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New Database Vastly Improves Access to Finding Aids for UB Archival Collections

Release Date: December 28, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Special Collections unit has announced the availability of a new database that vastly improves access to finding aids for the university's unique archival collections.

An archival "finding aid" is a description of a collection, usually containing a history of the person or organization that produced the collection and an inventory of its contents.

The finding aids now are encoded in a markup language developed specially for archives called Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and provide descriptions of special collections from UB's University Archives, the Poetry Collection, the Law Library and the Music Library.

These collections contain a wealth of information concerning such topics as Love Canal, Watergate, several aspects of Buffalo history, political activism and university affairs, as well as major world collections of 20th-century poetry and music. The new database allows patrons to search across descriptions of all of these collections at one time.

Nancy Nuzzo, director of Special Collections, says, "Finding aids were traditionally paper inventories available only on site. The advent of the World Wide Web made it possible to deliver finding aids to a worldwide audience online, but without sophisticated indexing or searching capabilities. The use of EAD allows for much more sophisticated indexing and more detailed searching."

The new database was created using the eXtensible Text Framework (XTF) platform developed for the California Digital Library. It has also been adopted for similar purposes at other institutions, including Indiana University, Northwestern University, University of Georgia and the University of Sydney. The platform is open-source code available for free online download.

In addition to enabling more sophisticated searching, Nuzzo says use of the database also makes the research process more efficient for both the researcher and the holding institution. "Requests for materials can be more specific, which makes the archivists' job of retrieval much easier," she says.

The database can be accessed directly at http://libweb1.lib.buffalo.edu:8080/xtf/search. Associated pages contain information about UB's archival collections, EAD as a format and the structure of UB's EAD finding aids.

Nuzzo says the implementation of EAD at UB is the culmination of several years' work and was supported in part by three Regional Bibliographic Databases Program grants awarded through the Western New York Library Resources Council.

"The project has required a very high level of interaction between the University Libraries systems/tech personnel and archives personnel," she says, "among them Web designer Kristopher Miller, Web manager Scott Hollander, lead programmer analyst Don Gramlich and archivists Karen Walton Morse, Karen Spencer and John Bewley."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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