Conceptual
– Missing ISAD(G) mandated data elements
– Cannot be converted directly to MARC or EAD
– Need seamless integration with email reference
– Need multilevel description to mirror’s university
– Make expandable to include links to documents
Conversion Issues, cont.
• Reference/Use Patterns
– Maher’s unpublished study (1989)
• Many separate user communities w/ distinct needs
• Satisfied in using off-line and printed finding aids
– Reference card data
• Trend toward increased email, off site use.
– My usability study 2003
• Provide both browse and search options
• Preserving context very important
• Keep finding aid design simple
• MARC-AMC and/or EAD
+’s: standards for archival descriptive data, full range of data
-’s: encoding overhead, difficult display mechanism, no easy way
to preserve relationships, no searching
+’s: universally accessible, easy to understand and implement
-’s: requires constant updating, content linked to display, student
training issues
• Relational Database
+’s: preserve RG/SG system, easy to update, display flexible,
needs minimal training, basis for further development
-’s: cannot handle box and folder lists, uncertain development time
SQL Server (backend)
• Data and table definitions made here
– Requires up front thought
– Can add fields later, but change definitions for
existing fields only with great care
– data types and field values
– Relationships between tables
• NOT an data entry or staff/user tool, for holding
data only
MS Access (front end)
• Regularized and imported data
• Designed forms and subforms for ongoing
• Queries (useful for annual report data)
• Reports for printed location guide, control card,
Lookup Tables
Main Descriptive Record
Primary Key: RG/SG/RS #s
Input form: Six tables
work together to
make one record
Active Server Pages
Use to make HTML output, search forms, etc.
Think about desired layout
Connecting to database
Programming: ASP, VBScript, SQL
Display--Begin simple, add refinements later
Recommended resources
– Articles from Library Hi Tech, others cited on handout
– O’Reilly and Wrox Books on ASP and VBScript (not for
Linking to Finding Aids
• Can link to EAD, HTML, or PDF
• We use PDF—easy to convert—and EAD where
judged appropriate
• Use Google site search goes deep into finding
• C:\My Web Sites\index.html
– Browse by subject
– Browse by unit
– Search
– Links to finding aids
– Links to database from subject guides
Advantages of Database Approach
Preserves context reasonably well
Conversion relatively quick
Display can be easily tweaked
Input forms suited for students, others w
little or no archival/cataloging training
• Improved reference service
– Linking
– Demand for photocopies and photos helps
develop small revenue stream
Disadvantages of database approach
• Display not as flexible as EAD
– Nested fields
– Fonts and underlining
– . . . but easier to change
• Some ISAD(G) elements currently not included
• Need fair amount of database programming
• Best suited for classic record group/subgroup
system, but may not apply elsewhere
• Does not allow easy output of MARC-AMC
Future improvements
• Make ISAD(G) compatible by adding fields such
as creator, administrative history, accruals,
• Export EAD as exchange format (for top level
first, then box listings)
• Other databases (Univ. History FAQ, Image
database, linked to holdings records)
• Be content to simply move paper
functionality to web
• Undermine context/provenance of
• Include usability impediments such as
frames, funny link colors
• Watch out for javascript bugs.
Partner with a systems office (if possible)
Test on multiple browsers
Know your users and their needs
Optimize for Google crawler
Pay attention to details in search algorithms
For improved reference service:
– Provide hard url for each output records
language, pass data via querystring, not form)
(i.e. in scripting
– Provide link to an email form on each page
– Code referring page into email messages submitted
via form
Hard url in referrer page
Shows service location off site, actual
location on staff computers
Email Link
I received my B.S. in Ag/comm from U of I in 1980.
Currently I'm working on my Ed.D. at Northern Illinois University
in Adult Cont. Ed. I'm doing a research paper on the home
extension program during the 1960's & 1970's and am interested
in locating meeting notes, lesson plans, membership rosters, etc.
especially for DeKalb or Whiteside Counties in Illinois.
Please send me information about how I can find or view this
information. I will be on campus on Sept. 27th.
Thank you,
Sender's Workstation:
HTTP Referer page:
Dear xxxx,
There are several things you might want to browse before arriving on
campus. If you follow these links, you will eventually get to a
"finding aid" which is a PDF file which lists the folder titles in the
boxes. Here is a link all of the materials which we have indexed under
home economics extension:
Probably of most interest to you will be the department's subject file
(this is the dept. chair's old files), which is fairly complete in the
period you are dealing with.
etc., etc.
Total Archival Awareness:
The University of Illinois Archives
Holdings Database
Midwest Archives Conference
October 24, 2003
Christopher J. Prom
Assistant University Archivist
University of Illinois Archives