Intro to the Archivists’ Toolkit

Next in the series about the integration of Archon and the the Archivists’ Toolkit is a post from Brad Westbrook introducing AT:

The Archivists’ Toolkit™ (AT) is a pioneering, open-source application providing broad, integrated support to a range of repositories for the management of their archival materials, including support for collection appraisal / assessment, accessioning, arrangement and description, authorities management, locations management, and the import and export of standard data formats such as EAD, MARCXML, and METS. (A complete product description is available in Chapter 1 of the AT User Manual at http://archiviststoolkit.org/sites/default/files/Chapter%201.pdf). The product is the result of a collaboration among the Five Colleges, Inc. Libraries, New York University Libraries, and University of California, San Diego Libraries. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has generously funded the AT project since its formal beginning in June 2004. It is made available free of charge under the Educational Community License, version 1.0.

AT Image 1

The AT’s origin can be traced back to the white paper “Archivists’ Workbench” (2001, Chandler, Landis & Westbrook) which was the basis for two meetings (http://tpot.ucsd.edu/msdunits/masu/archive/arcbench/index.html) sponsored by the Digital Library Federation in 2002. The first meeting, taking place in February 4-5, 2002 consisted of 22 archivists, administrators, and information technologists, including Chris Prom who later spearheaded the Archon project. This meeting focused on the need for and viability of a database application that would streamline the EAD encoding process by automating it to a high degree and that would promote more standardized EAD documents, thereby providing a better foundation for EAD databases and access systems. In the second meeting, occurring November 3-6, 2002, ten archivists from the first meeting formulated an initial draft of the functional requirements for an archives database application. This work provided most of the content for the AT proposal submitted to the Mellon Foundation in February 2004.

From the outset, the AT project has been rigorously committed to developing an open-source, low barrier (technologically and financially) application to support archival work. That commitment has included utilizing archival community standards such as ISAD-G, ISAAR(CPF), DACS, EAD, METS, MARCXML, MODS, and Dublin Core. It has also included utilizing and integrating other open source projects whenever they could assist the AT project team in achieving its objectives. Among such projects are JAXB and JGoodies and, most importantly, Hibernate. While the application is primarily designed to work with the open source, enterprise-quality database MySQL, AT developers have also enabled the use of MS SQL Server and Oracle databases.

The AT project has always been highly collaborative in nature, drawing on contributions from diverse members of the archival community throughout the many stages of development. In building AT 1.0, released in December 2006, project team members worked with partner repositories (http://archiviststoolkit.org/aboutUs/partners) in the western Massachusetts, New York City metropolitan, and San Diego areas to establish the detailed specifications for the application (http://archiviststoolkit.org/overview/phase1functSpec). For the four months leading up to its release, more than 60 staff at nineteen repositories helped to test the AT beta thoroughly (http://archiviststoolkit.org/overview/phase1Betatest).

After releasing AT 1.0, methods for collaborating with the community shifted as the project team found itself not only developing subsequent versions, but also supporting a production version. In this environment, ‘straw man specifications’ were publicly shared with members of the archives community to solicit feedback on new and revised functionality for the application. In addition, use of a robust bug tracking application linked to the application was encouraged so that users could report problems and request features at any time and not just during formal beta test periods. Recognizing that some requested features have only local appeal, the AT developers have more recently enabled the use of the Java Plugin Framework so that repositories could build extensions to the core application and even share plugins in the manner that they could already share XML stylesheets and JasperReports.

Reception of the application has been largely positive, brisk, and wide-ranging. More than 50 repositories have identified themselves as implementers of a production instance of the AT. Thousands more have downloaded the application over the past three years. The Archivists’™ Toolkit User Group (ATUG, https://mailman.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/atug-l) now has just over a 1,100 members. Also, more than 250 persons have enrolled in 15 workshops, six of them sponsored by SAA and regional agencies such as the California Society of Archivists. Finally, an SAA Archivists’™ Toolkit Roundtable was established last spring and more than 150 persons attended its inaugural meeting at the 2009 SAA meeting in Austin, TX.

Version 2.0 of the Archivists’™ Toolkit, the culmination of the second development phase, is scheduled for release around September 30th of this year. That release will include new support for appraising and assessing collections and revised support for digital objects, such that now digital objects can be created independent of resource descriptions and either linked to resource descriptions at a later time or not at all. This will make the application more accommodating of ‘born digital’ materials.

If there has been one resounding criticism of the AT, it is that it does not support web-publishing of archival descriptions. That decision was very deliberate, made to ensure that building a satisfying archives information / collection management system would receive its due attention. The project team has always understood that AT development would eventually need to address this shortfall, unless another project group came forth and developed an independent archives publishing system that could be easily coupled to the AT and other like tools. The proposed integration of AT and Archon, now in the earliest stages of planning, promises to solve this problem by coupling the excellent and much admired web publishing functions of Archon with the equally well-admired collection management functions of the AT. This integration will not only result in a functionally superior archives management / access tool for AT and Archon users alike, but also in an application that will be easier to sustain over time.

Thanks, Brad, and we’re looking forward to some posts from the Archon/AT team in the next few weeks that give more information about the integration of these two popular products.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *