The first meeting of Archivematica UK users (or explorers)

Last week I was happy to be able to host the first meeting of a group of UK users (or potential users) of Archivematica here in York

There are several organisations within the UK that are exploring Archivematica and thinking about how they could use it within existing data management workflows to help preserve their digital holdings. I thought it would be good to get us in a room together and talking about our ideas and experiences. 

Of the institutions who attended the meeting, most were at a similar stage. Perhaps we would not yet call ourselves 'Archivematica users', but having recognised its potential, we are now in the process of testing and exploring the system to evaluate exactly how we could use it and what systems it would integrate with. 

Each of the nine institutions attending the meeting were able to give a short presentation with an overview of their experience with Archivematica and intended use of it. I asked each speaker to think about the following points:

  • Where are you with Archivematica (investigating, testing, using)?
  • What do you intend to use it for - eg: research data, born digital archives, digitised content?
  • What do you like about it / what works?
  • What don't you like about it / what doesn't work?
  • How do you see Archivematica fitting in with your wider technical infrastructure - eg: what other systems will you use for storage, access, pre-ingest?
  • What unanswered questions do you have?
By getting an overview of where we all are, we could not only learn from each other, but also see areas where we might be able to put our heads together or collaborate. Exploring new territory always seems easier when you have others to keep you company.

Over the course of the afternoon I took down pages of notes - a clear sign of how useful I found it. I can't report on everything in this blog post but I'll just summarise a couple of the elements that the presentations touched on - our likes and dislikes.

What do you like about Archivematica? What works well for you?

  • It meets our requirements (or most of them)
  • It uses METS to package and structure the metadata
  • It creates an Archival Information Package (AIP) that can be stored anywhere you like
  • You can capture the 'original order' of the deposit and then appraise and structure your package as required (this keeps us in line with standard archival theory and practice)
  • There is a strong user-community and this makes it more sustainable and attractive
  • Artefactual publish their development roadmap and wishlist so we can see the direction they are hoping to take it in
  • It is flexible and can talk to other systems
  • It doesn't tie you in to proprietary systems
  • It connects with AtoM
  • It is supported by Artefactual Systems (who are good to work with)
  • It is freely available and open source - for those of us who don't have a budget for digital preservation this is a big selling point
  • It is managed in collaboration with UNESCO
  • It has an evolving UK user base
  • The interface mirrors the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) functional entities - this is good if this is the language you speak
  • It allows for customisable workflows
  • It has come a long way since the first version was released
  • It fills a gap that lots of us seem to have within our existing data curation infrastructures
  • As well as offering a migration-based strategy to digital preservation, it also stores technical metadata which should allow for future emulation strategies
  • It is configurable - you can add your own tools and put your own preservation policies in place
  • It isn't a finished product but is continually developing - new releases with more functionality are always on the horizon
  • We can influence it's future development

What don't you like about Archivematica? What doesn't work for you?

  • It can be time consuming - you can automate a lot of the decision points but not all of them
  • Rights metadata can only be applied to a whole package (AIP) not at a more granular level (eg: per individual file)
  • Storage and storage functionality (such as integrity checking and data loss reporting) isn't included
  • Normalisation/migrations of files only happens on initial ingest but we are likely to need to carry out further migrations at a later date
  • Upgrading is always an adventure!
  • Documentation isn't always complete and up-to-date
  • It doesn't store enough information about the normalised preservation version of the files (more is stored about the original files)
  • It is not just a question of installing it and running with it - lots of thought has to go into how we really want to use it
  • You can't delete files from within an AIP
  • There is no reporting facility to enable you to check on what files of each type/version you have within your archive and use this to inform your preservation planning

A Q&A session with Artefactual Systems via WebEx later in the afternoon was really helpful in answering our unanswered questions and describing some interesting new functionality we can expect to see in the next few versions of Archivematica.

All in all a very worthwhile session and I hope this will be just the first of many meetings of the Archivematica UK group. Please do contact me if you are a UK Archivematica user (or explorer) and want to share experiences with other UK users.

Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist


  1. Thanks so much for this, Jenny, and thank you for pulling this group together for the day. I was happy to answer your questions and will make myself available in the future. User groups like this support strength and sustainability over time, and your assessments of positives and negatives as a group are useful for identifying opportunities to fund new development together.

    I have some broad comments about the issues you've identified. As more and more institutions take on digital preservation systems, including Archivematica, it becomes apparent that digital preservation is fundamentally time-consuming, and there is still a lot of work to be done outside of any system to understand local content needs and workflows. For this reason, we've made Archivematica highly configurable (which you like! thank you!); however, informed human intervention from archivists, curators, and librarians is invaluable, and in many cases makes automation unwise. There simply hasn't been comprehensive enough research and tool development to allow for complete automation of tasks; and, even once the body of work in digital preservation expands exponentially over time, some digital content work will still demand manual appraisal, arrangement and other assessment.

    With regard to reporting, I'll offer a reminder that we are not opposed to this sort of functionality. As some of you may be aware, we operate on the bounty model of open source, which means that one or more institutions funds a feature or enhancement and, after rigorous testing, it is included in the public release. Reporting is just one area where we'd love to see sponsored development. Perhaps your user group members who prioritize this need can get together an sponsor some functionality?

    For the users who would like to delete content from an AIP - we'd like to understand this use case more. From our perspective, the AIP is preserved archival material, so its contents should not be altered once it's stored. Some new functionality we're working on would allow you to version your AIP and to update metadata, though, so perhaps that might meet your needs? See AIP Re-ingest requirements for 1.4.0 here:

    Good news about fixity checking, we have a fixity checker that you can use to check your storage over time here:

    That said, some storage systems that our users use with Archivematica do a good job of providing stats about the stored content, but we'd like to see more of that in the Archivematica Storage Service, too - another opportunity for development sponsorship. While the Archival Storage search in the dashboard does not offer reporting per se, it does offer the opportunity to search the content of the METS.xml, including the ability to date search for end of embargo, for example.

    Finally, we are currently moving to a better documentation system. Please consider contributing documentation where you see gaps, it's a great way to be a part of an open source project without technical know-how.

    We are always improving the system and watching for innovation in digital preservation practice. You can help by describing your ideas for improvement to other users in your user group and in the larger community via the public discussion list. If you're looking for other sponsorship opportunities, see our wishlist online, where we have compiled a list of things that users have expressed interest in but haven't yet been funded:

    Thank you so much, I look forward to talking with you next time when you meet in London.

    Best regards,
    Courtney C. Mumma
    US and Int'l Consultant, Community Development

    Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist

  2. I just came across your blog in response to the “Interested in Archivematica?” link on the Archivematica site. I work for a small national charity but with worldwide links, and with almost everything now produced as born digital.

    We don't as yet have a full, or even half-blown digital preservation strategy, nor do we have a lifesize budget for one. But I do recognise that it's essential to have the former if not the latter, and that we have to make it work. Each day that passes means more digital archiving that's not been prepared for.

    I'm therefore keen to get going, and for the technical tools, to look carefully at the open source options.  We're looking at ICA AtoM as our indexing software for analog archives, but for digital, we're not clear enough.  We want something like Preservica, but without the lifesize costs.  We are looking at Archivematica which I think will help with that pre-ingest file analysis and checking, but is it also the tool for actual archival storage of the digital items themselves? And if not, then what open source options are open to us? I have signed up for an email subscription to Digital Archiving at the University of York so as to stay connected, and if Archivematica is the path to tread then I'd very much like to stay with you.
    Many thanks.
    Solihin Garrard - Subud Britain Archivist

    Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist

  3. Thank you both for your comments.

    Courtney, with regard for the use case for deletions from AIPs, This one came from me and I do realise this is not how things should be in an ideal world! In practice as a digital archivist I have found that initial accessioning of the data does not always iron out all of the issues with a Submission Information Package and that there are some duplicates or spurious files that you find further down the line, or the depositor later gets in touch with you and gives you a replacement file for one you have already archived. I guess some of this does all depend on how you use Archivematica and the pre-ingest workflows that you put in place. Overall the feedback on Archivematica last week was very positive and I hope that we may be able to collaborate as a group and help to develop it further.

    Solihin - we are currently setting up AtoM as our archival management system too so do stay in the loop. Archivematica doesn't come with storage, you need to plug in your own and I imagine there would always be a cost involved with this, particularly if you are looking at good archival storage with multiple copies etc.

    Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How can we preserve Google Documents?

Preserving emails. How hard can it be?

Checksum or Fixity? Which tool is for me?