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Home Dwar l-APEnet Standards

International archival standards

NB: This page is no longer updated. For the latest version, go here.


Being a best practice network the APEnet project does not aim at establishing or identifying new standards, but it will implement a common framework across Europe that uses existing global archival standards targeted for a European context. By this, the acceptance of trans-national standards will be supported and promoted as well as their use will be encouraged in order to secure interoperability with the various national and institutional archives portals.

Participation in Archives Portal Europe will be open to all European archival repositories that can contribute descriptions of their holdings that are structured in accordance with the appropriate international archival standards (either in EAD, EAC-CPF, EAG and METS format or in a format that can be converted into EAD, EAC-CPF, EAG and METS preferably by themselves with the tools delivered by the project).



Encoded Archival Description (EAD)

Development of the EAD standard began with a project initiated by the University of California, Berkeley Library in 1993. The requirements for the encoding standard then included – and still include today – the following criteria:

  • ability to present extensive and interrelated descriptive information found in archival finding aids,
  • ability to preserve the hierarchical relationships existing between levels of description,
  • ability to represent descriptive information that is inherited by one hierarchical level from another,
  • ability to move within a hierarchical informational structure,
  • support for element-specific indexing and retrieval.

EAD is by now used world wide for data exchange between archival institutions and for Internet presentations of archival descriptive information. It is especially applied for trans-institutional and trans-national projects like the Archives Portal Europe. The standardising board is the EAD Working Group of the Society of American Archivists (SAA).

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The use of EAD as backbone within the three-layers-concept of the Archives Portal Europe

Within the Archives Portal Europe EAD is used with a concept of three interrelated and interconnected layers of description. Each of them consists of individual documents structured internally with the levels of EAD.

The first layer, the Archival Landscape, consists of one EAD document and has the function of a sort of umbrella for the whole providing future users of the Archives Portal Europe with a starting point for navigational research by

  • naming all participating archival institutions in a structured way (f.i. sorted by country) with links to their more detailed descriptive information on the next lower level and
  • granting access to detailed information on the institutions themselves like contact details or opening hours given in EAG files linked to the Archival Landscape

The second layer, the Holdings Guides, consists of a set of EAD documents containing each a structured list of fonds or record groups of every archival institution. It aims at

  • giving an overview over the fonds and collections of the single archival institutions, intended to include links to more detailed information on records creators in EAC-CPF files,
  • providing short information on fonds and collections incl. f.i. conditions concerning their access and use and
  • linking to their detailed description on the next lower level.

The third layer, the Finding Aids, consists of EAD documents containing detailed description for the single fonds or record groups structured according to series and arrangement groups. Finding Aids will

  • provide detailed information on the archival material from collection level down to units’ level indicating the reference numbers necessary for ordering or communication with the archival repositories and
  • grant access to digitisations of the archival material, if applicable.

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Information on APEnet EAD as used for finding aids and holdings guides

There are several ways to get informed on the current state of development of APEnet EAD:

  • the APEnet EAD table, a tabular overview on how APEnet EAD has been defined for now to be used with finding aids, naming and listing the different elements and attributes, each with a short note on its intended use;
  • the APEnet EAD guide, a full text description of each element and attribute along with some examples concerning possible contents as well as the encoding of these elements in EAD XML and some examples of complete finding aids encoded in APEnet EAD;
  • the APEnet EAD schema, the technical implementation of the profile, which is used as the target when
    • transforming archival descriptions from the content providers to the commonly used APEnet EAD,
    • for validating the results of transformation and conversion of local EAD documents,
    • for indexing the data to be used in an overall search,
    • for creating HTML presentations of archival material within the future Archives Portal Europe, and
    • for data exchange with other gateways such as Europeana.

These documents still are slightly evolving along with the further developments within the APEnet project. But the possible changes and adaptations will be minor, probably will not reduce but increase the number of elements and attributes and will not touch the general structure and the elements defined so far.

For any questions and more details please use the contact form.

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Defining and creating APEnet EAD

In preparation of a joint presentation in a union access point the APEnet EAD schema has been created and is continually enhanced and improved along with further steps of the project's progress.

The complete APEnet EAD schema is defined as a subset of the EAD 2002 schema fulfilling the requirements for the joint presentation in the union finding aid of the Archives Portal Europe. It is optimised for the use inside the union finding aid and contains only those parts of EAD needed for common display, for linking and identification purposes. It was drafted on the basis of a the comparison of EAD profiles and practices of the National Archives currently participating in the project. In cases of different possibilities it names those elements and attributes commonly used – and describes how they are used.

When you are interested in the question how to map and convert your own data into APEnet EAD, please refer to the mapping and normalisation best practice for the APEnet project.

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Encoded Archival Guide (EAG)

EAG has been created by the Spanish Ministry of Culture and it is largely applied in the Censo Guía de Archivos de España e Iberoamérica. It is used to encode information related to archive repositories. The standard is currently available in form of a Document Type Definition along with an EAG Tag Library (in Spanish).

The correspondent ICA standard has been released in 2008 as International Standard for Describing Institutions with Archival Holdings (ISDIAH).

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The use of EAG within Archives Portal Europe

There is only little difference at the moment between the use of EAG as introduced within the Spanish Censo-Guía portal and the use of this standard within the Archives Portal Europe in general. The main difference probably is the minimum approach, of which the APEnet project is in favour of, resulting in a standard set of mandatory information that is available for all institutions described within the Archives Portal Europe, like contact details with telephone numbers, (e)mail addresses, the institution’s own website, plus information on services provided.

As for APEnet EAG, the current state of development of APEnet EAG can be followed by:

  • the APEnet EAG table, a tabular overview on how APEnet EAG has been defined for now to be used with finding aids, naming and listing the different elements and attributes, each with a short note on its intended use;
  • the APEnet EAG guide, a full text description of each element and attribute along with some examples concerning possible contents as well as the encoding of these elements in EAG XML and some examples of repositories' descriptions encoded in APEnet EAG;
  • the APEnet EAG schema, the technical implementation of the profile.

There are two more international archival standards that are aimed at being included in the Archives Portal Europe in the future. These are:

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Encoded Archival Context – Corporate Bodies, Person, Families (EAC-CPF)

EAC-CPF is an ongoing initiative within the international archival community to design and implement a prototype standard for encoding descriptions of records creators. The description of individuals, families, and organisations that create records is an essential component of the preservation of the documentary evidence of human activity, which facilitates both access to and interpretation of records.

The standardising board is the EAC Working Group of SAA.

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Metadata Encoded and Transmission Standard (METS)

METS is a generalised metadata framework, developed to encode the structural metadata for digital objects and related descriptive and administrative metadata. It is especially interesting for archives because it can combine images to objects and describe their internal structure. Launched by the Digital Library Federation, the METS initiative seeks to provide a single, standard mechanism for encoding all forms of metadata for digital objects. METS will simplify both the exchange of objects between repositories and the development of software tools for search and display of those objects. Additionally, METS encoding will provide a coherent means for archiving digital objects and their metadata.

-> More information can be found on the METS home page

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