Describing institutions with archival holdings

Kerstin Arnold is the Technical Coordinator of Archives Portal Europe

Archives are history in action. They hold and preserve records of public bodies on all administrative levels, of persons and families, of businesses, of universities and other research and educational organisations, of churches, parties, unions, etc. More importantly, though, archives make these records available to all of us and they ensure that these records are and remain accessible. Accordingly, archives have described the records they hold from the very beginning in order to make them searchable and findable. They have additionally described the entities that created, used and maintained these records over time in order to show their relationships to the records as well as to each other, thereby unfolding the social networks of the past. But what about the archives themselves? How do I know where to go if I want to find the records on a specific event in history or when I am researching my own ancestry?

A common approach

While, in the era of the Internet, a lot of archives might provide their contact details, describe their services, tell users about their institutional history or present their holdings via their own websites, the question of having a standardised approach to describe institutions with archival holdings specifically is of interest in the context of aggregating services such as the Archives Portal Europe, which bring together information from and about institutions from all over the world.

Hence it will not come as a surprise, that the idea of a common approach in the form of a standardised XML format to describe institutions with archival holdings was born in the context of the Censo-Guía de los Archivos de España e Iberoamérica. When describing archival fonds and collections with their components as well as the creators of archival materials, Censo-Guía already followed the guidance provided by the International Council on Archives (ICA) as per:

and had implemented the equivalent communication standards of Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and Encoded Archival Context (EAC-CPF) for data exchange and processing.

Evolution of a standard

What Censo-Guía was missing, however, was a standardised way to describe the more than 50,000 archival institutions from Spain and Latin America gathered in their portal, so that it would be easy for users to navigate and find the most important information, independent from an institution’s origin. Picking up on their use of EAD and EAC-CPF, Censo-Guía’s response to this apparent gap was the creation of the Encoded Archival Guide (EAG 0.2) in 2002.

Successfully implemented in their portal, EAG 0.2 then formed the basis for the Directory of Archives Portal Europe, when it was first made available online nearly a decade later in 2011. In the meantime, in 2008 to be precise, ICA had published the first edition of the International Standard for Describing Institutions with Archival Holdings (ISDIAH), and the APEx project (Archives Portal Europe network of excellence) responsible for the further development of Archives Portal Europe between 2012 and 2015 built on EAG 0.2 in combination with the additional guidance provided by ISDIAH to establish the current version of EAG 2012.

EAG 2012 is currently used within Censo-Guía, Archives Portal Europe and other national and international aggregation projects from the archives, cultural heritage and historical research domains, and it is maintained by the Archives Portal Europe Foundation in close collaboration with the Technical Subcommittee on Encoded Archival Standards (TS-EAS) at the Society of American Archivists.

A new version on the horizon

Being in its seventh year, the Working Group on Standards (WGoS) within the Archives Portal Europe Foundation has decided that EAG 2012 is up for a major revision. Starting the process now, we want to hear from the community about elements and features that they might have been missing so far, but we also want to take into account some developments from the last few years, such as:

  • the most recent drafts of the Records in Context Conceptual Model (RiC-CM) and the Records in Context Ontology (RiC-O) developed by the Expert Group on Archival Description (EGAD) at the ICA,
  • the extension of with regard to an improved representation of digital and physical archives and their content (see,
  • the ongoing major revision of EAC-CPF, from which EAG 2012 has taken some inspiration with regard to its structure, elements and attributes.

All information on the current EAG 2012 can be found on – and from – our GitHub repository, which also holds a list of all issues that have been registered so far as potential candidates for changes in a new version of EAG.

We would want to encourage feedback and comments being sent via GitHub as a central place to collect, review and follow up on potential future changes. Alternatively, you can address the WGoS via email ( and we will then include your feedback and comments on GitHub accordingly.

This call for comments is open until Friday, 27 March 2020.

Next steps

WGoS will then review and collate all feedback, creating a first draft for a new version of EAG during the second half of 2020 with additional feedback rounds throughout 2021. The aim is to then publish a new version of EAG alongside the revised version of EAC-CPF, which is currently scheduled towards the second half of 2021.