(Excerpt from Daniel V. Pitti, "Encoded Archival Description: An Introduction and Overview". Nov. 1999 D-Lib Magazine Vol. 5 No. 11)
"Encoded Archival Description (EAD) is an emerging standard used internationally in an increasing number of archives and manuscripts libraries to encode data describing corporate records and personal papers. The individual descriptions are variously called finding aids, guides, handlists, or catalogs. While archival description shares many objectives with bibliographic description, it differs from it in several essential ways. From its inception, EAD was based on SGML, and, with the release of EAD version 1.0 in 1998, it is also compliant with XML. EAD was, and continues to be, developed by the archival community. While development was initiated in the United States, international interest and contribution are increasing. EAD is currently administered and maintained jointly by the Society of American Archivists and the United States Library of Congress. Developers are currently exploring ways to internationalize the administration and maintenance of EAD to reflect and represent the expanding base of users.
The most appealing reason for standardizing the encoding of finding aids is that standardization will support the long-cherished dream of providing archivists and both professional and public researchers universal, union access to primary resources. Standardization will make it possible to build union access (through union databases, but more ideally through union indexes) to archival descriptions originating in repositories throughout the world, which will enable users to discover or locate archival materials at any time and from any place. Such access will enable libraries and archives to easily share information about related but different records and collections, and dispersed records and collections. Standardized description will also enable the "virtual" reintegration of collections related by provenance, but dispersed in different repositories.
Archives share with libraries the responsibility to remember on behalf of others. Archives differ from libraries in the nature of the things remembered. Libraries collect individual published books and serials, or bounded sets of individual items. The books and journals libraries collect are not unique, at least not in ways that are of general interest. Multiple copies of one publication exist, and any given copy will generally satisfy as well as any other copy. The materials in archives and manuscript libraries are the unique records of corporate bodies and the papers of individuals and families. The records and papers are the unselfconscious byproducts of corporate bodies carrying out their functions and responsibilities, and of individuals or families living their lives."