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 February 2023) 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.


OCLC Hosted Presentations & Events

External Presentations & Events

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

Encoded Archival Standards: a view from ArchiveGrid and NAFAN research
24 August 2022
By Merrilee Proffitt

A perspective on encoded archival standards and archival discovery supported by research.

Progress on building a National Finding Aid Network
3 November 2022
By Chela Scott Weber

Watch the recording from a recent webinar sharing progress to date and future plans for the Building a National Finding Aid Network project.

NAFAN focus groups: Aligning participant selection with project values
2 February 2022
By Chela Scott Weber

As part of our NAFAN research activities, OCLC Research conducted focus group interviews with archival practitioners. This post discusses the questions, focus group selection, and outcomes.

Connecting EAD headings to controlled vocabularies
6 January 2022
By Bruce Washburn

Washburn discusses if EAD content headings are associated with controlled vocabularies, or if they can be. 

How users find and visit archival aggregation websites
14 December 2021
By Lesley Langa

This post is the fifth in a series on the NAFAN study conducted by OCLC Research in partnership with the California Digital Library and University of Virginia Libraries. This post covers the point-of-service pop-up survey administered to users when they visited archival aggregation websites.

Getting to know users of archival aggregation sites
30 September 2021
By Lesley Langa

Langa details an OCLC Research study that takes a comprehensive approach to understanding the breadth of users and the depth of their search behavior across different archival aggregators.

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.