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Prospectus for Linked Archival Metadata: A Guidebook

Published: March 1, 2013



Linked Archival Metadata: A Guidebook will provide archivists with an overview of the current linked data landscape, define basic concepts, identify practical strategies for adoption, and emphasize the tangible payoffs for archives implementing linked data. It will focus on clarifying why archives and archival users can benefit from linked data and will identify a graduated approach to applying linked data methods to archival description.

The Guidebook is a product of the Linked Archival Metadata planning project (LiAM), led by the Digital Collections and Archives at Tufts University and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). LiAM’s goals include defining use cases for linked data in archives and providing a roadmap to describe options for archivists intending to share their description using linked data techniques.

Audience and Objectives

Linked Archival Metadata: A Guidebook is intended to serve three primary audiences:

  • Archivists new to linked data
  • Archivists familiar with linked data
  • Technologists working in archives or with archivists

While these are the primary audiences for the Guidebook, we will also include an executive summary with the core objectives, anticipated outcomes, and implications that will provide administrators or other senior leaders with the information that they will need in order to understand the benefits and potential costs of this path.

These three primary audiences have very different needs. For those just getting started, the Guidebook will provide a conceptual overview of linked data with examples of how it can enable archivists to improve user discovery of collections as well as enhancing archival description. For these users, a key aspect of the Guidebook will be a focus on readiness. It will also provide an introduction to the linked data building blocks that many archives already have in place, showing how the move to linked data will for many be a step rather than a leap.

For archivists with more linked data experience, the Guidebook will provide a environmental scan of the linked data environment today both generally and within the library, archives, and museum communities (LAM). A key aspect of this track within the Guidebook will be the identification of gaps in source data, tools, and practices and recommendations for next steps.

For technologists, the Guidebook will provide an outcome-oriented perspective on the particular benefits that linked data should enable for archivists and archival users; a roadmap for tool and implementation needs identified by the LiAM project; and the aforementioned environmental scan to enable reuse of existing tools and implementations while creating new ones. Recognizing that some technologists may not have extensive experience with archives, the Guidebook will also include information that will ground the technology in archival concepts. The use cases will include the context necessary for those new to archives to understand the objectives of archival description and the needs of users.

Each section of the Guidebook will have content targeted for each audience.

Brief Outline
  • 1. Executive Summary
  • 2. Introduction
    • a. Why linked data, and why now?
    • b. How to use the Guidebook
  • 3. Linked Data for Archives: a Primer
    • a. Objectives: management, access, and use and linked data affordances
    • b. Overview of linked data concepts and vocabulary
    • c. Brief overview of the history of LOD-LAM
    • d. Examples
  • 4. Linked Data Today
    • a. Projects: Brief descriptions with an emphasis on tangible benefits and outcomes of each
    • b. Trends in LOD-LAM
  • 5. Getting Started: Strategies and Steps
    • a. Defining your strategy: Articulate goals, objectives, and metrics to measure success.
    • b. Is your archival description LOD-ready?
    • c. Identify building blocks: metadata components in archival description that are (or nearly are) ready for linking.
    • d. Readiness: Making small changes in practice to make your description LOD-ready.
    • e. What you can do now if you have:
      • i. EAD
      • ii. EAC-CPF
      • iii. MARC
      • iv. METS, MODS, and perhaps more. This section will provide illustrative examples of what can be done with the linked data building blocks already included in archival description
  • 6. On Your Way: Next Steps
    • a. Integration into daily practice
    • b. Three Cs: Cleanup, Conversion, Consistency
    • c. Tools
  • 7. Looking Ahead: Advanced Tools and Visualizations
    • a. Tools for archivists (data preparation, cleanup, management)
      • i. What’s available now
      • ii. Gaps: What is needed
    • b. Tools for users (visualizations, interfaces)
      • i. What’s available now
      • ii. Gaps: What is needed



The structure of the Guidebook should support readers moving through the text in a variety of ways. Like a travel book, it should provide useful high-level information for users who only need the basics, as well as in-depth information for those planning an extended stay in LOD-land. The Guidebook is intentionally named, and will draw from the genre of actual travel guides (Fodors, etc.) that provide readers easy access to both high-level information (know before you go, what to see if you’re only there for a day) as well as in-depth details of for those staying in one place longer. In developing the concept behind the Guidebook, we looked to the Getty Introduction to Metadata as an example of a useful text that combines both basic grounding information and advanced concepts.

Synopses of the use cases developed by the LiAM project will be interspersed throughout the Guidebook to illustrate and frame the text. Each use case will be briefly described in 100-200 words with links to the full use cases on the LiAM website.


Some sections of the Guidebook, particularly the Linked Data Primer, will have enduring value and will have relevance over time. This section will be a static text, with revisions being made only with the release of a new edition.

Much of the rest of the Guidebook, while providing a concise overview of today’s linked data landscape and needs, would require ongoing updates, maintenance, and enhancement to describe implementation of LOD in the archival community over time.

An initial release of the Guidebook will be in the form of a PDF document to be delivered to IMLS in fulfillment of the LiAM planning grant requirements as well as being shared with the public. However, the Guidebook’s ongoing vitality will benefit from a more dynamic publication environment, and we therefore plan to publish it in a wiki connected to a code repository. This combination will enable updating of the resource to reflect changes in the field as well as providing a mechanism for sharing tools, scripts, and other code related to the project.

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