Archives Portal Europe Country Managers’ Meeting, 30 Nov 2016

This is a report of a meeting of the Archives Portal Europe Country Managers’ in Slovakia, 30 November 2016, with some comments and views from the UK and Archives Hub perspective.

APE Country Managers meeting, Bratislava, 30 Nov 2016


The APE Foundation (APEF), which was created following the completion of the APEx project (an EC funded project to maintain and develop the portal running from 2012 to 2015), is now taking APE forward. It has a Governing Board and working groups for standards, technical issues and PR/comms. The APEF has a coordinator and three technical/systems staff as well as an outreach officer. Institutions are invited to become associate members, to help support the portal and its aims.

Things are going well for APEF, with a profit recorded for 2016, and growing associate membership. APEF continues to be busy with development of APE, and is endeavouring to encourage cooperation and collaboration as a means to seize opportunities to keep developing and to take advantage of EU funding opportunities.

Current Development

The APEF has the support of Ministry of Culture in the Netherlands and has a close working relationship with the Netherlands national aggregation project, the ‘DTR’, which is key to the current APE development phase. The idea is to use the framework of APE for the DTR, benefitting both parties. Cooperation with DTR involves three main areas:

•    building an API to open up the functionality of APE to third parties (and to enable the DTR to harvest the APE data from The Netherlands)
•    improving the uploading and processing of EAC-CPF
•    enabling the uploading and processing of ‘additional finding aids’

The API has been developed so that specific requests can be sent to fetch selected data. It is possible to do this for EAD (descriptions) and EAC-CPF (names).  The API provides raw data as well as processed results.  There have been issues around things like relevance of ordering of results which is a substantial area of work that is being addressed.

The API raises implications in terms of the data, as the Content Provider Agreement that APE institutions sign gives control of the data to the contributors. So, the API had to be implemented in a way that enables each contributor to give explicit permission for the data to be available as CC0 (fully open data). This means that if a third party uses the API to grab data, they only get data from a country that has given this permission. APEF has introduced an API key, which is a little controversial, as it could be argued that it is a barrier to complete openness, but it does enable the Foundation to monitor use, which is useful for impact, for checking correct use, and blocking those who misuse the API. This information is not made open, but it is stored for impact and security purposes.

There was some discussion at the meeting around open data and use of CC0. In countries such as Switzerland it is not permitted to open up data through a CC0 licence, and in fact, it may be true to say that CC0 is not the appropriate licence for archival descriptions (the question of whether any copyright can exist in them is not clear) and a public domain licence is more appropriate. When working across European countries there are variations in approaches to open data. The situation is complicated because the application of CC0 for APE data is not explicit, so any licence that a country has attached to their data will effectively be exported with the data and you may get a kind of licence clash. But the feeling is that for practical purposes if the data is available through an API, developers will expect it to be fully open and use it with that in mind.

There has been work to look at ways to take EAC-CPF from a whole set of institutions more easily, which would be useful for the UK, where we have many EAC-CPF descriptions created by SNAC.  Work on any kind of work to bring more than one name description for the same person together has not started, and is not scheduled for the current period of development, but the emphasis is likely to be on better connectivity between variations of a name rather than having one description per name.

Additional finding aids offer the opportunity to add different types of information to APE. You may, for example, have a register of artists or ships logs, you may have started out with a set of cards with names A-Z, relating to your archive in some way.  You could describe these in one EAD description, and link this to the main description. In the current implementation of EAD2002 in APE this would have to go into a table in Scope & Content and in-line tagging is not allowed to identify parts of the data. This leads to limitations with how to search by name. But then EAD3 gives the option to add more information on events and names. You can divide a name up into parts, which allows for better searching.  Therefore APE is developing a new means to fetch and process EAD3 for the additional finding aids alongside EAD2002 for ‘standard’ finding aids. In conjunction with this, the interface needs to be changed to present the new names within the search.

The work on additional finding aids may not be so relevant for the Archives Hub as a contributor to APE, as the Hub cannot look at taking on ‘other finding aids’, with all the potential variations that implies. However, institutions could potentially log into APE themselves and upload these different types of descriptions.

APE and Europeana

There was quite a bit to talk about concerning APE and Europeana. The APEF is a full partner of the Europeana Digital Services Infrastructure 2 (DSI2) project (currently running 2016/2017). The project involves work on the structure for Europeana, maintaining and running data and aggregation services, improving data quality, and optimising relations with data partners. The work APE is involved with includes improving the current workflow for harvest/ingest of data, and also evaluating what has already been ingested into Europeana.

Europeana seems to have ongoing problems dealing with multi-level EAD descriptions, compounded by the limitation that they only represent  digital materials. The approach is not a good fit for archives. Europeana have also introduced both a new publishing framework and different rights statements.

The new publishing framework is a 4 tier approach where you can think of Europeana as a more basic tool for promoting your archives, or something that is a platform for reuse. It refers to the digital materials in terms of whether they are a certain number of pixels, e.g. 800 pixels wide for thumbnails (adding thumbnails means using Europeana as a ‘showcase’) and 1,200 pixels wide ( high quality and reusable, using Europeana as a distribution and reuse platform). The idea of trying to get ‘quality’ images seems good, but in practice I wonder if it simply raises the barrier too much.

The new Rights statements require institutions to be very clear about the rights they want to apply to digital content.  The likely conclusion of all this from the point of view of the Archives Hub is that we cannot grapple with adding to Europeana on behalf of all of our contributors, and therefore individual contributors will have to take this on board themselves. It will be possible for contributors to log into the APE dashboard (when it has been changed to reflect the Europeana new rights) and engage with this, selecting the finding aids, the preferred rights statements, and ensuring that thumbnail and reusable images meet the requirements.  One the descriptions are in APE they can then be supplied to Europeana. The resulting display in Europeana should be checked, to ensure that it is appropriate.

We discussed this approach, and concluded that maybe APE contributors could see Europeana as something that they might use to showcase their content, so, think of it on our terms, as archives, and how it might help us. There is no obligation to contribute, so it is a case of making the decision whether it is worth representing the best visual archives through Europeana or whether this approach takes more effort than the value that we get out of it.  After 10 years of working with Europeana, and not really getting proper representation of archives, the idea of finding a successful way of contributing archives is appealing, but it seems to me that the amount of effort required is going to be significant, and I’m not sure if the impact is enough to warrant it.

Europeana are working on a new way of automated and real time ingest from aggregators and content providers, but this may take another year or more to become fully operational.

Outreach and CM Reports

Towards the end of the day we had a presentation from the new PR/communicaitons officer. Having someone to encourage, co-ordinate and develop ideas for dissemination should provide invaluable for APE. The Facebook page is full of APE activities and related news and events. You can tweet and use the hashtag #archivesportaleurope if you would like to make APE aware of anything.

We ended the day with reports from country managers, which, as always threw up many issues, challenges, solutions, questions and answers. Plenty to set up APEF for another busy year!



Archives Portal Europe builds firm foundations

On 8th June 2016 I attended the first Country Manager’s meeting of the newly formed Foundation of the Archives Portal Europe (APEF) at the National Archives of the Netherlands (Nationaal Archief).

The Foundation has been formed on the basis of partnerships between European countries. The current Foundation partners are: Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway and Slovenia. All of these countries are members of the ‘Assembly of Associates’. Negotiations are proceeding with Bulgaria, Greece, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and the UK. Some countries are not yet in a position to become members, mainly due to financial and administrative issues, but the prospects currently look very positive, with a great willingness to take the Portal forwards and continue the valuable networking that has been built up over the past decade. Contributing to the Portal does not incur financial contribution; the Assembly of Associates is separate from this, and the idea is that countries (National Archives or bodies with an educational/research remit) sign up to the principles of APE and the APE Foundation – to collaborate and share experiences and ideas, and to make European archives as accessible as possible.

The Governing Board of the Foundation is working with potential partners to reach agreements on a combination of financial and in-kind contributions. It’s also working on long term strategy documents. It has established working groups for Standards and PR & Communications and it has set up cooperation with the Dutch DTR project (Digitale Taken Rijksarchieven / Digital Processes in State Archives) and with Europeana. The cooperation with the DTR project has been a major boost, as both projects are working towards similar goals, and therefore work effort can be shared, particularly development work.

Current tasks for the APEF:

  • Building an API to open up the functionality of the Archives Portal Europe to third parties and to implement the possibility for the content providers to switch this option on or off in the Archives Portal Europe’s back-end.
  • Improving the uploading and processing of EAC-CPF records in the Archives Portal Europe and improving the way in which records creators’ information can be searched and found via the Archives Portal Europe’s front-end and via the API.
  • Enabling the uploading/processing of “additional finding aids (indexes)” in the Archives Portal Europe and making this additional information available via the Archives Portal Europe’s front-end and the API.

The above in addition to the continuing work of getting more data into the Portal, supporting the country managers in working with repositories, and promoting the portal to researchers interested in using European-wide search and discovery tool.

APEF will be a full partner in the Europeana DSI2 project, connecting the online collections of Europe’s cultural heritage institutions, which will start after the summer and will run for 16 months. Within this project APEF will focus on helping Europeana to develop the aggregation structure and provide quality data from the archives community to Europeana. A focus on quality will help to get archival data into Europeana in a way that works for all parties. There seems to be a focus from Europeana on the ‘treasures’ from the archives, and on images that ‘sell’ the archives more effectively. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it seems important to continue to work to expose archives through as many channels as we can, and for us in the UK, the advantages of contributing to the Archives Hub and thence seamlessly to APE and to Europeana, albeit selectively, are clear.

A substantial part of the meeting was dedicated to updates from countries, which gave us all a chance to find out what others are doing, from the building of a national archives portal in Slovakia to progress with OAI-PMH harvesting from various systems, such as ScopeArchiv, used in Switzerland and other countries. Many countries are also concerned with translations of various documents, such as the Content Provider Agreement, which is not something the UK has had to consider (although a Welsh translation would be a possibility).

We had a session looking at some of the more operational and functional tasks that need to be thought about in any complex system such as the APE system. We then had a general Q&A session. It was acknowledged that creating EAD from scratch is a barrier to contributing for many repositories. For the UK this is not really an issue, because we contribute Archives Hub descriptions. But of course it is an issue for the Hub: to find ways to help our contributors provide descriptions, especially if they are using a proprietary system. Our EAD Editor accounts for a large percentage of our data, and that creates the EAD without the requirement of understanding more than a few formatting tags.

The Archives Hub aims to set up harvesting of our contributors’ descriptions over the next year, thus ensuring that any descriptions contributed to us will automatically be uploaded to the Archives Portal Europe. (We currently have to upload on a per-contributor basis, which is not very efficient with over 300 contributors). We will soon be turning our attention to the selective digital content that can be provided by APE to Europeana. That will require an agreement from each institution in terms of the Europeana open data licence. As the Hub operates on the principles of open data, to encourage maximum exposure of our descriptions and promote UK archives, that should not be a problem.

With thanks to Wim van Dongen, APEF country manager coordinator / technical coordinator, who provided the minutes of the Country Managers’ meeting, which are partially reproduced here.

2014 Features Showcase

Archives Hub feature for January 2015

Woolwich advert, 1945
Woolwich Equitable Building Society advert, 1945

This month, January 2015, we’re showcasing our features from 2014, with themes including banking, dance, war, peace and educational reform.

Barclays Group Archives

Founded in 1690 by two goldsmith bankers, Barclays PLC now has customers in over 50 countries:

Be my Valentine

Photo of Barbara Cartland, 1925
© Image is in the public domain: Barbara Cartland, 1925 Barbara Cartland, 1925

Love letters, cards and poetry, together with less directly connected ‘Valentines’ descriptions!:

A European Journey: The Archives Portal Europe

The Archives Hub is the UK ‘Country Manager’ for the Archives Portal Europe, a European aggregator for archives:

250 and counting!

More than 250 UK institutions and organisations now contribute to the Archives Hub! A look at some of our most recent contributors:

A Spring in Your Step

Image of couple dancing, 1900s.
Lecon de Cake-Walk, 1900s. Image in Public domain

Collections relating to dancers, choreographers and teachers, schools and companies, ballet, contemporary and other styles of dance:

Exploring British Design: An Introduction

The Archives Hub has joined forces with The University of Brighton Design Archives for an exciting new project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council:

The Anti-Apartheid Movement

Image of Free Nelson Mandela rally poster
Free Nelson Mandela rally poster (1980), AAM Archives, ref: po059.

Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives held at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford:

Swords into Ploughshares

The cataloguing of two peace organisations’ archives at LSE, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Fellowship of Reconciliation: London Union:

Kettle’s Yard Archive

Image of Jim Ede
Jim Ede at Kettle’s Yard – Kettle’s Yard, 
University of Cambridge

Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, much more than a house, a museum or a gallery:

Engineering and innovation during the First World War

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers archives on how the war sparked a technological battle for the best weapons, infrastructure and defences, and what this meant for engineering:

James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth – pioneering educational reformer

Photograph of Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell, c. 1864. Photograph by Alexander McGlashon

Archivists at The University of Manchester Library recently catalogued the papers of celebrated Victorian educationist Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-1877), relating to his career, family ties and literary circles:



The Twelve Days of Christmas – archives style!

Our feature is (loosely!) based on the traditional folk melody ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. Collections highlighted include those of the drummer Max Abrams, the Swan Land and Cattle Company, Hen Gapel, Llanbryn-mair Chapel Records (one of the oldest and most famous chapels in Wales) and the singer David Cassidy:

A European Journey: The Archives Portal Europe

In January 2013 the Archives Hub became the UK ‘Country Manager’ for the Archives Portal Europe.

The Archives Portal Europe (APE) is a European aggregator for archives. The website provides more information about the APE vision:

Borders between European countries have changed often during the course of history. States have merged and separated and it is these changing patterns that form the basis for a common ground as well as for differences in their development. It is this tension between their shared history and diversity that makes their respective histories even more interesting. By collating archival material that has been created during these historical and political evolutions, the Archives Portal Europe aims to provide the opportunity to compare national and regional developments and to understand their uniqueness while simultaneously placing them within the larger European context.

The portal will help visitors not only to dig deeper into their own fields of interest, but also to discover new sources by giving an overview of the jigsaw puzzle of archival holdings across Europe in all their diversity.

For many countries, the Country Manager role is taken on by the national archives. However, for the UK the Archives Hub was in a good position to work with APE. The Archives Hub is an aggregation of archival descriptions held across the UK. We work with and store content in Encoded Archival Description (EAD), which provides us with a head start in terms of contributing content.

Jane Stevenson, the Archives Hub Manager, attended an APE workshop in Pisa in January 2013, to learn more about the tools that the project provides to help Country Managers and contributors to provide their data. Since then, Jane has also attended a conference in Dublin, Building Infrastructures for Archives in a Digital World, where she talked about A Licence to Thrill: the benefits of open data. APE has provided a great opportunity to work with European colleagues; it not just about creating a pan-European portal, it is also about sharing and learning together. At present, APE has a project called APEx, which is an initiative for  “expanding, enriching, enhancing and sustaining” the portal.

How Content is Provided to APE

The way that APE normally works is through a Country Manager providing support to institutions wishing to contribute descriptions. However, for the UK, the Archives Hub takes on the role of providing the content directly, as it comes via the Hub and into APE. This is not to say that institutions cannot undertake to do this work themselves. The British Library, for example, will be working with their own data and submitting it to APE. But for many archives, the task of creating EAD and checking for validity would be beyond their resources. In addition, this model of working shows the benefits of using interoperable standards; the Archives Hub already processes and validates EAD, so we have a good understanding of what is required for the Archives Portal Europe.

All that Archives Hub institutions need to do to become part of APE is to create their own directory entry. These entries are created using Encoded Archival Guide (EAG), but the archivist does not need to be familiar with EAG, as they are simply presented with a form to fill in. The directory entry can be quite brief, or very detailed, including information on opening hours, accessibility, reprographic services, search room places, internet access and the history of the archive.

Fig 1: EAG entry for the University of East London

















Once the entry is created, we can upload the data. If the data is valid, this takes very little time to do, and immediately the archive is part of a national aggregation and a European aggregation.

APE Data Preparation Tool

The Data Preparation Tool allows us to upload EAD content and validate it. You can see on the screen shot below a list of EAD files from the Mills Archive that have been uploaded to the Tool, and the Tool will allow us to ‘convert and validate’ them. There are various options for checking against different flavours of EAD and there is also the option to upload EAC-CPF (which is not something the Hub is working with as yet) and EAG.

Fig 2: Data Preparation Tool










If all goes according to plan, the validation results in a whole batch of valid files, and you are ready to upload the data. Sometimes there will be an invalid file and you need to take a look at the validation message and figure out what you need to do (the error message in this screenshot relates to ‘example 2’ below).

Fig 3: Data Preparation Tool with invalid files

 APE Dashboard

The Dashboard is an interface provided to an APE Country Manger to enable them to administer their landscape. The first job is to create the archival landscape. For the UK we decided to group the archives into type:

Fig 4: Archival Landscape

The landscape can be modified as we go, but it is good to keep the basic categories, so its worth thinking about this from the outset. We found that many other European countries divide their archives differently, reflecting their own landscape, particularly in terms of how local government is organised. We did have a discussion about the advantages of all using the same categories, but it seemed better for the end-user to be presented with categories suitable for the way UK archives are organised.

Within the Dashboard, the Country Manager creates logins for all of the archive repositories contributing to APE. The repositories can potentially use these logins to upload EAD to the dashboard, validate and correct if necessary and then publish. But at present, the Archives Hub is taking on this role for almost all repositories. One advantage of doing this is that we can identify issues that surface across the data, and work out how best to address these issues for all repositories, rather than each one having to take time to investigate their own data.

Working with the Data

When the Archives Hub started to work with APE, we began by undertaking a comparison of Hub EAD and APE EAD. Jane created a document setting out the similarities and differences between the two flavours of EAD. Whilst the Hub and APE both use EAD, this does not mean that the two will be totally compatible. EAD is quite permissive and so for services like aggregators choices have to be made about which fields to use and how to style the content using XSLT stylesheets. To try to cover all possible permutations of EAD use would be a huge task!

There have been two main scenarios when dealing with data issues for APE:

(1) the data is not valid EAD or it is in some way incorrect

(2) the data is valid EAD but the APE stylesheet cannot yet deal with it

We found that there were a combination of these types of scenarios. For the first, the onus is on the Archives Hub to deal with the data issues at source. This enables us to improve the data at the same time as ensuring that it can be ingested into APE. For the second, we explain the issue to the APE developer, so that the stylesheet can be modified.

Here are just a few examples of some of the issues we worked through.

Example 1: Digital Archival Objects

APE was omitting the <daodesc> content:

<dao href=”” show=”embed”><daodesc><p>’Gary Popstar’ by Julian Opie</p></daodesc></dao>

 Content of <daodesc><p> should be transferred to <dao@xlink:title>. It would then be displayed as mouse-over text to the icons used in the APE for highlighting digital content. Would that solution be ok?

In this instance the problem was due to the Hub using the DTD and APE using the schema, and a small transformation done by APE when they ingested the data sufficed to provide a solution.

Example 2: EAD Level Attribute

Archivists are all familiar with the levels within archival descriptions. Unfortunately, ISAD(G), the standard for archival description, is not very helpful with enforcing controlled vocabulary here, simply suggesting terms like Fonds, Sub-fonds, Series, Sub-series. EAD has a more definite list of values:

  • collection
  • fonds
  • class
  • recordgrp
  • series
  • subfonds
  • subgrp
  • subseries
  • file
  • item
  • otherlevel

Inevitably this means that the Archives Hub has ended up with variations in these values. In addition, some descriptions use an attribute value called ‘otherlevel’ for values that are not, in fact, other levels, but are recognised levels.

We had to deal with quite a few variations: Subfonds, SubFonds, sub-fonds, Sub-fonds, sub fonds, for example. I needed to discuss these values with the APE developer and we decided that the Hub data should be modified to only use the EAD specified values.

For example:

<c level=”otherlevel” otherlevel=”sub-fonds”>

needed to be changed to:

<c level=”subfonds”>

At the same time the APE stylesheet also needed to be modified to deal with all recognised level values. Where the level was not a recognised EAD value, e.g. ‘piece’, then ‘otherlevel’ is valid, and the APE stylesheet was modified to recognise this.

Example 3: Data within <title> tag

We discovered that for certain fields, such as biographical history, any content within a <title> tag was being omitted from the APE display. This simply required a minor adjustment to the stylesheet.

Where are we Now?

The APE developers are constantly working to improve the stylesheets to work with EAD from across Europe. Most of the issues that we have had have now been dealt with. We will continue to check the UK data as we upload it, and go through the process described above, correcting data issues at source and reporting validation problems to the APE team.

The UK Archival Landscape in Europe

By being part of the Archives Portal Europe, UK archives benefit from more exposure, and researchers benefit from being able to connect archives in new and different ways.  UK archives are now being featured on the APE homepage.

Wiener Library: Antisemitic board game, 1936

APE and the APEx project provides a great community environment. It provides news from archives across Europe:; it has a section for people to contribute articles:; it runs events and advertises events across Europe: Most importantly for the Archives Hub, it provides effective tools along with knowledgeable staff, so that there is a supportive environment to facilitate our role as Country Manager.

APEx Project meeting in Berlin, Nov 2013




(copyright: Bundersarchiv)