Encoded Archival Description (EAD) is a standard of metadata used most often in archives. It is used to create finding aids, and is developed by the Society of American Archivists. The Library of Congress hosts the documentation for the standard. EAD was originally developed in the early 1990s, and the resultant EAD 1.0 was released in 1998. The purpose of EAD was to establish a uniform language and style for finding aids. This would allow the aids to be digitized and shared, similar to how MARC allows libraries to share their cataloged items. The foresight of its creators allowed this schema to be XML compliant, as when it was being developed they took care to make sure that it could take advantage of the contemporary Standard General Markup Language requirements and the XML requirements as they were rolled out. The most current version of EAD is EAD3, which was officially released in 2015. EAD can be mapped to other schema in the Metadata Standards Crosswalk, for ease of information exchange.
EAD was developed as technology was entering its current rapid pace of change. There was concern from archivists and related creators that the finding aids they were producing were based on technologies that would soon be outdated, and in the worst-case scenario, unusable in the long term. The decision was made to develop a standard that would stand independent of hardware and software requirements, in order to maximize its versatility. A uniform standard would allow archivists to share what they see as the most important parts of a finding aid, and help researchers to navigate the finding aids of different institutions more easily. Additionally, standardization would allow union access to finding aids. Having defined requirements and portions of finding aids would allow archivists to link similar collections in different locations.
Basically, only archivists or those who work in an environment that utilizes archival practices use this schema. The latter category could include paraprofessionals or volunteers in organizations like local historical societies, which act as local archives but are often run without professional oversight. EAD is currently in a state of transition, in which its biggest competition is itself. EAD3 was released in 2015, but many repositories have not yet made their transition to the new format. It can be difficult for those repositories to find information online that helps with that transition, as many EAD resources are still for the previous format. The official EAD website is hosted by the Library of Congress, and offers tag libraries and application guidelines for the differed versions of EAD, information on its background, and links to news and articles on the schema. The Society of American Archivists has released a tag library for EAD3, which is available online in a PDF form. It lists the attributes and elements for each category, along with their approved usage. This tag library can also be purchased in physical form from the Society’s online store. Links to resources on EAD and different best practices from different institutions can also be found on a Society of American Archivists webpage for the Technical Subcommittee. Still, most of these resources reflect previous standards. Content management systems like ArchivesSpace can produce EAD3-compliant finding aids, but not all repositories have access to that sort of system. While the different versions of EAD can be remapped to each other, archives and similar repositories are encountering a problem where some locations are falling behind others, which only makes sharing harder.
EAD is certainly the most useful schema out there for archivists. It is the only schema that was created solely for the purpose of establishing commonalities between finding aids, and the only one that has the necessary categories and elements without uncomfortably adapting another language. It is clear that many leading repositories have adopted it, and it makes sense to do so. A major problem for archives is finding ways to spread information about their resources and collections. Having finding aids encoded in EAD would make that easier. If someone is looking to be an archivist, particularly in a large institutions that would have collections of interest or relation to those of other repositories, experience in EAD would be a valuable skill.