Can you skip learning EAD and go right to Archivists’ Toolkit or Archon?
I tweeted out a question last Friday:
What’s a compelling reason for an archivist who doesn’t know EAD to take a workshop, rather than just skipping the XML & learning AT/Archon?
And got some thoughtful answers (for the most part, Rebecca!):
- @helrond: AT is much easier to learn once you know EAD.
- Susan @kitschqueen: future job opportunities?
- Sibyl Schaefer @sibylschaefer: Sometimes its easier to edit the xml than work through the program. The AT doesn’t do find/replace, for ex.
- Dee Dee @DerangeDescribe: Understanding http://derangementanddescription.wordpress.com/tag/ead!
- Mark Matienzo @anarchivist: you need to understand EAD to do stuff w/ the data. XSLT, etc. also need to understand it’s limitations and how apps implement it.
- Christine Di Bella @cdibella: What, personal growth and the joy of learning ain’t enough? Also, to set ‘em up and actually make the output work, you need to understand what’s behind them at least a little.
I agree with all of these, but especially the last 4 words of Christine’s response, “at least a little.” I also completely agree and completely disagree with Mark’s comment — I agree with the points but think need is much too strong a word in practice. (Granted, Mark had to get it across in 140 characters while here I can decree loquaciously.)
But for those archivists and librarians who are simply trying to get finding aids done and get stuff online, this could be done by entering their collection info in AT into fields that look familiar (bio, scope, bulk dates, etc.), spend some time figuring out what child and sibling mean (seems to be a tricky point for a lot of people), and clicking the Report button to spit out a finding aid in html or as a pdf. (For the purposes of this post, I will just refer to AT instead of AT/Archon — this is actually easier to do in Archon if you would use it as a public interface.)
When I first learned EAD, I was using the UNIX vi editor with SGML EAD. Similarly, when I first started doing web stuff, you had little choice but to write the raw code. I still feel more assured working in the xml than in AT, the same way that I often prefer working in the html code view rather than a wysiwyg editor. In general, knowing what’s going on with the guts means that you are more flexible and much more able to troubleshoot.
But these days, there are lots of lovely and useful webpages that have been built by people who I assume don’t know the first thing about html. They’re using existing tools and services that shift the technology burden to someone else (the nerds), thereby allowing them to skip straight to getting stuff online. I’m using WordPress here because it is dead easy, even if some of its code is a bit off. I use Archivists’ Toolkit because it is much faster and easier than touching the EAD, even if my output is not ideal (which is more the stylesheet than the EAD itself).
To think about this issue a different way: If learning EAD stands in the way of learning a tool like Archivists’ Toolkit or Archon, that as a big problem. Yes, the “right way” to do it is to learn EAD, DACS, XML, XSLT, and AT. But I think if someone skipped straight to AT, perhaps taking a 2 or 3 hour AT workshop for some helpful handholding, they would get to a comfort level where they could go back to the repository and start getting stuff online.
Is it negligent to skip straight to AT? No, and it doesn’t make someone a bad archivist. It is less than ideal and maybe even a bit risky, but it’s also a very practical approach. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is the most immediate value of a tool like AT/Archon.
I welcome your comments, the more horrified the better. Although I’d love to hear from people who have taken this approach.
1 – If you are at an institution that has either of the following, please disregard this post and get back to submitting your reimbursement receipts for the last conference you went to: A dedicated IT person associated with the library/archives or more than 10 staff members who are some kind of archivist.
2 – This is admittedly a bit disingenuous, using a “skip straight to AT” argument, since the details of installing AT are often beyond the abilities of exactly the type of repositories that would benefit from using it for finding aid production. I should look into this, but I bet some people are just using the AT Sandbox, exporting the finding aid as html or pdf, and mounting it on their own repository website. After AT and Archon merge, I hope someone offers hosted versions or service subscriptions (like Omeka.net or LibLime).
3 – In the interest of full disclosure, please visit the homely and overly long webpage that contains the finding aids that I have control over: www.phillyseaport.org/library. You will find pdfs, html, and more recent AT-output html finding aids. I use AT at the Seaport Museum solely for the purposes of outputting finding aids to mount online, not in any way as a long-term archives management system. I hope to go into why I do this in a later post.