Encoded Archival Description, or EAD for short, is an XML standard used for encoding finding aids, and is maintained jointly by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the Library of Congress. The EAD Project originated in 1993 at the annual SAA meeting, and its goal was to create a data standard to use when describing archives. It was initially developed in Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), but moved to XML before the release of the alpha version of EAD in 1996.
There are currently three versions of EAD available:
- EAD version 1.0, released in 1998
- EAD 2002, released in December 2002
- EAD3, released in July 2015
The EAD tag set is composed of 165 elements that can be used to encode finding aids and describe a collection, including who's responsible for maintaining the collection and even a full inventory of a collection.
composed of two main chunks of information:
<eadheader>(EAD 2002) or
<control>(EAD3): contains administrative information about the document itself, such as what archive or finding aid the document focuses on, who published the document/is responsible for updating it, and when it was last updated
<archdesc>: Description of the archive, including information about the physical makeup of the archive and descriptions of each unit of content
Since EAD is constructed using XML, EAD documents can easily be created and processed by any XML editor or processor. Additionally, so long as you follow the rules for structuring a document outlined in an EAD schema, you have the ability to customize an EAD document to your own unique needs. This flexibility allows for individual institutions to create their own EAD templates that include information that's important and relevant when describing their collections.
When creating a finding aid, you don't necessarily have to encode the document in EAD — however, marking it up with EAD makes it easier to serve up the information included in the finding aid in many different formats, including as a PDF, an HTML document, and more. One place where you can see this in practice is through the IU Archives website. The content for each individual collection, such as the Edna Hatfield Edmondson correspondence collection, is pulled from an EAD document and displayed as HTML. We can even view the original XML for the document if desired by clicking on the XML link in the View Options section of the page.
One important thing to keep in mind is that while different institutions may all use EAD for encoding information about their archives, each institution's EAD template is different. They may all use common elements, but each template will be customized to meet the needs of that institution's EAD implementation. Since each institution's EAD template is unique, there are likely best practices defined for working with their EAD templates. For example, let's take a look at the best practices for working with EAD at Indiana University, and compare them to Yale University's EAD best practices.
Both documents outline how to work with EAD at their specific institutions, and how to construct an EAD document — however, when looking at the element lists for both insitutions' templates, you can see that they make use of different elements in their EAD templates. When working with an institution's EAD template, it's a good idea to be aware of any best practices ahead of time to make sure you're using the proper elements in the right places and including all necessary information in the EAD document.
Let's get started with exploring EAD by creating a new document and adding the core elements needed for marking up a finding aid to it.