Probably my last UK AtoM user group meeting

This week the 3rd UK AtoM users group meeting was held at the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) in London. A packed and interesting programme had been put together by Justine Taylor and it was great to see how well attended it was. Indeed a room change was required to accommodate the number of people who wanted to attend.

Elizabeth Wells from Westminster School Archives started off the presentations by talking about how she is using AtoM to catalogue objects and artefacts. Several of us in the room have items in their care that are not archives, but I think Westminster School were the only archive to be looking after a 92 year old pancake! Being able to catalogue such items in AtoM is a high priority for many AtoM users given that they don’t want to manage multiple systems.

It is really interesting to hear how different institutions use AtoM and in particular the workarounds they use to resolve specific problems. Elizabeth talked us through the processes she has put in place for storing additional information about objects (such as valuations) that she doesn’t want to make available to the wider public. She mentioned how useful a previous UK AtoM meeting was in highlighting the fact that information within an archival description that is hidden from view within the AtoM interface will still be available to users if they download the EAD. This was a concern so she is using the accessions module of AtoM to store information that is confidential.

She also mentioned that she was using the RAD template for describing the objects in her collections. These can sit within an ISAD(G) hierarchy, but the RAD standard gives more flexibility to record different types of items. I had not realised that AtoM allowed you to chop and change between the templates in this way so this was really interesting to hear.

Victoria Peters from Strathclyde University talked to us about their work to link AtoM with their Library Catalogue interface Primo (SUPrimo - the best name ever for a Primo library catalogue!). Following on from York’s own work in this area, they enabled top level records from AtoM to be harvested into Primo and this allows staff and students to more easily discover things that are available in the archives.

They have also been thinking about how to best surface special collections. Special collections are catalogued at item level within the library catalogue but there is no overarching record describing each of the collections (for example who collected the material and why), and no obvious way to enter this information into the library catalogue, which doesn't support hierarchical descriptions. Information about special collections isn't discoverable from AtoM and there is no way to cross link with information that is held by the archives even though there are obvious links between material held in the archives and special collections.

The solution they have come up with is to add a description of each of the special collections into AtoM. This allows links to be made between related archives and special collections and will really help those users who are browsing the archives catalogue to see which special collections they may also be interested in. The description within AtoM then links back to the individual items within SUPrimo for more detailed item level information.

Victoria summed this work up by saying that it isn’t perfect but was a pretty quick and effective way of solving a problem. As a consequence, both archives and special collections are more discoverable and the links between them are clearer. Users do not need to know whether they should go to the library catalogue or the archives catalogue as both archives and special collections are signposted from both systems.

I then updated the group on work to enable EAD harvesting in AtoM. I have previously blogged about phase 1 of the project and wanted to talk about more recent testing since we have upgraded to AtoM 2.4 and future plans to make the harvesting functionality better. This may be the subject of a future blog post….if I have time!

Caroline Catchpole from The National Archives followed on from my presentation to tell us about Discovery and their future plans. The ability to harvest EAD from systems like AtoM is still very much on their wishlist but the development resource is not currently available. She has however extracted some EAD from various AtoM sites in the UK so that she can explore how easy it would be to incorporate it into Discovery. She talked through some of the problems with the “unwieldy beast” that is EAD and how different implementations and lack of consistency can cause problems for aggregators.

After lunch Justine Taylor our host talked us through how she is using the Function entity in AtoM. She has been experimenting with AtoM’s functions as a way to create a useful company structure to hold information about what key activities HAC carries out. This will be another useful way for users to browse the catalogue and find information that is of interest to them.

Lucy Shepherd from Imperial College gave us a brief overview of preparatory work around establishing AtoM and Archivematica. They have not yet got this up and running but she is thinking about how it will be used and what deposit workflows will be put in place. She sees the AtoM community as a key selling point, but mentioned that were potential challenges around finding the time to complete this exploratory work and what systems their IT department would support.

Matthew Addis from Arkivum gave us a nice demo of the integration between AtoM and Archivematica and talked through an issue around how the two systems share metadata (or not as the case may be). He has been investigating this because Arkivum's Perpetua service includes both AtoM and Archivematica and a good integration between the two products is something that is required by their customers. He described the use case where clients have digital objects and metadata to add in batches. They want automated preservation using Archivematica, the master copy protected in long term storage and an access version accessible in AtoM with rich and hierarchical metadata to give context and enable search and retrieval.

AtoM supports bulk imports and hierarchical description, but when digital objects are passed through Archivematica, the metadata within the Dissemination Information Package (DIP) is flattened - only Dublin Core metadata is passed to AtoM through the DIP. Archivematica however, will accept various types of metadata and will store them in its Archival Information Package (AIP). This is a potential problem because valuable metadata that is stored in Archivematica will not be associated with the dissemination copy in AtoM unless it is Dublin Core.

Matthew demonstrated a workaround he has been using to get the right level of metadata into AtoM. After digital objects have been transferred from Archivematica to AtoM at the right point in an existing hierarchy, he then imported additional metadata directly into AtoM using the CSV import to enhance the basic Dublin Core metadata that has come through AtoM. He suggested that configuring AtoM with the slugs generated from the identifier field makes this process easier to automate. He is still thinking about this issue, and in particular whether the AIP in Archivematica could be enhanced by metadata from AtoM.

Geoff Browell from King's College London talked to us about an ambitious project to create an AtoM catalogue for the whole of Africa. The Archives Africa project has been working with The National Archives of Madagascar and exploring a lightweight way of getting local descriptions into an AtoM instance hosted in the UK using spreadsheets and email.

Lastly, we had an update from Dan Gillean from Artefactual Systems which included some news about initial technical planning for AtoM 3 and an update on the AtoM Foundation. The Foundation has been set up to oversee and support the development, sustainability and adoption of AtoM, specifically in relation to AtoM 3. Dan talked about the benefits in moving the governance of AtoM outside of Artefactual Systems and establishing a more diverse ecosystem. The Foundation will be collecting information from AtoM users about the functionality that is required in AtoM 3 at some point in the future. Dan also revealed that AtoM version 2.4.1 should be with us very soon and that the next UK AtoM Camp will be held at the University of Westminster in July 2019.

I anticipate this will be my last UK AtoM user group meeting given that I am moving on to pastures new next month. It has been really encouraging to see how much the user community in the UK has grown since my first involvement in AtoM back in 2014 and it is great to see the active knowledge sharing and collaboration in the UK user group. Long may it continue!

This post was written by Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist


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