Pages

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The first UK AtoM user group meeting

Yesterday the newly formed UK AtoM user group met for the first time at St John's College Cambridge and I was really pleased that myself and a colleague were able to attend.
Bridge of Sighs in Autumn (photo by Sally-Anne Shearn)

This group has been established to provide the growing UK AtoM community with a much needed forum for exchanging ideas and sharing experiences of using AtoM.

The meeting was attended by about 15 people though we were informed that there are nearly 50 people on the email distribution list. Interest in AtoM is certainly increasing in the UK.

As this was our first meeting, those who had made progress with AtoM were encouraged to give a brief presentation covering the following points:
  1. Where are you with AtoM (investigating, testing, using)?
  2. What do you use it for? (cataloguing, accessions, physical storage locations)
  3. What do you like about it/ what works?
  4. What don’t you like about it/ what doesn’t work?
  5. How do you see AtoM fitting into your wider technical infrastructure? (do you have separate location or accession databases etc?)
  6. What unanswered questions do you have?
It was really interesting to find out how others are using AtoM in the UK. A couple of attendees had already upgraded to the new 2.4 release so that was encouraging to see.

I'm not going to summarise the whole meeting but I made a note of people's likes and dislikes (questions 3 and 4 above). There were some common themes that came up.

Note that most users are still using AtoM 2.2 or 2.3, those who have moved to 2.4 haven't had much chance to explore it yet. It may be that some of these comments are already out of date and fixed in the new release.


What works?


AtoM seems to have lots going for it!

The words 'intuitive', 'user friendly', 'simple', 'clear' and 'flexible' were mentioned several times. One attendee described some user testing she carried out during which she found her users just getting on and using it without any introduction or explanation! Clearly a good sign!

The fact that it was standards compliant was mentioned as well as the fact that consistency was enforced. When moving from unstructured finding aids to AtoM it really does help ensure that the right bits of information are included. The fact that AtoM highlights which mandatory fields are missing at the top of a page is really helpful when checking through your own or others records.

The ability to display digital images was highlighted by others as a key selling point, particularly the browse by digital objects feature.

The way that different bits of the AtoM database interlink was a plus point that was mentioned more than once - this allows you to build up complex interconnecting records using archival descriptions and authority records and these can also be linked to accession records and a physical location.

The locations section of AtoM was thought to be 'a good thing' - for recording information about where in the building each archive is stored. This works well once you get your head around how best to use it.

Integration with Archivematica was mentioned by one user as being a key selling point for them - several people in the room were either using, or thinking of using Archivematica for digital preservation.

The user community itself and the quick and helpful responses to queries posted on the user forum were mentioned by more than one attendee. Also praised was the fact that AtoM is in continuous active development and very much moving in the right direction.


What doesn't work?


Several attendees mentioned the digital object functionality in AtoM. As well as being a clear selling point, it was also highlighted as an area that could be improved. The one-to-one relationship between an archival description and a digital object wasn't thought to be ideal and there was some discussion about linking through to external repositories - it would be nice if items linked in this way could be displayed in the AtoM image carousel even where the url doesn't end in a filename.

The typeahead search suggestions when you enter search terms were not thought to be helpful all of the time. Sometimes the closest matches do not appear in the list of suggested results.

One user mentioned that they would like a publication status that is somewhere in between draft and published. This would be useful for those records that are complete and can be viewed internally by a selected group of users who are logged in but are not available to the wider public.

More than one person mentioned that they would like to see a conservation module in AtoM.

There was some discussion about the lack of an audit trail for descriptions within AtoM. It isn't possible to see who created a record, when it was created and information about updates. This would be really useful for data quality checking, particularly when training new members of staff and volunteers.

Some concerns about scalability were mentioned - particularly for one user with a very large number of records within AtoM - the process of re-indexing AtoM can take three days.

When creating creator or access points, the drop down menu doesn’t display all the options so this causes difficulties when trying to link to the right point or establishing whether the desired record is in the system or not. This can be particularly problematic for common surnames as several different records may exist.

There are some issues with the way authority records are created currently, with no automated way of creating a unique identifier and no ability to keep authority records in draft.

A comment about the lack of auto-save and the issue of the web form timing out and losing all of your work seemed to be a shared concern for many attendees.

Other things that were mentioned included an integration with Active Directory and local workarounds that had to be put in place to make finding aids bi-lingual.


Moving forward


The group agreed that it would be useful to keep a running list of these potential areas of development for AtoM and that perhaps in the future members may be able to collaborate to jointly sponsor work to improve AtoM. This would be a really positive outcome for this new network.

I was also able to present on a recent collaboration to enable OAI-PMH harvesting of EAD from AtoM and use it as an opportunity to try to drum up support for further development of this new feature. I had to try and remember what OAI-PMH stood for and think I got 83% of it right!

Thanks to St John's College Cambridge for hosting. I look forward to our next meeting which we hope to hold here in York in the Spring.

No comments:

Post a Comment