Encoded Archival Description (EAD)


Describing holdings & collections

Development of the EAD standard began with a project initiated by the University of California, Berkeley Library in 1993. 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 standardising board is the EAD Working Group of the Society of American Archivists (SAA).

--> Go to the official EAD Tag Library to learn more about elements and attributes available.

--> See the General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)) as correspondent describing standard as maintained by the International Council on Archives (ICA).


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 future 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 in a union access point the APEnet EAD schema has been created, which is now called apeEAD and is continually enhanced and improved along with further steps of the project's progress.

The complete apeEAD schema is defined as a subset of the EAD 2002 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 project. In cases of different possibilities it names those elements and attributes commonly used – and describes how they are used.
When you are interested in the question how to map and convert your own data into apeEAD, please refer to the mapping and normalisation best practice for the APEnet project.

Information on apeEAD as used for finding aids and holdings guides

There are several ways to get informed on the current state of development of apeEAD:

the apeEAD table,

  • a tabular overview on how apeEAD has been defined for now to be used with finding aids, naming and listing the different elements and attributes, each with a short note on its intended use (this document is outdated and a new version is currently in preparation; please refer to the apeEAD schema below);

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.

These documents (state: October 2012) still are slightly evolving along with the further developments within the APEx project. But the possible changes and adaptations will be minor, probably will not reduce but increase the number of elements and attributes and will not touch the general structure and the elements defined so far.

For any questions and more details please use the Contact form.

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The APEx project is co-funded by the European Commission via the ICT PSP framework, 5th call, theme 2.1 - aggregating content for Europeana

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