Terms of Use and Re-Use for Finding Aid Metadata

Note: This project is now closed. The information on this page is provided for historical purposes only.

In April 2018, Encoded Archival Description Version 3 was revised to include a new element (rightsdeclaration). This was in part due to the work of this group, which helped for formulate the need for being able to clearly express the terms of use for finding aids.

The goal of this project was to promote a culture of sharing finding aid metadata that enables aggregators, consortia and others to more easily use and reuse metadata in finding aids. We planned to accomplish this by leveraging good precedents and providing recommendations on how to state the terms of use and reuse for finding aid metadata.


Defining the Problem

Scholars, aggregators, networks, consortia and others need to determine terms of use and reuse for archival metadata reliably and efficiently, in order to consume and use finding aid metadata for research and discovery. Terms of use and reuse for finding aid metadata (by which we mean descriptions of archival collections, represented in the form of finding aids) are rarely available, but when they are they can be ambiguous or overly restrictive. The absence of an assertion about terms of use and reuse is as problematic as an ambiguous, restrictive, or incorrect assertion, because consumers of the metadata must query each provider separately to determine acceptable uses.

To date, significant work has been focused on cultivating a shared set of best practices pertaining to making copyrighted resources available online for research, study, and teaching. In related efforts,  the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and Europeana have led the way to promote broad and open use of metadata records for digital objects. However, there has been relatively little promotion pertaining to the parallel metadata records for collections: archival descriptive data.

This problem is acute to international archival consortia, aggregators, and cross-searching networks because they host archival metadata, aggregate archival metadata, and/or would like to facilitate use and reuse of finding aid metadata for research, mash-ups, and unanticipated creative purposes. This grassroots initiative to address this issue has been germinating through a series of informal discussions held at annual meetings of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in recent years.


Devising a Solution

To address this problem, OCLC Research is facilitating a focused discussion (including representatives from the initial discussions) about metadata in finding aids (not digital objects or archival materials themselves) within a scoped effort to produce guidelines for terms of use and reuse of finding aid metadata.

We began by convening a working group (listed at right) whose members have been in contact with archival authorities and associations internationally, such as SAA and the International Council of Archives (ICA). Our group aims to create a statement of principles or best practices that includes a scan of documented practices across cultural heritage institutions internationally. We plan to accomplish this by:

  • articulating desirable methods for opening up metadata in finding aids (in forms such as EAD, PDF, HTML, etc.), and
  • considering issues such as risk assessment, institutional identity, mechanisms for declaring terms of use, locations for terms of use within metadata structures, and the most appropriate organizational home for a statement of principles or best practices.

Our first step is to find answers to the following questions:

  • What can change practices?
  • Who must be consulted and when?
  • Who should draft a statement?
  • Where should a statement be published, or under whose auspices?
  • Who are the audiences: archivists, administrations, and/or parent institutions?
  • How can the group enlist a groundswell of support?




Time to Open Up! The Why and How of Opening Up Archival Finding Aids and the Unintended Consequences of Being Closed
by Merrilee Proffitt and Heather Briston


Open Up Your Finding Aids
by Merrilee Proffitt


Allied Associations, Aggregators and Agencies

Support and guidance is critical for such an effort. Several of our working group members regularly act as liaisons with the following archival associations, aggregators and agencies to foster open channels of communication and recruit expertise throughout the project:


Archives Hub

Archives nationales de France

Archives Portal Europe

Australian Society of Archivists (ASA)

California Digital Library (CDL)

Council of Australasian Archives and Records Authorities (CAARA)

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)


International Council on Archives: Experts Group on Archival Description (EGAD ICA)  

International Council on Archives: Working Group for Intellectual Property (WGIP ICA)

Northwest Digital Archives (NWDA)

Online Archive of California (OAC)

Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC)

Society of American Archivists, Encoded Archival Description (SAA EAD) Roundtable

Society of American Archivists, Intellectual Property Working Group (SAA IPWG)


Merrilee Proffitt

Bruce Washburn


Team Members

Adrian Turner
Data Consultant
Online Archive of California
California Digital Library

Gretchen Gueguen
Data Services Coordinator
Digital Public Library of America

Heather Briston
University Archivist
Liaison to SAA IPWG and  WGIP ICA

Jane Stevenson
The Archives Hub

Jodi Allison-Bunnell
Staff Liaison, Content Creation & Dissemination Program
Orbis Cascade Alliance
Liaison to SAA EAD Roundtable

Katie Fortney
Copyright Policy & Education Officer
California Digital Library

Wim van Dongen
Projekt "Archives Portal Europe"
Nationaal Archief 
Liaison to Archives Portal Europe and Europeana

Lise Summers, PhD
Curtin University
Liaison to CAARA and ASA


Expert Consultants

Anila Angjeli
Département Information bibliographique et numérique (IBN)
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Liaison to Archives nationales de France

Daniel Pitti
Associate Director
Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities
University of Virginia 
Liaison to SNAC and EGAD

David Sutton
Director of Archival and Literary Research
University of Reading Library
Chair, International Council on Archives

Gavan McCarthy
Director, eScholarship Research Centre
The University of Melbourne

Ross Latham
State Archivist, Manager, Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office
Chair, Council of Australasian Archives and Recordkeeping Authorities (CAARA)