Origins, the projects, and the foundation
Archives Portal Europe was established thanks to two projects funded by the European Commission, which allowed to establish the portal online, as well as develop the network of archivists and archival institutions that later converged in APEF. APEnet and APEX have provided the synergy to invest knowledge and ideas on how to prepare and give access to archival materials in the digital age, linking together ideas and technical expertise previously expressed in individual articles and tested in local small-scale initiatives.
Concept and the principles
Archives Portal Europe is based on the following four principles.
Storage of metdata and links to digital objects
The Archives Portal Europe collects and stores only metadata, not digital archival objects. Those remain in the storage facilities of the individual archival institutions, the content providers, and the portal links back to them in case the metadata it receives contain links to those digital archival objects.
This being said, Archives Portal Europe Foundation might decide extending its offer in future, provided the requirement exists within the archival community it serves, and might also start storing digital objects directly.
Use of international archival standards
The portal fosters the use of internationally accepted archival metadata standards, such as EAD and EAC-CPF, and has defined a workflow based on standardising the use of these standards.
All that is asked from content providers is that they provide their metadata either in a format that already applies these standards, or in a format that can be transformed into these standards. Content providers will not be forced to change the way they create or export their archival descriptions for sharing, however, the Archives Portal Europe team has developed implementation guidelines for each of those standards, based on a comparison of the best practices of the participating archival institutions, along with a suite of tools that will help content providers in the process of data preparation.
Defining central application profiles of the international standards was necessary to be able to publish all metadata from all countries and all institutions, with small implementation differences, as consistent as possible. See our Standards section for more information
Combining standards in a three layer model
The three layer model, established during the APEnet project, is the basis of the Archives Portal Europe framework.
We use the EAD standard for the archival landscape, a hierarchical approach to representing and grouping all contributing countries and institutions, as well as for their archival descriptions in the form of finding aids (descriptions of one single archival fonds or collection from the general to the specific and constituent items that are part of it), holdings guides (general descriptions of all fonds and collections held at one institution), and sources guides (general descriptions of fonds and collections held at one or more institutions bound by dealing with the same subject or theme). These EAD documents contain our most important metadata.
For information on the archival institutions we use the EAG standard and for the description of record creators, i.e. the persons, families, and organisations that created, used and maintained the archival documents before they were transferred to the archives, we use the EAC-CPF standard.
To link descriptions of archival material to digital archival objects, the EAD element "dao" can be used as well as the METS standard. And - as an aggregator for Europeana - it is possible to forward all information on digital archival objects to Europeana via the Archives Portal Europe's dashboard by extracting all relevant context information on digital archival objects (if they are available) from the finding aids and convert this information to the Europeana Data Model format (EDM).
Content providers in full control
So how does this concept of using standards actually work and isn't this too technical and too complicated for content providers? No, the Archives Portal Europe team has put a lot of effort into making contributing to the portal as easy as possible, by implementing a semi-automated workflow for most of the steps needed.
The Archives Portal Europe team takes care of implementing the archival landscape in EAD, including a definition of countries, which can then be picked up by the Country Managers to create a more detailed hierarchy within their country's section if wanted. This can be done either via editing with the tools offered by Archives Portal Europe or via uploading a locally created file, if available.
The contributing archival institutions can provide their data according to their own standards implementations and the Archives Portal Europe team takes care of a mapping or conversion stylesheet towards the Archives Portal Europe's application profiles and makes those stylesheets available in the portal's back-end, the dashboard, to which each contributing archival institution will get access.
So after an initial configuring phase, which is basically a quick assessment of the dataset an institution wants to contribute by the Archives Portal Europe's team, and some fine-tuning of the portal's stylesheet if necessary, plus the creation of a dashboard account, the archival institutions can start uploading and publishing their data in the portal's dashboard themselves. In order to have content visible in the front-end of Archives Portal Europe, only providing EAG information once and uploading and managing EAD finding aids on a regular basis is mandatory. Everything else, e.g. providing holdings guides or source guides and forwarding information on digital archival objects to Europeana, is optional.
Via the dashboard access, Archives Portal Europe enables its content providers to stay in full control of their datasets at all times in a very user-friendly way. Take a look at this short instruction video to see how easy it is to contribute content to Archives Portal Europe, especially in case this can be combined with automatic OAI-PMH harvesting of content (video currently hosted on Vimeo, i.e. requiring login to the platform).
Because of this transparency, the Archives Portal Europe team also provides the functionality of the portal's dashboard as a Data Preparation Tool that can be downloaded and used on any stand-alone computer system. Using this tool enables institutions to test their data locally themselves before deciding to use the portal. The outcome of such tests can give the Archives Portal Europe team a head-start in case they have to come up with fine-tuning of the general mapping or conversion stylesheets for these institutions.