apeEAD

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The use of EAD in the Archives Portal Europe

The most important archival standard used by the Archives Portal Europe is Encoded Archival Description (EAD), an XML standard for encoding archival finding aids, maintained by the Technical Subcommittee for Encoded Archival Standards (TS-EAS) of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), in partnership with the Library of Congress.



Describing holdings and collections

The development of the EAD standard began with a project initiated by the University of California, Berkeley Library in 1993, led by Daniel Pitti. 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 first version of EAD, v1.0, was published in 1998, the second version, EAD2002, was released in December 2002 and the work on the revision of EAD2002, which led to the current version, EAD3, was started in 2010 and finished in August 2015. Currently the TS-EAS of the SAA is working on a first update of EAD3, v1.1, which will probably be released in the summer of 2018.


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 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


Defining and creating apeEAD

In preparation of a joint presentation of different EAD implementations of different institutions in one online access point such as Archives Portal Europe, the APEnet project came up with a specific APE EAD schema, which was called apeEAD. This schema was continually enhanced and improved along with further steps of the two Archives Portal Europe projects: APEnet (2009-2012) and APEx (20012-2015).

The complete apeEAD schema is defined as a subset of the EAD2002 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 participating in the APEnet project. In cases of different possibilities it names those elements and attributes commonly used – and describes how they are used.


apeEAD documentation

When you are interested in the question how to map and convert your own data into apeEAD, then you can make use of these documents produced by the APEnet project:

the apeEAD table,

  • a tabular overview on how apeEAD has been defined within the APEnet project be used with finding aids, naming and listing the different elements and attributes, each with a short note on its intended use;


the apeEAD 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 apeEAD (this document is outdated and a new version is currently in preparation; please refer to the apeEAD schema below);


the apeEAD 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 apeEAD,
    • 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.


the mapping and normalisation best practice for the APEnet project

  • the mapping and normalisation guideline effective at the end of the APEnet project in 2012


These above mentioned documents have been slightly evolving along with the further developments of apeEAD within the APEx project. But the changes and adaptations have been minor, more aimed at increasing the number of elements and attributes rather than diminishing them and this has not touched the general structure and the elements as defined within the APEnet project. The result of the evolution of apeEAD during the course of the APEx project has been documented in the D2.6/D4.8 deliverable of the project:


the apeEAD mapping guide, which reflects the status of apeEAD as per March 2015

  • So this is the definitive mapping and normalisation guideline effective at the end of the APEx project in 2015 and still reflects the current status of apeEAD in combination with the changes as described below.



apeEAD changes since October 2015

Within the Archives Portal Europe Foundation (APEF), the non-profit organisation that took over the responsibility for the Archives Portal Europe after the conclusion of the APEx project per October 2015, a Working Group on Standards is in charge of the maintenance and the further development of the Archives Portal Europe standards. In case this Working Group comes up with changes of the apeEAD standard, it will document these over here.