Requirements for software and systems
When I started my job in June, one of the first things I wanted to do was get an idea of what existing systems and software were in place for recording analogue archives and see how I could record and manage digital material alongside this. It is essential that systems for analogue and digital archives are integrated to allow us to catalogue digital material alongside its analogue equivalents. If an organisation has been archiving minutes of their meetings with us in paper form for several decades but has now moved to digital deposition, we need a media-blind system which records the archival material regardless of format and upholds the relationships between these objects.
In talking to other archivists at the Borthwick over my first few months it was clear that existing systems for accessioning, cataloguing and providing access to metadata about archives did not meet all of our needs. We decided that this would be a great opportunity to list our requirements and analyse a range of software and systems against these requirements.
I set to work creating a list of system requirements for the Borthwick Institute. Feedback from other staff within the Institute was essential to ensure that we all agreed on what was needed. One of our key requirements from the start was about resource discovery – we want the information about our collections to be easy to search on-line. However, the list grew as I realised that there were many different but related bits of information that we wanted to record. Discussions with the conservation department at the Borthwick have revealed an interest in logging their preservation and conservation actions digitally. The staff on the desk in the Borthwick searchroom would benefit from a more integrated database and interface to log enquires and orders and keep records of which documents are accessed most frequently. On top of this, I have my own digital archiving agenda. I need to ensure that we can effectively manage the digital material that is coming our way.
Myself and my colleagues have now finalised the document and have created a fairly comprehensive list of 31 requirements. These requirements are fairly generic in some ways. We specify that we need a system that we can use to log accessions and create a receipt for an accession but we do not specify the exact fields that we need to record. The requirements for digital archiving are similarly brief – we will need to tease out the specifics once we get an idea of what solutions look promising. We have deliberately excluded requirements to do with cost or technical expertise. If we find a solution that suits our needs, we will need to make a case for the expenditure and of course the cost of any development time it will take to implement and configure the system.
I am not aware of any one single solution that will tick all of the boxes for us and I think that we may need to think about configuring a number of different solutions in such a way that they can work together to perform different bits of our workflow. Of course we will also test our current situation against this matrix just to make sure – there is a small chance that the best possible option for the Borthwick Institute will be to maintain and enhance the systems that are already in place. I will keep you posted with the results!
Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist