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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Two Weeks in the Freer|Sackler Archives: an EAD Adventure

To complete my Master’s in Library and Information Science and my Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration, I needed to complete an archives practicum.  During this practicum I was to process and arrange a collection from the institution that I would be working with.  I wanted a unique practicum experience, so I chose to seek out my own assignment.  I chose to complete my practicum at The Walters Art Museum, in Baltimore, Maryland, processing the papers of Dorothy Kent Hill.  This was an eight week assignment, and my supervisor there set me up with the last two weeks being spent at the Freer|Sackler Archives, in Washington D.C.  As you can imagine, I was extremely excited for the opportunity to work at one of the revered Smithsonian Institution museums!

After much discussion about what my project would actually be, Rachael Woody, Archivist at the Freer|Sackler Archives, assigned me to mark up two finding aids using EAD, or Encoded Archival Description, a short history of which can be found here.  What this means is I took the existing finding aids, Word documents, and placed them into XML, or Extensible Markup Language.  This allows for the finding aids to be uploaded to the Freer|Sackler Archives website, making them readily available to researchers.  Having learned about accessibility in my courses at Wayne State University, I knew how helpful my project was going to be for the Archives.  The finding aids themselves provide researchers the information they need about the collection as a whole, as well as a box and folder listing to gain some sense of what is really available in the Freer|Sackler Archives’ stacks for their usage.

John Calvn Ferguson, portrait

The two finding aids I was assigned could not have been more different from each other!  The first finding aid conversion to be completed was that of the John Calvin Ferguson Family Papers.  The collection is relatively small, and contains correspondence, photographs, and newspaper clippings, among other things.  The box list contained 5 boxes, which I then loaded into NoteTab Pro to complete the marking up of the various elements.  Each box and folder has its own element tag, and within the folder, names, dates and places receive their own element tags, taken from the EAD tag library.  Each of the tags themselves allows the internet browser to interpret them and it thus results in the webpage you see.  Overall, marking up the John Calvin Ferguson Family Papers finding aid went smoothly.  Once I got a handle on using EAD, I was done before I knew it and ready to take on the second finding aid.

The second finding aid was that of the Myron Bement Smith Collection.  This finding aid was considerably longer, 245 boxes longer to be exact!  This collection is very large, and one of the F|S Archives’ most important.  The collection’s contents include correspondence, architectural drawings, photographic prints, and even slides of photographs.  The collection covers a wide range of topics and places, as both Myron Bement Smith and his wife Katharine Davis Smith traveled the world and had an extensive social network.  As you can imagine, the marking up of this finding aid took some time, as well as patience.  As with any project, there are going to be some bumps in the road towards the finish line, and I did encounter some minor mistakes, mostly on my part.  That’s what editing and proofreading are for!  After completing the mark up, Rachael and I opened the converted file in an internet browser to see what it looked like.  To my surprise, the dates that I had so diligently typed in were not appearing where I expected!  While I was surprised, it was an easy fix.  I simply went back through the XML file and corrected the mistakes.  This process was extremely faster than I expected, and I can now point to these finding aids as proof of my abilities as an archivist.

Myron Bement Smith and his wife, Katharine in Persia.

Though the internship was short, the experiences that I have will stay with me for a long time.  It is one thing to learn about archiving, it is another to actually do it, and as a result of these past two weeks, I feel more prepared to enter the field. 

These two finding aids are complete and ready to be viewed on the F|S Archives’ Finding Aid site here!  So go explore the collections, and if something catches your eye, make an appointment to come visit the archives!

Kelsey Jansen van Galen
Archives Intern
Freer|Sackler Archives


  1. Well done Kelsey, it's good to know both you and the FS Archives have gained from your recent experience. Best wishes for your future.

  2. Thank you for your kind words Anonymous!

  3. Myron Bement Smith and his wife in the photo are in Syria not in Persia.