The OAC has a long and notable history. It played a pivotal role in the first efforts to provide online access to archival material and is recognized for its ongoing innovations.

Development of EAD

The development of the OAC is tied to that of Encoded Archival Description (EAD), the international standard and extensible format for describing archival collections.  In 1993, the UC Berkeley Libraries developed an SGML prototype finding aid standard.  It was subsequently revised, and in 1995 responsibility for the EAD DTD transferred to the Society of American Archivists and the Library of Congress.

Prototype Union Database

Librarians and archivists at UC and institutions throughout California quickly realized the potential created by this technical development to improve access to archival finding aids.  Forming a UC-EAD consortium, they set out to develop a prototype union database of EAD-encoded records.  The project secured funding from the UC Office of the President and the California State Library’s LSTA grants program.

Between 1995 and 1997, they developed the prototype for UC institutions, primarily through retrospective conversion.  In June 1997, participation was extended to other California repositories. Appropriately, the UC-EAD project was renamed the Online Archive of California to more accurately reflect the eligibility of a widespread group of institutions.

Formalization and Expansion

In 1998, the OAC was formally integrated into the California Digital Library, which immediately worked on developing digital content. CDL received additional funding for encoding finding aids from the LSTA program and initiated two projects: JARDA (Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive) and MOAC (Museums and the Online Archive of California).  In 2001, CDL launched LHDRP (Local History Digital Resources Project), a program that encourages and helps public libraries and other local California institutions contribute to the OAC.  In 2006, CDL launched California Cultures.

CDL also formulated administrative groups comprising representatives from OAC contributing institutions.  The OAC Steering Committee weighed in on issues of content, policy, sustainability, partnership, and scholarship.  The OAC Working Group advised CDL on issues concerning the administration, operation, and technical development of the OAC.  A collaborative effort, the OAC continues to solicit and receive input from the community.


The look of the OAC has evolved over the years.  The interface was first significantly redesigned in 2002 to integrate finding aids with associated digital content.  In July 2008, CDL released a new iteration of the site, informed by user feedback and testing. The new site also integrates MARC records and EAD into a single search system.

The OAC Today

CDL's Publishing, Archives, and Digitization Group continues to seek ways to enhance the OAC for both users and contributors.  DSC is constantly exploring ways to improve the site's functionality, further integrate collection guides and associated digital content, engage in user testing, promote best practices, and provide new and improved services for OAC contributors.

For more information about the history and development of the OAC, consult the bibliography [PDF].