“The end is nigh”: RiC(h) Description – part 2

The period for comment on the EGAD RiC – CM draft standard or model is coming to an end.  Since I last posted, there has been a flurry of activity, with comments from at least two Society of American Archivists technical subcommittees (TS-DACS and TS-EAS being the ones I know of), Artefactual (the developers of Accesstomemory software), the Australian Society of Archivists, Chris Hurley and Ross Spencer.

Each has something of value to add; whether concerned with specifics or in thinking about the broader implications for archival description in an online and connected world.

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RiC- CM – some comments

I have been looking through the proposed RiC-CM model or standard, as
proposed by the Expert Group on archival description.

The document, as set out, provides a good overview of the development
of archival description to date, particularly as regards the
principles of provenance and respect des fonds. The group notes the
need for broader involvement from a range of traditions and cultures.
It is disappointing therefore, that within the current group and
document there is not a broader exposition of the implementation of
the ICA standards across the countries involved, such as DACS and RAD,
not to mention Australian Series registration. This is particularly
evident in relation to the focus in the document on relationships and
the discussion of the limitation of fonds based and hierarchical
description.

Although the principal audience is identified as archivists, there
seems to be little thought as to how the standard would be
implemented. The one graphical model provided looks at the
relationships, but does not identify how the descriptions were created
that sustained that model. Similarly, though the ICA standards are
identified as being used as the basis for this new standard, there is
little evidence within the specific document that identifies how the
new descriptions relate to the old. It would be useful to have
references to the class numbers and standards within the descriptions.
The document notes that “RiC is complex and detailed”. Some advice or
suggestions as to minimum or mandated elements would be useful.

Some fairly broad statements are made about the implementation of the
current standards, but no evidence is provided in support of these
assertions. Some greater evidence of the research undertaken in
pursuit of the proposed standard would be useful. The same is also
true for discussions of other methods of making content web
accessible, such as the use of markup language, and the way in which
relational and other databases respond to or are aligned with the
current standards. There are now a number of software systems (e.g.
AccesstoMemory) and metadata standards (EAD, EAC, METS) that allow for
the development of relational, rather than purely hierarchical
description and linkages to other descriptive systems.

More specifically, I have the following comments:

Entity type – record. I think this relates to the idea of the smallest
descriptive entity (e.g. US document or UK item). Relating this back
to ISAD(G) and also to the Multilingual glossary  –
http://www.ica.org/en/online-resource-centre/multilingual-archival-terminology
would confirm this.
I like the idea of a record component, but would note that the example
of two digital photographs might also be two record entities. The
concept of a ‘complex record’ (US file/folder, UK piece, Australian
item?) needs to be further explored.

Record set – is too generic. This could be a ‘complex record’, or
fonds or series level description?

Function and Function (abstract)  – too confusing.

The range of relationship types is overwhelming. It would be better to
look at the OWL ontology, if that is the model used and work from the
relationships already described in the current ICA standards.
Similarly, look at schema.org definitions (The definition of Thing
will cause problems when trying to make linkages with that). It may be
better to provide examples showing how ICA standard descriptions may
be integrated into a range of models using clever software and
analysis. The PROVisualiser demonstrates how such a system might work
http://conaltuohy.com/blog/visualizing-government-archives-through-linked-data/

While it is commendable that the ICA and EGAD are looking at ways of
sharing and connecting archival metadata, I think that they have
become too focused on one metadata model, possibly to the detriment of others.

Archival description and discovery layers

Some years ago, Campbell Soups ran a campaign about their thick and rich soup range, one of which included Australia’s own Rose Porteous (I can’t find the link, perhaps someone cottoned on?). Anyway, I always think of that and, more academically, of Clifford Geertz’s ‘thick description’ when I think about the ways in which archives can describe their holdings. It’s not always the case, of course. Sometimes, time and pressure mean that holdings and archival authorities are described in minimalistic terms, but the potential for rich and thick description still exists, especially when contextual relationships between creators, functions and records are fully developed. It’s this that sets us aside from library description, and why archives generally don’t use the library MARC (MAchine Readable Catalogue) formats, even though there is a special set for archives (MARC-AMC).  Libraries describe the  individual elements of the soup – the pea, the bean, the meaty chunk, the liquid – on their own merit. The author statement can bring these elements together but doesn’t give a sense of how they interact. Archives describe the soup, and then the elements.

Given this difference, it’s been interesting to see how different archives have been included into broader, generally library based discovery layers. Our own TROVE is one such instance, and I’ve previously flagged how both the ANU Archives and PROV have added content to TROVE in my #GovHack posts. I’ve not seen much about what compromises had to be made, so I was very interested when the Digital Repository of Ireland brought out its guide to including archival description a few months ago.  The Digital Public Library of America has recently released a white paper for similar content. Both the DRI guidelines and the DPLA white paper use EAD (encoded archival description) as the major tool for exploring and exporting information. Both work within a fonds based hierarchical descriptive framework, and focus on the archival object or levels of description. The links made to archival authority and to function (Chris Hurley’s doer and deed) are minimal at best.

The DRI guideline is, by its nature, prescriptive. If you are looking for a good description of the elements within EAD and how they can be matched to standard elements in descriptive practice, then this is a good place to start.  The descriptions of each required and recommended element are clear, and provide some food for thought in Australian practice with regards to name, place and subject indexing of archival holdings. I think it would be relatively easy to implement the recommendations for a TROVE like discovery system (although, we have, as yet, to investigate why or whether we want one, and what we would expect to get out of it).

The DPLA white paper is, also by its nature, more complex, looking at comparative descriptive practices, meditating on the differences between library and archival description, and aggregated (fonds, collection, series, even Australian item level) description. It focuses, however, on individual digital objects, either a product of digitisation or a natively created in the digital environment, such as pages of books or individual photographs in an album. The working group looked at both description at a higher aggregated level (using the term ‘collection’) and for individual objects. Again, a number of examples are given for both, and some recommendations come from that. The working group is to be commended for the way in which they have approached the task at hand. Like the DRI guidelines, the white paper raises some important questions for Australian archivists looking at either a federated system, as proposed by Chris Hurley and others at the recent ASA 2016 conference, or in support of further work with TROVE.

 

A draft standard, Egad!

ICA 2016 is about begin, and as noted in my post a few months ago, a new draft descriptive standard is now available for review – http://ica-egad.org/ric/conceptual-model/RiC-CM-0.1.pdf.  Looking forward to hearing more about it, and all the presentations via the #ICASeoul16 hashtag. (My very rudimentary french and italian is getting a workout already!)

Stop press: a new email list has been set up for comment on the standard – http://lists.village.virginia.edu/mailman/listinfo/ica-egad-ric