As Texas Archives Month comes to a close, we are pleased to highlight the new interface for Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), an essential tool for conducting archival research in Texas repositories. TARO is a website that allows for searching the collections of participating archives, libraries, and museums that have added finding aids to their list, including many from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). TSLAC Archivist Rebecca Romanchuk has served on the TARO steering committee as chair and in 2021 is serving as the chair of TARO’s Summerlee Foundation New Member Initiative, which supports smaller archival institutions in joining TARO and adding finding aids to its website. We asked Rebecca a few questions about TARO and what to expect from the new look.
What is TARO and how was it developed?
Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) is a consortial program that provides free public access to collection descriptions or “finding aids” created by the state’s archives, libraries, and museums that describe the primary source documents and objects in their care. TARO was established in 1999 with initial funding from the Texas Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, one year after the release of the first version of Encoded Archival Description (EAD) developed by a group of American archives professionals. The TARO website was established at The University of Texas Libraries and has continued to reside there; UT Libraries formally became the institutional home for TARO in 2018. TSLAC was one of the seven founding institutions of the TARO project.
TARO has been fortunate to receive both a planning grant and an implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the latter of which will conclude in April 2022 and has resulted in a new searchable web platform for TARO. Additional grant outcomes include reports provided to members to improve controlled access terms in their finding aids that support the website’s search function and continued training for members in creating EAD finding aids.
Who runs TARO?
There are two “steering wheels” for TARO. One is in the hands of UT Libraries as the technical operations center for TARO. UT Libraries assigns five percent of a programmer’s time to keep the system running, address issues, and provide any further development for the web platform. TARO is very lucky to have such responsive and helpful support from UT Libraries! The other is in the hands of the aptly named TARO Steering Committee, consisting of seven elected officers (each an archivist or librarian from a TARO member institution) and a UT Libraries representative, all of whom operate under the current TARO Governance Plan. Several subcommittees have been created to handle key areas of TARO’s activities, create documents and reports as needed, and advise the Steering Committee: Authorized Terms, Funding & Sustainability, Governance, NEH Grant Management, Outreach & Education, Standards, and Website & Technology. Altogether, over 25 people regularly contribute their time to TARO, as work hours supported by their employing institution and as personal time. Their dedication is phenomenal!
What repositories are included on the list and how do they join?
TARO currently has 69 member repositories listed on its “About” page, ranging from public and private university libraries and archives to public libraries and museums with archival collections, municipal and religious archives, historical societies, non-profit research collections, and the two state agencies that are official state records archival repositories: TSLAC and the Texas General Land Office. Any organization within Texas that holds archival materials and creates finding aids for them may join TARO through one of two options: self-sustaining member creating its own EAD finding aids, or new member needing grant-funded EAD encoding assistance through TARO’s Summerlee Foundation New Member Initiative (contact the TARO Steering Committee Chair to discuss joining that project).
What improvements would you like to highlight?
The TARO website we’ve relied on for 20 years has had small behind-the-scenes improvements over that time, but never a full platform overhaul or any site redesign. Its age has been showing for a long while, though TARO members and researchers around the world have continued to benefit tremendously from its existence. The new TARO website is built according to current technical standards, and we think everyone will enjoy the fresh new graphic design and search functions. UT Libraries is continuing active development of the new website through the end of 2021 (any bugs showing up are being worked on) and will scale back to its usual maintenance mode in 2022.
Browsing all finding aids by creator, geographic area, and subject is now possible, so any finding aid from any repository that shares a term in one of those categories will be included in browse results, which helps researchers identify materials that may be closely related and relevant to their interests. TARO members can see where our finding aid data needs to be edited to use an established authorized form of a creator name. For example, “Houston, Sam, 1793-1863” has two additional slight variations of that name in browse results. Each TARO member has been given reports of the creator and geographic names and subject terms used in their finding aids along with the corrected form of those names and subjects, so that we can edit our data to be standard across TARO and improve the search experience.
Do all states have something similar to TARO?
There are several state-wide and regional EAD consortiums in the United States, all of whom are participating in a US Institute for Museum and Library Services grant-funded project to research the needs of and develop prototypes for a National Archival Finding Aid Network. It’s been recognized that combining our efforts and support into a national hub for finding aid description would help bring in institutions without the resources to establish their own searchable finding aid websites and provide a centralized research discovery point for described archival materials held by US institutions. Achieving that goal will take some time. Meanwhile, consortiums like TARO continue to operate and improve as they are able to. Please visit some of our fellow EAD consortiums around the country!
Do you have any simple search tips?
The new search options are a lot of fun to try out! There are many angles you can approach a search from. In addition to a simple keyword search (this can be limited to a particular repository), the advanced search option allows you to refine a search by any combination of repository, title, creator, geographic area, and subject. Search results can be faceted by repository, language, and start and end dates. An advanced search can be limited to digital objects that feature a direct link to an online image, document, or recording, which must be encoded in the finding aid using a specific EAD element per item link. TSLAC uses a different method: Our finding aids with digital materials have one link to the Texas Digital Archive collection page from which all the digital items can be discovered, so search by digital object in TARO won’t include our finding aids.
If you want to see a particular repository’s finding aids presented in alphabetical order by creator of the materials, as the former TARO website did for each repository’s browse pages, go to the “Browse By” category and select “Repositories,” then click on a repository. A Results Summary page will appear, and a Sort By category option is available there. Choose Creator from the Sort By list and click on the A-Z order option to sort all of that repository’s finding aids in forward or reverse alphabetical order. The Sort By can be chosen for Title instead. There are also options to sort by Start Date and End Date (of the materials) and there are currently mixed results for that; the search function is only as accurate as the data it is searching, and some finding aids may need encoding edits to appear as expected in some searches. Data correction by TARO members is ongoing, and new finding aids are continually added to the website, so keep visiting to see what’s new and improved!
Thank you, Rebecca! We cannot wait to start searching.