Archival Management Software

Archival Management Software: A Report for the Council on Library and Information Resources. Lisa Spiro, January 2009.

The Archives Hub is not in the business of archival management systems, but this report provides a useful perspective on what systems have to offer, and also the current state of cataloguing, albeit essentially in the US. Recommended reading. Here is a summary, highlighting some points of interest.

The report starts off on well-trodden ground about the number of hidden archives. As a partial remedy, it encourages providing access to materials through minimal steps (basic descriptions which may not be ‘perfect’), rather than providing detailed catalogues of a small percentage of holdings. At the same time it states that collection-level descriptions must be done well, otherwise they may not effectively represent the collection to users. The report refers to taking a stripped-down approach to cataloguing – quite a change from the norm for many archivists. This is an issue we have been thinking about at the Hub, and we have taken the decision to reduce the number of mandatory fields that we require of our contributors. A difficult decision, but we felt that we needed to fit in with the ethos that a minimal description is better than no description, and we should be conscious of the difficulties archives often have in providing comprehensive descriptions with only minimal resources.

As an interesting adjunct to the debate about the control archivists have over descriptions (the requirements for expertise), the report cites a project where students are paired with unprocessed collections in their area of interest and trained to catalogue them, resulting in access for users and research topics for the students. Presumably this work is overseen by archivists, but it is still a departure from the idea that cataloguing requires an ‘expert’.

The important point is to provide electronic access as ‘increasingly, materials that are electronically inaccessible are simply not used’ (quoting Jones, Hidden Collections, Scholarly Barriers, 2003). I was heartened to read that the Library of Congress Working Group on