Ana María López Cuadrado: Working on European archival information system linking encoded data — the Census-Guide to Archives and EAG, a common history

published under CC-BY-SA license

Abstract

Census-Guide for Spanish and Latin American Archives was born in the 1980s, in the Archives Documentary Information Centre (CIDA), under the Ministry of Culture, with the objective of disseminating and controlling the Spanish documentary heritage. One decade later, the Latin American heritage was also included. Nowadays, Census-Guide is an archival information system that pursues a comprehensive standardisation of its data bases. Its work philosophy is based on cooperation with different archival institutions which want to enter their data in our system. They may use any of the online possibilities we offer. The enormous amount of information that the Census-Guide harbours (over 50,000 records) is the reason why it is essential to establish the most appropriate standardisation of information policies, as well as keeping updated with the advances in technology and in other sciences. Thus, it may improve not only the speed and reliability of the information recovery to researchers, but also the usability of our systems for archivists. At this time, the results offered by Web 2.0 and the philosophy of re-using the information, besides the importance of standardisation of data to achieve these two exponents, make the Census-Guide focus its efforts on this point. This is exactly where we are currently working.


 

 

Introduction[1]

The world we are living in does not let stay away from the boom of new technologies, the semantic web and social networks. Internet sites pursue collective intelligence (social software) to provide interactive networked services, expecting that the user was an active contributor and not just a content viewer. If we want to disseminate our cultural heritage, we must actively participate in all these environments, taking advantage of what technology offers. But there is no doubt that, in addition to spreading, we must keep on working on the description of our document files with the best quality possible so that it can be used by other platforms. This must be our biggest challenge. Thus, our users will be the real beneficiaries. Not only those who timidly go to our rooms for researches, but also those that are in front of a computer at home, surfing the internet, trying to find quick solutions to their questions.

Our resources are not isolated. They are not restricted to the information that we can find on the shelves of our libraries. The semantic web allows us to get data faster. More accurate results are perceived because machines process more efficiently the flood of information on the web. This has substantially improved our work as archivists. It is very important to note that new technologies should not only be applied when spreading our information, but also they are extremely useful for achieving a good archival description with accurate and quick sources.

A question about our schemes of work has been flying over our heads for a long time: Why many institutions are studying the same thing, at the same time, if someone has already investigated it previously? Would not it be more useful to reuse that information to expand it or contrast it with our sources?

We are working in the Office of National Archives of Spain under this perspective. Our challenge is to start working on this reuse of information dynamic, thinking about not only our benefits, but also the contributions we can give to other institutions or researchers who do not have reliable sources that confirm their thesis.

Who will be the most appropriate to make an institutional study rather than the archives that contain the documentary heritage of this particular institution? Bearing this in mind, our clear goal right now is to improve our software tools that allow us to enter this dynamic, whereas our colleagues continue describing in detail their archival documents to give us content for its standardisation and dissemination.

Our most recognized tools, Census-Guide for Spanish and Latin American Archives (Census-Guide) and Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES)[2], are adapting to this philosophy from two very clear points of view; the advance in technology and the standardisation of content. This article will focus on the study of the standardisation processes we are carrying out through our archival tools.

PARES and Census-Guide are the basic tools for the development of our archival functions. However, although the great work of the National Archives of Spain (archives owned and managed by the state) is contained in PARES, in this study we focus on the Census-Guide tool.

There are two reasons that support this direction: on the one hand, Census-Guide tool covers, as you will see, a process of comprehensive normalisation, ie it refers to all archival area, both the documents containing institutions and the documents they preserve as well as the authorities related to them. It contains more than 50,000 records from Spain and Latin America, with information, at least the basic required by international standards.

Because of these two reasons, and because the Census-Guide has been working as archives directory since 1980, adapting to all the rules that have appeared over the years, we think that is interesting to study a retrospective history of this tool: its beginnings, evolution and development. Finally we will show you the current state of the process of adaption to EAG 2012.

 

Census-Guide for Spanish and Latin American Archives

In 1974, the Intergovernmental Conference on the Planning of National Documentation Infrastructures, Libraries and Archives in Paris, organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the World Federation of Information and Documentation (FID) and International Council on Archives (ICA), started to promote the development of National Systems of Scientific and Technical Information (NATIS). The aim was that any administration of any state had the appropriate agencies and a legal infrastructure that allowed the establishment of national information systems. In Spain, the national system of archival information would be carried out by the Archives Documentary Information Centre (CIDA), which was founded in 1977[3], affiliated to the Office of National Archives of the Culture Ministry of Spain. A year later, a ministerial order assigns its functions to the Agency.[4]

The goal of the agency was to establish a service to coordinate all aspects of archival, statistical and bibliographic information, being Spain and Latin America its main areas of activity.[5] The CIDA became a body that provided technical assistance to the National Archives of Spain. This was an enormous international innovation. Today, as a support unit, it mainly works on producing annual statistical information, coordinating the network of archive libraries and acting as a standardising agency for archival descriptions.

Among its initiatives, the CIDA set up the project of creating a Directory of Spanish archives and as a result become the data base called Census-Guide of Spanish Archives (CARC). The objective was to provide reliable, accurate and updated data of the Spanish documentaries holdings both public and private.[6]

In 1985 the Census-Guide was reinforced with the passing of the Law 16/1985 of Spanish Historical Heritage[7] and the Royal Decree 111/1986, which establishes the possibility of creating collaborative agreements with the Autonomous Communities. These agreements helped to keep the spirit of collective work. This was the main objective of the Census-Guide besides the facilitation of the data collection.

Nowadays, the Census-Guide to Spanish and Latin American Archives[8] is an electronic guide[9], which contains the directory of Spain and Latin America archives and allows citizens the immediate location of archive centres, their holdings and collections as well as the services they provide. In addition, it is used to preserve and disseminate the documentary heritage and defend it against spoliation. Finally, it's an exponent of archival standards.[10]

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Image 1: The website of the Census-Guide

The magnitude and dispersion of the information contained in the Census-Guide forces us to work together and to establish a fluent and effective collaboration. This project is the result of a great work of national and international cooperation, which has involved the collaboration between the Education, Culture and Sports Ministry, various Spanish autonomous communities, and Latin American countries. Today, more than 50,942 archives are already registered, (35,586 belong to Spain and 15,356 to Latin America).

From the point of view of the contents, the Census-Guide has based its foundations on related data, building a basic structure that has resulted in an archival system in which archives, holdings and producers are linked, with a clear schema reflected in three modules, with their corresponding searchers. They facilitate the task of gathering information for the users of the tool, offering simple as well as advanced searches. Combined searches which allow you to get information about archives and holdings, linked are also offered:

  • Archives Directory: In this module all the archives registered are collected, an archive may be the institution, administrative unit or private person responsible for the custody and service of the documents. These data are described following the International Standard for Describing Institutions with Archival Holdings (ISDIAH) and are related to files Encoded Archival Guide (EAG) 0.2 Alpha version. Here you can find all the information about any institution with archival holdings: service, archivist and contact details (access, building, finding aids, documentary volumes, address, e-mail etc).

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Image 2: Archives Directory of Census-Guide

  • Documentary Holdings/Collections: They are described following the General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)). These records are associated with files Encoded Archival Description (EAD) 2002 version. They are included in the classification scheme of each archive. They may also be retrieved individually through the holding search module. Note that only the holdings/collections registered in the previous module are reflected.

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Image 3: Documentary Holdings/Collections of Census-Guide

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Image 4: Archival authority records of Census-Guide

 

Census-Guide vs PARES

The birth of PARES Portal[11] in 2007 shook up the archival information systems in Spain. Briefly, we can say that PARES is the tool that collects all information regarding National Archives of Spain, while the Census-Guide gathers information from Spain and Latin America archives.

Due to the great amount of shared data in both tools related to National Archives of Spain and their extensive development for the last two years, we have had to work extensively to converge PARES and the Census-Guide properly, directly and in real time. In order to reach this goal, we have defined the contents of both tools, study their common points and create bridges to get a fluent exchange of data.

Nowadays a new route has been opened. We are working from a statistic point of view because the Census-Guide can be considered a basic archival statistical source for collecting data from the state archives, in coordination with PARES internal tools designed for this purpose.

The first thing we had to define was the information concerning the documents shared in both systems. It was evidenced that the best tool in this field was PARES, because this tool is by nature the descriptive system for them. In this case, it was developed a gateway to the holdings and series of these archives, which is updated daily. All changes reflected in PARES are directly displayed in Census-Guide.

On the other hand, information about institutions with archival holdings should be updated in the Census-Guide system because it is the directory established by the Spanish law. Due to this reason, the National Archives of Spain, update their information from the Census-Guide system, including statistical part. After this, all these data are reflected in PARES, so this information is presented in both tools. Researchers can get access to it regardless of the web page where they have found the information.

At present, the standardisation process of archival authorities is being study object by the Office of National Archives. Currently these are processed in both systems, PARES and Census-Guide. In this point, due to the great work done by PARES to create a new archival authority records module, the working tool will be PARES. All information considered necessary will be dumped in the Census-Guide tool with regular updates, as seen in previous cases.

It is clear, therefore, that both tools are closely related and work in the same direction given by the Office of National Archives of Spain.

 

Archives Portal Europe network of excellence (APEx) project and Census-Guide

The Census-Guide follows the international standards issued by the ICA and standards for encoding and transfer of archival descriptions in electronic format. This makes the exchange and processing of information possible through XML files. This also makes Census-Guide be a gateway to promote the information exchange with other international projects in which APEx is included.

The Archives Portal Europe through APEx (as the follow-up of the Archives Portal Europe network (APEnet) project is working with these aims:

  • Expand the network of contributing archival institutions throughout Europe,
  • Improve substantially the interoperability with Europeana,
  • Stabilise the portal infrastructure and hosting and improve its throughput capacity,
  • Make available more standards and guidelines as well as tools and support to the content providers to facilitate content delivery,
  • Develop dissemination and training programmes to encourage and advance aggregation at national levels and thereby raise awareness for Europe's rich collections of archival material,
  • Power innovation in usability and Web 2.0 functionality to ensure up-to-date content delivery,
  • Sustain all efforts mentioned above.

To develop the fourth point, APEx continued the proposal of APEnet to establish the use of international archival standard EAD in the portal for conversion, validation and indexing of archivist data. However, all this was planned in order to adapt it to their necessities and create an interoperable scheme with Europeana Data Model (EDM).

On the other hand, it was also proposed to validate and update the EAG and EAC schemes so that all the standardisation expectations of the portal could be fulfilled. They created the Workpackage for Standards and Guidelines (WP4) within its working groups, with the aim of adapting and developing the apeEAD, apeEAC, apeEAG and apeMETS (Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard) schemes.

Although all of these rules mentioned before are used and applied in the Census-Guide, this tool only generates EAG schemes. Both EAC and EAD schemes are generated by PARES. For this reason and the fact that the Census-Guide is closely linked to the history of the EAG, we will focus our attention on them.

The EAG 2002 it was created by a working group of the Office of National Archives of the Education, Culture and Sport Ministry of Spain (October 2001/July 2002) as result of all the processes and efforts to standardise the archival descriptions of institutions with archival holdings through the Census-Guide.

The importance of archives directories in archival information systems is, on the one hand, the need for researchers to find easily the necessary information about the institution that keeps the document needed. Furthermore, the speed and convenience they offer to people to find all archives in a specific area and their holdings. These tools become a very important showcase for researchers, who are increasingly turning to try to make a first approach to their research projects on the Internet. They do it to locate their knowledge and see how far they can easily find what they are looking for and where they may go to find what they need.

This is only referred to the researchers, if we talk about common people, they use the Internet as the primary source of information for all their issues, and when they need to obtain any data on archives, they take for granted that it will also be available on the web, like any of her other many issues they solve online.

The Census-Guide provides all this. However, it is also aware of the importance of sharing data between archival institutions. As mentioned before in this article, it is useless to work inward, regardless of what colleagues are doing at this moment.

Therefore in 2002 we started to define the rules to standardise the exchange of encoded XML data to institutions with archival holdings. This was how EAG 2002 appeared. Eventually, ICA published ISDIAH which endorses the work made by the Census-Guide and its reflection in the EAG (the main purpose of the ISDIAH is to facilitate the description of institutions whose primary function is to keep archives and to make them available to the general public). The acceptance by the archival community of the ISDIAH brought as a consequence a check of the Census-Guide and an update of the EAG.

The importance of an effective archival directory in an archival information system, the benefits for users and the previous experience of Census-Guide in this area, made the APEx WP4 understands the need for the portal to be adapted to the EAG and ISDIAH, and so the Census-Guide could participate in this review.

The result: A new EAG 2012 version that nowadays is being validated, and the attempt to adapt to this new scheme by different institutions, not just the portal, but also other institutions that collaborate with APEx, such as Collaborative EuropeaN Digital Archival Research Infrastructure (CENDARI).

At this time the Census-Guide is also in this chapter. Our IT team is performing the mapping of EAG 2002 to 2012, and studying the possibilities to solve technical problems. Our archival directory schema, in some cases, is focused differently from how it established in the EAG 2012, although we provide the same final information, the structure changes. This point has to be adapted in the best way technically and for the archivist in all areas.

The main problems we have to solve are multilingualism and the existence of different archival repositories in a single institution. This second point has been a problem in our work for some time, until the adjustment to EAG 2012. It has forced us to put a final solution that allows the option of an archival institution to have different venues. This must be understood not only considering an archival institution may have offices and deposits in different places (buildings only for repositories or for workers, or researchers, ie buildings dedicated only for one mission), but also it may be possible that one archival institution has different buildings where they carry out all the archival works.

You can also solve problems through the EAG 2012 to establish that an institution with archival holdings can have part of their document placed in other archival institutions. This is very typical in our small archival churches, whose historical documents are usually kept in the diocesan archives, while only the current records are kept in the churches. In some meetings of the working group of the EAG within WP4 this is a matter that leads to discussion. Some solutions have been found by creating new elements and restructuring the schema of EAG 2012.

All this will be implemented when we finally adapt this scheme to the Census-Guide. However it may be possible we have to create our own EAG scheme adapted to our needs (censoEAG), as the portal had to make (apeEAG), because each system has many and diverse problems that have to be solved.

On the other hand, the challenge of multilingualism is a constant concern in our country. We are working openly from many sectors on this.[12] Therefore the new EAG are inserted into our projects easily and walking in the same direction as our work objectives.

One aspect that has not been reflected in this article, but it is also very interesting to note is the importance of introducing these archival progress in our information systems in order to improve the archivists work. We have highlighted the importance of our tools for researchers, who are the final users of the product, but before we get to this point, the archivists have had to work, study, generate, standardise, and finally encode all these data.

This work is often difficult for archivists whose resources are limited and have not got the necessary technical assistance for this job. From the beginning, both in the Archival Portal Europe and in the Census-Guide, this option has been taken into account, and for this reason it is not necessary to provide encoded information about these institutions.

You only have to enter data into the input forms that are offered when you are an internal user and then the system generates the EAG file. The Archives Portal Europe has gone further because it allows users to enter information directly encoded only if an institution has prepared the EAG file previously. They have even created a tool which confirms that these data are correct. Thus, the EAG scheme can be uploaded to the platform without errors.

So far, the Census-Guide does not allow this option but in this adaptation process in which we are immersed, this goal is also in mind. The intention is that the data are reversible and reusable in both directions. Institutions can both enter their information through forms or through coding schemes (EAG 2012) and that data can be offered in both presentations. Researchers and archivists will get understandable results only from the world of Web 2.0 and the principles of the philosophy of information reuse.

 

Conclusion

The Census-Guide, as an Archives directory of Spain and Latin America, is more than just a basic tool for information search. It is a complete archival information system that enables the user to search the necessary information on archives, holdings or authorities related to them, quickly and efficiently, extending its boundaries from Spain to Latin America. The amount of information presented here is the key element that forces us to work to recover our data in a fast, simple and reliable way. This is the reason that the Census-Guide has always been concerned about staying ahead of the international standards that affect us, the advances of new technologies and the benefits that can report the principles of information reuse and the semantic web.

The development of the initial EAG 2002 supports this view, as well as the quick adaptation of Census-Guide to ISDIAH and the work of adapting to new schemes of EAG 2012.

This is the reason why the Census-Guide has quickly become a useful and durable over time tool that has been adapted to the evolution of the archival science. This tool participates actively in all developments that occur in the world of information system, which produces reliable and quick searches made by researchers and people in general.

Bringing up to date the volume of records that the Census-Guide manages is only possible if we rely on all these new advances and make them ours. This also provokes improvements in the daily work of archivists.

We intend to continue working to achieve the challenges proposed by the Semantic Web and the reuse of information. In order to get this, we actively collaborate with international institutions that work on the development of these points and move forward to make the Census-Guide be a useful, reliable and current archival information system.

 

 

1.
Translation was revised by Alberto Muñoz Navío. 
2.
The Spanish Archives Portal (PARES) is a project of the Culture Ministry for broadcast via Internet Spanish Historical Heritage Documentary preserved in its network of centers. 
3.
2258/1977 Royal Decree of 27 August, on organizational structure and functions of the Culture Ministry, through which the Archives Documentary Information CenterCIDA was created. 
4.
Ministerial Order of 7 August 1978 the Culture Ministry on structuring Archives Documentary Information Center (BOE 26-8-1978). 
5.
The Documentary Heritage of Spain and Latin America is the result of more than four centuries of common history, during which they shared the same administrative tradition. This administrative management has been reflected in the documents kept in the archives. In 1991 after the conclusion of the Conference "Censo-Guía de Archivos Latinoamericanos" (Mexico, September 1991) coordinated by Margarita Vázquez de Parga, scientific cooperation agreements with various Latin American countries for the collection, recording and updating of information in the Census-Guide (1990-2011) started to be celebrated. 
6.
Antonio Matilla Tascon started a project in the 1960s (published in 1972) where it was intended to raise awareness of the Spanish municipal and parish archives. See: Censo – Guía de Archivos Españoles / Inspección General de Archivos,2 Vol. (Madrid, 1972). 
7.
Art. 51 of Law 16/1985 of Spanish Historical Heritage. 
8.
The Census-Guide is responsibility of the Education, Culture and Sports Ministry, through the Office of National Archives of Spain. CIDA is the institution responsible for managing the contents of this database. 
9.
The Census-Guide is available on the website of the Education, Culture and Sports Ministry: http://censoarchivos.mcu.es/CensoGuia/portada.htm (viewed 8 October 2014). 
10.
Royal Decree 1708/2011, that develops the Spanish Archives System. Article 19 b. 
11.
The Spanish Archives Portal (PARES) is a project of the Culture Ministry for broadcast via Internet Spanish Historical Heritage Documentary preserved in its network of centers: http://pares.mcu.es/ (viewed 8 October 2014). 
12.
Law 19/2013 of Transparency, Access to public information and Good Governance. Article 17: Access to Information of Public Administration in any of the co-official languages of the Spanish State. 

About the Author

Ana María López Cuadrado

Degree in History with Diploma of Advanced Studies in Historiographical Sciences and Techniques, from Complutense University of Madrid, Master in Archival Science from Carlos III University of Madrid, Civil Servant in the Corps of State Archivist since 2007.
After working for the Description Department in the Archivo de la Nobleza (Toledo), she has been working in the Archives Documentary Information Centre (CIDA) since 2009. As responsible for the Standardisation Area of this Centre, she manages the Census-Guide for Spanish and Latin American Archives. She is also part of the Indexing Working Group of Office of National Archives (Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Spain). Besides, she is member of the Work Packages 4 of the APEx Project about Standardisation.

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