“Building a National Finding Aid Network”: UVA Library to Partner on IMLS-Funded Collaborative Research and Development Initiative

The California Digital Library has announced a $982,175 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS – National Leadership Grants for Libraries grant program) to conduct a two-year research and demonstration project designed to build the foundation for a national archival finding aid network. CDL will undertake the work in collaboration with OCLC and the University of Virginia Library, and in close partnership with statewide/regional aggregators and LYRASIS (ArchivesSpace).

“Building a National Finding Aid Network” addresses a fundamental challenge that researchers of all types face: the significant barriers to locating relevant archival materials across the vast, distributed, and unevenly supported field of cultural heritage institutions. Digital aggregations of finding aids (descriptions of archival collections) are often siloed and at-risk as their infrastructure ages and budgets dwindle, and many archives don’t even publish their finding aids online. As a result, much of the stewarded archival content in the United States is essentially invisible, and the voices documented therein are poorly represented in the historical record.

This project is rooted in the goal of providing inclusive, comprehensive, and persistent access to finding aids by laying the foundation for a national finding aid network available to all contributors and researchers. Rather than continuously adapting siloed, duplicative infrastructure, the project seeks to sustainably manage and provide access to these materials by developing a large-scale, national finding aid network that is community-driven, -sustained, and -governed.

This project will include multiple concurrent lines of work from September 2020 to August 2022:

screenshot showing faces of people in the Social Networks and Archival Context online resource

The Social Networks and Archival Context interface

  • Investigation of end-user and contributor needs in relation to finding aid aggregations and evaluation of the quality of existing finding aid data.
  • Technical assessments of potential systems to support network functions, including a registry of institutions and the integration of finding aid data with related content and context (such as the SNAC historical and biographical connections resource hosted by UVA Library), and the formulation of system requirements for a minimum viable product instantiation of the network.
  • Community building, sustainability planning, and governance modeling to support subsequent phases moving from a project to a program, post-2022.

Springboarding on earlier findings and a subsequent action plan developed through a 2018-2019 planning initiative (supported by IMLS under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act and administered in California by the State Librarian), this network promises to have a transformative and lasting impact on cultural heritage institutions and the researchers they serve by reducing barriers to discovery, expanding the historical record, and establishing a national mechanism for solving shared infrastructure challenges.

About CDL

California Digital Library provides transformative digital library services, grounded in campus partnerships and extended through external collaborations, that amplify the impact of the libraries, scholarship, and resources of the University of California.

About IMLS

IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. This year, IMLS awarded 70 grants totaling $18,256,177 through the FY 2020 National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program.

About SNAC and Virginia Heritage

SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context) and Virginia Heritage are online resources hosted by the University of Virginia Library. SNAC is a free resource that helps users discover biographical and historical information about persons, families, and organizations that created or are documented in historical resources (primary source documents) and their connections to one another. Virginia Heritage is an aggregator of archival finding aids which provides information about the vast array of manuscripts and archival materials housed in historical societies, libraries, museums, colleges and universities across the state of Virginia. The continuous addition of new and updated finding aids makes this a great tool for discovering primary source materials documenting the history, culture, and people of Virginia.

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