Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Arranging and cataloguing digital and hybrid archives > A proposal for intellectual access to hybrid archives

A proposal for intellectual access to hybrid archives

Paradigm proposes that multi-level EAD catalogues continue to be a primary interface for discovering and navigating archives, setting the material in context and outlining its structural relationships. The means by which the user will actually access the digital archives themselves will depend on the rights associated with the material.

As shown in the Paradigm lifecycle diagram, a two-stage opening process is envisaged. Archives will first be made accessible in a controlled environment, where the various rights (including privacy and copyright) of donors and third parties can be appropriately managed. Once copyright (and therefore other rights which expire much sooner) has expired, the archive can consider publishing born-digital archives to an online repository where they may be accessed directly by researchers. If the institution is able to provide a secure repository with terminals in a reading room setting, then the researcher should be able to move via a link from the relevant EAD catalogue description to a specific digital archival object; if not, no link will be present and readers will probably order digital materials for delivery to special stand-alone computers in the reading room. For objects published to an online digital repository, links from the EAD catalogue to born-digital archives will undoubtedly be present, and researchers may also be able to browse and search the born-digital archives independently of the EAD catalogue by interacting with the repository interface(s).

The purpose of the access repository is to make 'presentation versions' of digital archives available to researchers in accessible formats. These presentation versions of the digital archives will be wrapped with the appropriate level of metadata (descriptive, structural and administrative) to make them self-describing. It is likely that the user will encounter this metadata in the form of 'cover sheets' or 'splash pages' for individual digital objects. Such self-describing digital objects essentially form the Dissemination Information Package (DIP), as defined by the OAIS Model. The DIP differs from the Archival Information Package (AIP) in that it is designed to fulfil the access function rather than the preservation function; whilst the researcher is likely to want a degree of technical information (e.g. an indication of the creator's software environment, the past and present states of the digital object, and an assurance that it is authentic), they will not require the kind of detailed technical information stored as part of the AIP.

The proportion of descriptive metadata is also likely to be higher in the DIP. It is important that the DIP is independently understandable because, whilst the EAD catalogue will supply the final, comprehensive level of descriptive metadata, it is unlikely that digital archivists will be able to produce detailed item-level EAD catalogues for every archive in their care. Additionally, when researchers are able to browse and search born-digital archives via an online repository without mediation through an EAD catalogue, the metadata supplied must enable the researcher to evaluate the material. Whatever the level of detail, it is also important to remember that the archivist will be drawing on the AIP when compiling an EAD catalogue, and that much of the information required for the access function must be supplied at ingest and fully recorded by the archivist compiling the AIP; otherwise it could be lost forever.