The Use Cases for LiAM include scenarios in which understanding of or access to archival collections are made more difficult or cumbersome when description is strictly limited to the traditional finding aid. In describing these scenarios, LiAM staff and Working Group members drew on first-hand experience managing and describing collections as well as helping researchers use the collections in our care.
General Problem Statement for LiAM
From the grant narrative:
Most finding aids — archival collection descriptions often encoded in EAD — are hierarchical and linear narrative documents that take a top-down approach to archival description. They start by describing an archival collection as a whole, its creator(s), and how the collection is organized.
From there finding aids typically describe series, subseries, and on down to the lowest level of description. The linear flow of the traditional finding aid closely mirrors the physical arrangement of the documents in hand, serving both as a description of the collection and as a map to where records are physically located on the actual shelves or within the actual boxes and folders.
The archival principle of provenance provides the theoretical underpinning for this hierarchical formulation of the finding aid. This principle dictates that “records of different origins (provenance) be kept separate to preserve their context.”1 Archivists use the finding aid as their main tool to adhere to this principle in their management and description of their archival holdings. The finding aid supports provenance by hewing closely to the notion of original order.
By crafting finding aids to provide a representation of how the records creator arranged and ordered his, her, or its records, archives aim to preserve “existing relationships and evidential significance that can be inferred from the context of the records.” Archivists use finding aids to provide intellectual and physical control of their holdings, and to give users the means to discover records and objects within collections and understand the way items and groupings of documents relate to each other.
Complexity is not new to archival collections. However, we feel that changes in recordkeeping from creation to use is increasing the complexity of the descriptive work required of archivists and challenging the effectiveness of traditional descriptive modes. We feel the need to explore alternative descriptive approaches that can meaningfully represent that complexity.
Some of these complexities are:
- An individual record or series of records often have simultaneous significance in multiple contexts
- Record creators have multifaceted relationships to different records and series of records
- Documentation of a function often spans provenance-based records series
- Documentation of an event often spans provenance-based records series
- Intentional filing systems are often no longer employed as a file management strategy, undermining the affordance of original order as a conceptual basis for description
In most cases, archivists know or become aware of vital contexualizing information as part of arrangement and description work. However, they often struggle to articulate this information it to users in ways that are easily accessible and meaningful and that don’t require excessive supplemental narrative description.