Tag Archives: finding aids

Flags are flying for the 2000th online finding aid!

ship with sails

Any day now, the ticker at the top of the Rubenstein’s finding aids page will turn over and mark a milestone 2000th online finding aid. Doesn’t sound like much, especially when you consider that the Rubenstein Library holds more than 6,000 manuscript collections. But those 2,000 finding aids – narrative maps that guide a researcher through the contents of a manuscript collection’s boxes and folders – also represent thousands of hours of interpretive labor supplied by library staff. The first of these online collection guides debuted around 1996. They are encoded with an XML-derivative called EAD, and are now discoverable to a worldwide audience through any online keyword search. But finding aids – or inventories – or collection guides – go back a lot further than their online counterparts.

The winner of the 2,000th finding aid spot belongs to the Purviance Family Papers. Acquired as either a purchase or a gift by the Duke University Manuscripts Department in 1943 from an S. S. Barnes in Baltimore, the collection offers over 2300 manuscripts and 10 photographs, 4 maps, and 21 volumes (including an anonymous Civil War diary) belonging to a prominent Revolutionary-era Baltimore family with a compelling history. Shortly after it was received, a Manuscript Department archivist researched the collection and typed up a set of catalog cards: the Purviance Papers “finding aid.”

Defined most broadly, archivists consider a finding aid to be any document that assists in charting a path through the contents and topics of an archival collection – a big help when you’re dealing with a very large collection! In the 1940s at Duke, this was the role of the card catalog. Of course, you could only consult the cards if you traveled to the library, or if you could ask a reference archivist to help. Some collections were represented by three or four cards; some had close to a hundred. In 2012 – to the shock of older librarians who never thought they’d see the day – the entire card catalog was digitized and is currently being used as a resource for the reference archivists. Here is a sample of the 92 Purviance cards:  purviance cardsCollections were typically a lot smaller back then.  As collections grew larger, a new generation of archivists started using more productive strategies for describing thousands of folders of manuscript items, and as part of this effort, they turned to creating more-portable paper inventories (but still on typewriters). Here’s an example of one, with a post-it note that marks a turning point in library history:   PicMonkey Collage

Enter the computer and Microsoft Word. When I started working in the library in 1992, the staff was thinking big about the power of computing. Gopher and Mosaic and were on the horizon. More prosaically, electronic-format finding aids could be corrected and added to, and printed out anytime (no more liquid white-out) or viewed online – goodbye, paper (well, sort of). The description for the Purviance Family Papers were still described on cards in the card catalog and in a paper box list until a few months ago. As part of a project to make all of our longer legacy descriptions available online, a library intern, Bob Malme, encoded the Purviance Family Papers collection guide – the Rubenstein Library’s 2,000th finding aid. And it is especially fitting that this inventory was the work of one of our interns: an integral part of our library practically since our founding, they have provided a huge amount of support for our collections and their finding aids – in every format.

As a member of the Technical Services Department, whose job it is to crank out all these finding aids, I was – and still am, I guess – an EAD Warrior. That moniker comes from a Duke Special Collections Library group whose early work on standards for Duke online finding aids would shape our goal for total online access for all of our finding aids – cards and paper. How many finding aids will that eventually be? Oh, another 4,000 at least. We’re working on it already!

Post contributed by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, Senior Processing Archivist.

Finding Aid Facelift!

According to Wikipedia, “finding aids are a concept dating back to ancient clay tablets.”  While I certainly didn’t learn that factoid in library school, I suppose that if you’re writing on tablets, then you probably need a special tablet (a finding aid?) that tells you where you put all of the other tablets, right? Maybe…

Whatever their origins, finding aids are an important tool for locating material in archival collections and last month the Rubenstein Library’s online finding aids got a major facelift.  We’ve brought them out of the Stone Age by completely overhauling the layout and introducing some new functionality.  With these improvements, we hope our finding aids are more attractive and usable for both researchers and staff.

Some of the major enhancements:

  • New URL for finding aid homepage: http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/
  • What box is my stuff in?  Requesting the wrong box is frustrating.  With new color coding, repeating box numbers, and other visual cues, it’s now easier to determine which container to request.  Container numbers have been moved to the right-hand side of the page so as not to interfere with description.

    Navigation Box for the new Rubenstein Finding Aids
    Navigation Box now on all finding aids
  • Boring stuff moved to the bottom.  Finding aid usability studies indicate that administrative information, subject headings, and lengthy biographical notes are infrequently used, so we’ve relocated those sections to the bottom of the finding aid, keeping the most useful information at the top.
  • Floating navigation box.  A navigation box at the right of the screen stays with you as you scroll, making it easy to navigate to other sections in the finding aid wherever you are.  You can’t outrun it. Don’t even try.
  • Search this finding aid!  A search box in the finding aid navigation box lets you search for keywords in the text of any finding aid.  It’s just like your browser’s “Ctrl F” function!
  • Series Quick Links.  The “Series Quick links” feature in the navigation box activates a small pop-up in the bottom right of the screen for quickly navigating through different series in a collection. Works great with really large finding aids with many series.
  • Expanding / Collapsing.  Now you can control how much detail you want!  By default, finding aids display in their entirety, but click a series/subseries title to expand or collapse content of that series or subseries.  Also, an experimental “Level of Detail” slider in the navigation box lets you control how much detail you want.  Sometimes you just can’t get enough.
  • Link to catalog records:  At the bottom of the navigation box you’ll find a small “catalog record” link that will take you directly to the catalog record for that collection, no questions asked.
  • More prominent links to digital collections.  Finding aids describing collections with digitized content now feature an icon above the banner with a link to the corresponding digital collection.  Example: http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/strykerdeena/

    Deena Stryker Finding Aid
    Finding aid for the Deena Stryker Photographs, with a link to the digital collection.
  • More prominent warnings for access restrictions. Look for the yellow boxes and yield icons.
  • Finding aids on the go!  Using the principles of Responsive Web Design, we’ve redesigned finding aids to display appropriately on any size device—iPhone, iPad, IMAX, you name it.  Just for kicks, open a finding aid in your browser, start narrowing the browser window, and watch the content adjust to fit.

    Finding aids are now easily accessed by phone.

Take a moment and let us know what you think about our new finding aids site.  We appreciate your feedback.

Post contributed by Noah Huffman, Archivist for Metadata and Encoding.