The University of Virginia Library is pleased to announce that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the University of Virginia $600,000 to complete the work of establishing the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Cooperative. For this final phase of establishing the Cooperative, the University of Virginia Library is collaborating with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the 34 other Cooperative members, which together represent a wide variety of archives, libraries, and museums. Membership is expected to expand substantially during this final phase.
The SNAC Cooperative aspires to improve the economy and quality of archival processing and description, and to simultaneously address the longstanding research challenge of discovering, locating, and using distributed historical records, through the creation of a freely-available global social-document network built and sustained by both computational methods and human curation.
The SNAC platform connects more than 3.7 million descriptions of people, families, and organizations linked to over 2 million archival resource descriptions held in more than 4,000 repositories globally and reveals social connections between and among individuals, families and organizations. Researchers with an interest in people, families, and organizations can search them in SNAC and discover how they are related to one another and locate historical resources from around the world that document their lives and work.
SNAC began as a Research and Demonstration (R&D) project with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (2010–2012), followed by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2012–2015). The project demonstrated the feasibility of separating the description of persons, families, and organizations—including their social-intellectual networks—from the description of the historical resources that are the primary evidence of their lives and work. SNAC also demonstrated that the biographical-historical data extracted and assembled can be used to provide researchers with convenient, integrated access to historical collections held by archives and libraries around the world.
The initial results of the research made it clear that the potential power of the assembled data to transform research and improve the economy and effectiveness of archival descriptive practices required more than computational methods: it also needed human curation. With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the SNAC developers performed detailed planning from 2012–2015 on how best to transform the R&D into a sustainable international cooperative that would enable archivists, librarians, and scholars to maintain the descriptive data and to extend the scope of the people and records included.
The Social Networks and Archival Content site
With funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the SNAC team has completed Phases I & II (2015–2020) of establishing the Cooperative by focusing on community building and transforming the R&D technical infrastructure into a platform that supports editorial curation of the data.
From 2010 to 2017, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia served as the lead institution for SNAC. During this period, IATH led three different endeavors: R&D (2010–2015), Cooperative planning (2011–2015), and Phase I of establishing the Cooperative (2015–2017). The California Digital Library, the School for Information Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration were important collaborators during the R&D Phase activities.
Since 2017, SNAC has been part of the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, which serves as its administrative and technological home. The move to the Small Special Collections Library ensures close collaborations and partnerships with the cultural heritage and research communities. Daniel Pitti of the University of Virginia Library, who has led the development of SNAC since its inception, will continue to serve as its director. Joseph Glass, also at UVA, will lead the technological development. Jerry Simmons, at the National Archives and Records Administration, will serve as the SNAC operations manager and also direct SNAC training.
The third and final phase of establishing the Cooperative has a number of interrelated objectives. Two key objectives are enabling new members to put existing data describing historical resources and people into SNAC, and enabling existing members to integrate the work of building and maintaining SNAC into their normal processing workflows. To accomplish these objectives developers will build web services as well an extension to OpenRefine, a widely-used data management tool, that will improve the migration of their data into SNAC. This will enable a vast increase of the information in SNAC. Developers will also build an extension to another widely used tool, ArchivesSpace, that will enable repositories to contribute and maintain data in SNAC as a component of the normal activities associated with processing and describing holdings. Improving the quality of SNAC data and the efficiency of SNAC editing will also occupy the developers. While SNAC is already used by many researchers and reference professionals, there will be substantial efforts to make SNAC better known and to provide both researchers and reference staff with instruction on how best to use SNAC to discover and locate historical records.