Building a National Finding Aid Network

OCLC Research is collaborating on the California Digital Library-led, IMLS-funded project NAFAN to build the foundations for a national finding aid discovery infrastructure in the United States. OCLC will be leading research efforts with cultural heritage institutions that steward archival collections and the researchers who use those to inform project outcomes.

Building a National Finding Aid Network (NAFAN),  is a two-year, Institute of Museum and Library Services-funded (grant number LG-246349-OLS-20) research and demonstration project (September 2020 to August 2022) with the goal of providing inclusive, comprehensive, and persistent access to descriptions of archival collections, or "finding aids." NAFAN is guided by the belief that the archival community can more sustainably manage and equitably provide access to the collections in their care by developing a large-scale, national finding aid network that is community driven, sustained, and governed.

OCLC will be working on the California Digital Library-led initiative—along with project partners at Shift Collective, University of Virginia, and the Chain Bridge Group—to build the foundation for a national archival finding aid network. Project partners will be conducting work in parallel across multiple focus areas, including:  

  • Research that investigates end user and cultural heritage insitutions needs for finding aid aggregations
  • Evaluating the quality of existing finding aid data
  • Technical assessments of potential systems to support network functions, and formulating system requirements for a minimum viable product instantiation of the network
  • Community building, sustainability planning, and governance modeling to support subsequent phases moving from a project to a program, post-2022

OCLC Research will be involved in the first two focus areas, leading qualitative research with end users and contributors of archival description, as well as a quantitative analysis of extant aggregated archival description from state and regional aggregators.

Full project website (California Digital Library)

This project is an outcome of a 2018-2019 planning initiative. OCLC was also a participant in the earlier project, which produced both findings and a subsequent action plan.



Who Searches Archives Online? Results From a User Survey from 12 State and Regional Archival Finding Aid Aggregators (NAFAN)
By Lesley A. Langa, PhD  and Chris Cyr, PhD 
Presented at the SAA Research Forum 2021, July 21, 2021
Langa and Cyr provide an overview of the NAFAN pop-up survey users.

Observing changes in EAD Tag Usage to Support Discovery, 2013-2021
By Bruce Washburn and Merrilee Proffitt
Presented at the SAA Research Forum 2021, July 28, 2021
Washburn and Proffitt describe the comparative analysis of EAD tags and next steps for analysis of finding aids for the Building a National Finding Aid Network (NAFAN) project.

Blog Posts

A research roadmap for Building a National Finding Aid Network (NAFAN)
5 August 2021
By Lynn Silipigni Connaway
Connaway describes the development and design of the NAFAN project research.

How well does EAD tag usage support finding aid discovery?
28 July 2021
By Bruce Washburn
Washburn describes a comparative analysis of Encoded Archival Description (EAD) tags from two studies that inform the Building a National Finding Aid Network project.

OCLC Research and the National Finding Aid Network project
Blog post | 10 November 2020
By Merrilee Proffitt
Proffitt shares details about our involvement in the Building a National Finding Aid Network project, which has received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Posted on the Hanging Together Blog.