Professional Development

Archivists’ Toolkit

Monday, April 20, 2009 4:08 pm

In bitterly cold January of this year, I attended an SAA-sponsored 2 day class in New York to learn how to use the Archivists’ Toolkit, a “shareware” database created for archival collections and developed by several schools. There aren’t lots of great archival databases currently, but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen and the fact that it is free makes it even more attractive! And to add to the excitement of a free database program, we were in NY the day that the US Air flight crashed in the Hudson river! It was just a few blocks from the hotel, but we were “down South” in the Village when it happened and didn’t have any idea until class let out. In spite of the cold and the plane crash, it was a good trip and I learned a lot of useful info.

Since each archives collection is unique to the intstitution that maintains it, it is difficult to design a database that will meet the needs of all users. But the Archivists’ Toolkit is flexible enough to let the user enter data that is specific to his or her collection and is also searchable by key words. This in itself is a big help compared to some older programs that have been used. The fact that it is designed by working archivists also helps, since they are familiar with terminology and ways of grouping information that are very different from a standard library catalog or arrangement.

We spent each of our two days in the basement computer lab of NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst library, practicing by entering fictitious archival collections from various fictitious donors. It took a lot of work to become familiar with the ins and outs of the database, but once we were more comfortable with it we could experiment witht the data input and then search to see how it would show up.

Our main goals were to create accession records, create descriptions for collections and their components, create and manage name and subject authorities, record and manage physical locations, produce reports and import legacy data. Needless to say, it was a lot to cover in two short days, and we had more luck with some aspects than with others. Even the computers seemed to feel a little overwhelmed at the end of both days, and they decided to freeze up several times which caused frustration for students and instructors alike.

But in the end we felt much more comfortable with the Archivists’ Toolkit and what it can do for collection management. There is still much to learn as we work to input our WFU collection, but it will be a huge help in locating and adding information as we consolidate our information.

DACS- Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Monday, November 10, 2008 3:44 pm

On Oct. 16th, I attended a workshop presented by the Society of American Archivists at App St. in Boone, NC. Our instructor was Lynn Holdzkom, Head of Technical Services in the Special Collections Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. The topic at hand was Describing Archives: A Content Standard, or DACS. This is a set of rules, or rather strong recommendations, as how to arrange and describe archival collections. Lynn was one of the authors of DACS, so she really knew her information as you would expect. She made sure to emphasize that this was NOT a cataloging workshop or a finding aid workshop; it was to help us understand the principles of description that will provide access points for researchers using our materials.

Because every archives has a collection that is unique, it is virtually impossible to have a single way of arranging and describing all collections. Therefore, we have to consider four main questions when we arrange the materials: Who uses the archives? What do the users want? Why do users want it? and How do users go about getting it? If we think about this before we arrange the materials, it will affect the way we decide to proceed. We should observe the provenance, or the source and history of the materials, as much as possible but at the same time arrange them in a way that is user-friendly.

This means that the “order of the records that was established by the creator should be maintained by physical and/or intellectual means whenever possible to preserve existing relationships between the documents and the evidential value inherent in their order”. (DACS, xii). So while libraries group books according to LC Subject heading, that isn’t the approach for archives. We leave the materials as close to the original order they come in as possible, to show how the person who created them arranged them. That’s why it can become very confusing to arrange collections; it might make more logical sense to group all letters about a certain topic together, but the creator kept then in date order. So, we work with them in date order to the extent that a researcher can easily locate things.

We discussed the elements of a collection finding aid, including the creator, title, date, collection number, physical description, language, summary, repository, source of collection , custodial history and information about access. All of these pieces as well as others are parts of the finding aids that are created to tell users about the collection. The trick is to keep them as succinct as possible but to give enough information that the user can know if it is useful to him or her. We did practice exercises with fictitious collections to see how we would approach them. It was interesting to hear different people’s ideas about what to include, and it was obvious that there is no one way to do it; descriptions will vary from archive to archive, just the way that the collections do. But if we can follow the general outlines given by DACS, our finding aids and collection descriptions will be similar enough that users will feel comfortable using them no matter which collection they need.

I was glad to have the opportunity to learn more about the content standard, and can now work on incorporating it in the collections we have here. And I also know who to email if I have questions about it; who better than one of the creators herself?!

Professional Development
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007

Powered by, protected by Akismet. Blog with