Finding Aid Aggregation: Toward a Robust Future

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Society of American Archivists


Over the last twenty-five years, cultural heritage professionals have formed aggregations—of finding aids, digital object metadata, or related forms of description—in order to overcome barriers to creating and presenting structured, consistent, and interoperable description and to enable expanded access. Now most of these aggregators are struggling to update their infrastructure, meet user needs for access to archival collections, and engage with some of the most promising conceptual, technical, and structural advances in the field. In 2018–2019, the “Toward a National Archival Finding Aid Network” planning initiative identified what aggregation has accomplished, articulated the key challenges facing aggregators, identified which areas could benefit from collaborative work, and created a vision for that work. With the near-completion of a research and demonstration by the California Digital Library, “Building a National Finding Aid Network” (NAFAN), the project and the archival profession have an opportunity to learn from the past and transform access to cultural heritage. However, none of the large-scale aggregations in the United States present a viable model for sustainability. Sustainability will become possible if they overcome the factors that have limited the success of aggregation so far. These include an over-focus on implementing new technical standards and infrastructure and under-focus on the real limitations: lack of knowledge of end user needs and attempting to accomplish too much without the needed resources. By drawing on both the background research described in this article and the further research conducted during the current NAFAN project, this and other cultural heritage enterprises have an opportunity to create a future in which access to cultural heritage is equalized and expanded for both institutions and end users



archival description, finding aids, aggregation


Allison-Bunnell, Jodi. "Finding Aid Aggregation: Toward a Robust Future." The American Archivist 85, no. 2 (2022): 556-586.
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