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I spent an extra day in Pinehurst last week to attend some of the sessions at the Society of North Carolina Archivists‘ annual meeting. I got to hear some great sessions by North Carolina archivists about archival processing, finding aids, and digital projects.

Two sessions focused on photograph collections. The first, “Minimal Processing North Carolina Style,” discussed how the principles of “More Product, Less Process” (or MPLP, based on an article by Dennis Meissner and Mark Greene) could be used to more effectively process large photographic collections for finding aids and digital projects. Patrick Cullom from UNC-Chapel Hill recommended rehousing, minimal labeling, and storage as the most important aspects of minimal processing. In description, he suggested using historical clues such as clothing to help identified “unknown” materials.

The other session about photograph collections was an overview of “Seeds of Change,” the Greenville Daily Reflector‘s photographic archives. Nearly 8,000 images were selected from 85,000 images using locally-significant themes. All 85,000 images were photographed using a light box and selection was done through a digital interface. They used Jhove to harvest preservation metadata. The resulting project, “Seeds of Change,” is a successful digital project that is a community asset, much like our Digital Forsyth. They were able to make their user comments searchable, which has been a great asset for people looking for relatives or specific comments!

Perhaps the most exciting session was the last of the day, entitled “What is this Document?” led by ECU’s Gretchen Gueguen and Mark Custer, NCSU’s Joyce Chapman, and Duke’s Noah Huffman. The discussion focused on ways to improve finding aids for access and usability. Mark Custer got the inspiration for the title of the presentation from the Forest History Society’s finding aids, which have a simple link at the top that reads, “What is this document?” that explained what a finding aid is. Studies have shown that users don’t understand what a finding aid is and are even more confused by archival jargon. Mark also reminded us of the need for a statewide digital archival repository, like the Online Archive of California.

Joyce Chapman gave a paper that she will be publishing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Archival Organization, which details her study of finding aids and usability. Joyce argued that in the digital realm, archivists are removed from their role as “guides” in the research process, making it difficult for archivists to assist users trying to find material. She suggested that users expect three links on every page of a finding aid: “Help,” “Home,” and “Contact.” She also described the need for dynamic navigation of our text-heavy finding aids, including linked subject headings and tabbed or drop-down navigation. Her studies showed that users would like to know how to view materials in person, as well as definitions for jargon through hover captions or links. Most importantly, she urged the inclusion of a SEARCH BOX, or at minimum instructions for how to search the page using CTRL +F. Her examples and XSL code are accessible online through the SAA EAD help pages.

In the Q&A segment of the session, I came out with two great ideas: make sure that search results are highlighted in finding aid navigation, and consider putting finding aids and digital objects into the same database so that these digital resources are unified in the finding aid. I have a lot of inspiration for how we can make our finding aids more interactive and useful!