By Charlotte Kostelic
This post is the fifth and final post in our series on international perspectives on digital preservation.
In January 2017, I began a position with the National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) hosted by the Georgian Papers Programme, an international collaborative project based on transforming scholarly and personal access to unpublished collections at the Royal Library and Archives from the Hanoverian dynasty through online access and scholarly exploration.
My role within this project is to conduct a comparative analysis of descriptive metadata for the collections at the Royal Library and Royal Archives and related collections at the Library of Congress. While NDSR is a program that focuses more broadly on training individuals within the field of digital preservation and curation, my project is specifically tasked with understanding how metadata can aid in providing access to digitized collections. My analysis will help the Georgian Papers Programme partners determine their readiness for data sharing and will inform the development of a shared platform that aims to provide interoperable access for the collections.
Although still in its early stages, my initial findings are related to the schemas used as well as the syntaxes employed within each schema. One goal of this analysis is to find a common data model for the various collections within the project. My initial findings, expressed with the assistance of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, include:
- How do I describe thee? Let me count the ways: These collections have been described using many different standards throughout the years. The standards used by the partner institutions include: Encoded Archival Description (EAD) with DACS as the model for description for archival collections in the United States; ISAD(G) for archival collections in the United Kingdom; MARC for bibliographic, map, serial, and print collections; and Dublin Core employed for certain digital collections records. There are also collections that have been described using additional library and museum standards that need to be analyzed further. Luckily, most of these standards work well together because either they are international standards or there are established crosswalks.
- I describe thee to the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight / For the ends of searching and ideal access: Key access points that I have highlighted as needing review include: subject headings; dates; languages; and place, personal, and corporate names. Syntactical inconsistency of these fields can lead to difficulties in the future when using a shared access platform. Names have proven to be particularly challenging as royal names can change throughout an individual’s life based on succession, titles, and changes in empire. Having only worked in American archival institutions up until this point, this is the first time I have encountered such complicated names.
- I describe thee to the level of every day’s / most quiet need: The level of description between collections varies based on whether or not the materials are from archival collections or library collections. Many have item level description while some archival collections are described at the file or series level. The difficulties faced when trying to represent different levels of description in a shared digital library environment is something that has been explored previously by other archivists, most recently in Aggregating and Representing Collections in the Digital Public Library of America published in November 2016.
The need for interoperability between collections that use different data models is in no way unique to international collaborative projects. Within a large institution such as the Library of Congress, there is an emphasis on making all collections accessible in a single viewer rather than maintaining multiple sites. I hope that with international collaborative projects such as my own, the digital heritage community will continue to work towards the common goal of interoperability.
 Allison-Bunnell, Jodi et al. Digital Public Library of America. Aggregating and Representing Collections in the Digital Public Library of America. Boston, Massachusetts: Digital Public Library of America, 2016.
Charlotte Kostelic is the National Digital Stewardship Resident for the Georgian Papers Programme hosted by the Library of Congress and the Royal Collection Trust. She is a recent graduate from Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, and has previously held positions at StoryCorps and the Barnard Archives and Special Collections.