One Year Later: NHPRC-funded Project to Improve Access to Archival Collections & Their Descriptions

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed a number of posts this past year related to our project transferring SCUA’s finding aids (descriptions of archival collections) into an archives management system. Not only is the goal of this project to make it easier for everyone to find collections of interest, but it will also make it far easier for staff to manage the collections behind-the-scenes. We’ve reported on what the project is, and highlighted a few interesting encounters along the way. We’re just about a year into the project, which began June 1, 2018, and you may be curious about what is happening backstage, and when will you be able to see the results?

Caitlin Moriarty, the project archivist hired for the project, has been hard at work transferring the finding aids from the Microsoft Word versions into the new archives management system. (Currently, the finding aids are maintained in both their Microsoft Word versions – the official version, and their publicly displayed versions online in HTML.) While the bulk of the project’s work involves a fair share of tedious data-entry -type work, Caitlin also needs to remain aware of the finding aids she’s working with and how well they’re going to transfer into the archives management system (although SCUA has tried to create consistent finding aids throughout the years, close to 50 years of finding-aid-creation by various authors means they’re not all the same, nor are they, alas, perfect!).


Shown above are 2 versions of the same finding aid for the Pilar A. Garcia papers. On the left is the public interface for the new system, and on the right is the current system. The display is fairly similar, although the new system has a left-hand navigation bar which makes it far easier to navigate within the finding aids’ container listings, especially those of large collections.

In addition to adapting the finding aids for the new system, Caitlin is also in charge of a whole variety of tests to make sure that things are done properly – both for the finding aids themselves, and how they are encoded within the system so all of the behind-the-scenes work can be done as smoothly as possible. For instance, if the system is not encoding the finding aids properly – this may mean that when the finding aids are shared with bibliographic utilities such as this one, they won’t be displayed properly and might not make a whole lot of sense to people.  Caitlin has also been working with the University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, to make sure the university records are easily navigable within the system.

Curious to see what this new system will look like?  If all goes well, we’ll be having a soft launch of the system this November.  Although more work will need to be done after this date, a fair number of the finding aids will be in the system at this point. All of the manuscripts were entered by the end of last year, and we’re in the process of getting the university archives finding aids, which are a bit more tricky, into the system.

In the meantime, here’s a small glimpse at what is to come.  Below is the Google search bar (see the upper right “Search Special Collections) which is used to search the entire SCUA website, including all of the finding aids – notice there is no way to limit the search to a specific field, such as creator, dates, etc.:


The new system also has a quick search option, similar to the one-stop shop of the Google search (however, it will only be searching finding aids – not the entire SCUA website).  There is also an advanced search, which offers a variety of search options, including those shown below:


What else is happening behind-the-scenes? Quite a few things we do not have time to cover in this post, but suffice it to say that, as with any  major project, there are problems to solve, reports to write, deadlines to meet, and timelines to adjust. Stay tuned for additional updates & blog posts on the NHPRC-funded project to migrate SCUA’s finding aids into a brand new system!


This project has been generously funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s