LEADS: A Collaborative Archival Project at GSLIS

As a collaborative partnership between GSLIS and the Simmons College Archives, Leveraging Encoded Archival Description Skills (LEADS) provides GSLIS students with a practical, hands-on opportunity to apply classroom skills to a retrospective conversion project at Simmons. The project aims to leverage the faculty's expertise and the students' desire to experience the daily realities of a working archive. The project offers master's degree candidates practical opportunities that prepare them for success in a professional setting.

The Simmons College Archives houses unique primary source collections that document Simmons College's history and topics important to the college's education and research endeavors. An implementation of Encoded Archival Description (EAD), the international standard for encoding finding aids, will enhance the discoverability and utility of these collections. As a result, the Simmons College community and outside researchers will have increased access to these resources.

To date, the LEADS team has completed the first phase of the project, which involved converting the School of Social Work Library Charities Collection finding aids (see http://beatleyweb.simmons.edu/collectionguides/). The Charities Collection finding aids were an excellent place to start for the Archives and the students. They are a significant holding for the Simmons College Archives, documenting local and regional charities from the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition, the finding aids were an excellent educational testing ground for the first phase of the project, as these collections are typically small and are less complicated to convert than are the department's manuscript collections. The students are now well prepared for the upcoming challenges involved in converting the large, complex manuscript collections.

Student volunteers apply the skills they developed during their coursework to encode the college guides to the College Archives' unique primary source materials. Efforts involve updating the description to the current standard, Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), encoding the updated description in a template-based EAD implementation, and conducting authority work and subject analysis. Then, students submit the guides for review and receive feedback from faculty. While students conduct similar activities during LIS 440 Archival Access and Use, the ongoing engagement with the standards through LEADS reinforces what they have learned. They are also exposed to a real-world implementation of the standards that cannot be replicated in the classroom. Many of these students will be required to continue encoding in their professional careers or may be asked to implement the standard themselves. The LEADS experience will ready students for these challenges and allow them to showcase specific artifacts of professional competence in an employment portfolio.

The LEADS project includes the following participants: Jason Wood, College Archivist and Head of Discovery Services at Beatley Library; Katherine Wisser, Assistant Professor at GSLIS; Justin Snow, a library assistant in the archives; Brian Shetler, a GSLIS master's degree student and project manager, and 19 student volunteers. Amy Deschenes at Beatley Library has also contributed to the project.

LEADS hopes to achieve full retrospective conversion in the College Archives within two years. The final phase is the conversion of institutional record description. Elise Dunham, a GSLIS master's candidate, is currently conducting an internship to prepare the LEADS project for the final phase. For questions related to LEADS, including interest in project participation, please contact Assistant Professor Katherine Wisser at katherine_wisser@simmons.edu.

Article by Katherine Wisser

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