Katherine M. Wisser

Excavating Description: Discoveries That Won’t Surprise You and Why They Matter

Date: February 9, 2018

Time: 1:15pm – 2:15pm

Room: Luddy Auditorium


Drawing from several research initiatives conducted for the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC, http://snac-web.iath.virginia.edu/) project, this presentation will explore some challenges faced in the realm of archival description. These challenges expose both philosophical boundaries and practical considerations for the act of description and its relationship to data. The proliferation of encoding formats creates uniformity in information structures. However, it has the ability to create a false perception of objectivity. The increasing facility for manipulation of these information structures reveals the significance of very human factors. Through an exploration of the issues found in identity disambiguation, larger patterns are exposed. This presentation will highlight three common-sense observations and delve into how they might impact the provision of access and context achieved through archival description in the future.



Katherine M. Wisser is an associate professor at the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. She received a BA in History from Bates College in 1989, an MA in History from the University of New Hampshire in 1997, an MSLS in 2000 and a PhD in Information Science in 2009, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Wisser worked for the North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online (NC ECHO) as a Metadata Coordinator from 2003 to 2007, and in Special Collections departments at the University of New Hampshire and North Carolina State University. After completing her Master’s degree, she was a NCSU Libraries Fellow, where she worked in cataloging and special collections prior to becoming the NC ECHO Metadata Coordinator.

Beginning in 2000, Wisser served as a teaching fellow at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, teaching a variety of courses including the required course on cataloging, archival description, indexing and thesaurus construction and the history of libraries. In addition, Wisser taught numerous NC ECHO workshops on metadata, Encoded Archival Description, and related topics throughout the state of North Carolina and workshops on MARC cataloging and EAC-CPF for SAA. At Simmons, Wisser teaches similar topics, specifically required and advanced topics in information organization and archives and a course on the history of libraries. She has advised SILS master’s papers, served as advisor or second reader Simmons History master’s theses, and overseen independent studies. She has served as Chair of the SAA EAD Roundtable 2003-2004, the SAA Description Section 2004-2005, and the SAA Archival Educators Roundtable (2010-2013).

In 2006 Wisser was appointed chair of the EAC Working Group, an international working group that formulated Encoded Archival Context – Corporate bodies, Persons, and Families (EAC-CPF) 2010. She served as co-chair of the Technical Subcommittee for EAC-CPF from 2011 to 2016. In 2016 she was appointed co-chair of Technical Subcommittee for Encoded Archival Standards. She has published in various peer-reviewed journals, such as Library Hi-Tech, Journal of Library Metadata, American Archivists, Archival Science, and the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies, and has served as guest editor for Journal of Library Metadata and Journal of Archival Organization.