Matt (@herbison) over at Hot Brainstem posted a good question to his blog: “Can you skip learning EAD and go right to Archivists’ Toolkit or Archon?” He suggests that the “right way” to create accessible finding aids (EAD, DACS, XML, XSLT, and AT) is not as important as finding a (faster) way to get stuff online. First, I want to say thanks to him for bringing this question to the table.
I was not trained to create EAD finding aids in grad school (although I have experience with XML and HTML). Instead, I was trained to create EAD-compatible MS Word docs that were plopped into an EAD template by an encoder and sent over to the OAC. For me, AT was not part of the process of creating a finding aid.
In my current job, I’m working with old EAD files that were outsourced and tied to a problematic stylesheet (they referenced JPG files and included HTML color codes). I imported these old EAD files into AT — minor editing was needed, but nothing that made me reference the EAD tag library. I have yet to create one from “scratch,” although I did recently attend the basic EAD workshop through SAA. I can now search and edit the contents of our existing finding aids (all 450+ of them) and create new ones within the AT interface…and with less opportunity for human error.
I am moving toward the idea of going straight to AT for EAD since it exports “good” EAD (that I have seen so far). I am going to train our grad students and library assistants how to use AT for accessions and basic processing…why would I need to teach them EAD? I am still in the process of answering that question because we are working on a new stylesheet for our finding aids — which means I need to learn more about XSLT. AT might give me a nice EAD document, but it doesn’t make it look pretty online for me.
AT experts like Sibyl (@sibylschaefer) and Mark (@anarchivist) are right when they suggest that an understanding of EAD is important when you need to do stuff with the EAD that AT exports. Just being aware of elements and the tag library helps me “read” an EAD document…and hopefully, it will help me create better, more beautiful finding aids through stylesheets that interact with the data in functional, interactive ways.
So I suppose the question to consider is, “how much do you need to learn about EAD in order to go right to AT or Archon?”