ID: 174

HIGGINS, Sarah; HILTON, Christopher; DAFIS, Lyn 


Sarah Higgins is the director of the MSc in Digital Curation at Aberystwyth University where she lectures across the Information Studies Programmes. Her research focuses on the lifecycle management of digital materials by archives services, libraries and other information professionals, and the role of metadata in enabling access to archives and digital materials. She was formerly an advisor with the Digital Curation Centre where she led the DCC Curation Lifecycle Model Project and the standards advisory function.


Christopher Hilton is based at the Wellcome Library, the UK’s foremost resource for the history of health and medicine, where he is senior archivist with responsibility for archive catalogues and metadata. His role covers both the continued development of the Library’s ISAD(G) catalogue for archives, and how that data may be shared with other catalogues within and outside the Library. His current projects include adapting the Wellcome archive catalogue for the description of born-digital material as well as analogue, and looking at how Linked Data might assist catalogue intergration.


Lyn Dafis manages the traditional (analogue) unique and distinct collections at the National Library of Wales – archives and manuscripts, graphic materials, cartographic materials, early and rare books, ephemera – and is responsible for metadata standards implemented at the Library. He is a librarian who was previously curator of photography at the Library, a systems curator, metadata manager and head of digitisation.


Archives context and discovery: rethinking arrangement and description for the digital age

Brief summary:

This paper reconsiders hierarchical arrangement and description of archives for the digital age. It describes the methodology for a study which aims to identify whether user generated arrangement and description facilitates access to collections.


Traditionally the archival principles of provenance and original order are enacted through hierarchical arrangement and description, facilitating intellectual and physical access and the preservation of context. Access to archival collections is now impeded by the pragmatic impossibility of achieving the ideal of fully arranged collections described in detail to individual item level. Meanwhile online description to fonds or series level - created using standards created for the paper paradigm - ignore the new reality of facilitating access to born-digital material and digitised collections. Both require item level description, the former already incorporating its own pre-packaged metadata, which enables the reader to access and use digital material without necessarily knowing their context and provenance.  Both, too, can be arranged in multiple ways. New paradigms for arrangement and description for the digital age need to focus on individual items and the user experience. Opportunities to facilitate contextual understanding and access include:  user generated arrangement and description, tagging and linkage to existing biographical, historical and contextual resources.  This study, a collaboration between the UK organisations Aberystwyth University, the National library of Wales and the Wellcome Library, proposes a user study that will offer archival collections digitally with no pre-defined archival arrangement and minimal contextual information. Tools will be provided to enable user input to both the arrangement and description of the collections and behaviours will be analysed to help identify and evaluate new methods for enabling access and maintaining contextual information.

Scientific contribution:

This paper looks towards identifying practical ways of maintaining the archival principle of provenance while enhancing both intellectual and physical access to collections in the new paradigm of digital delivery of both archival description and archival materials.


Arrangement, description, digital age, digitisation, born-digital