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How to Select

Page history last edited by Lisa Spiro 11 years, 9 months ago

5. How to Select Archival Management Software

 

With an increasing number of options for archival management software, archivists may feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, they can adopt sound, rational processes for selecting software. The Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) offers both a detailed review and an online course focused on selecting collection management software, which is closely related to archival management software (CHIN 2003). (While collection management systems typically support cataloging, managing, and making available archival, museum, and private collections, archival management systems include many of these features but focus on the particular needs of archives, such as archival description and conformance to archival standards.) Rather than replicate that work, I will provide a few general recommendations for selecting software based on the CHIN guide and other sources.11

 

Selecting software should be a collaborative process so that all the stakeholders (archivists, technical staff, administration, researchers, etc.) can describe how they would use it and provide input into what is selected. To ensure that the selection process stays on course, the team should establish a project plan with clear milestones and areas of responsibility. As a first step, archives should conduct a needs assessment to evaluate current gaps and workflows. Do they really need new software, and is now the best time (given available resources, current projects, etc.) to pursue it? What are the weaknesses of their current software? How does information flow through the system? What kind of information is captured, by whom, when, and for what purposes? What workflows do archives want to change—and retain? What is the desired outcome of adopting new software? Answering these questions will help organizations define their requirements.

 

Working collaboratively, team members should then prioritize requirements, generating a weighted "features checklist."12 In addition to features such as "support for EAD" or "support for managing locations," archivists should weigh factors such as the quality of user support, the reputation of the vendor, cost, technical requirements, and the robustness and appropriateness of the technology platform. Often the best way to evaluate the quality of the software and support is to speak with a variety of users (both those recommended by the vendors and those who are independently identified). Through a site visit, evaluators can see the software in action and understand it in the context of archival workflows. Most vendors, and all open source projects, make available a demo version or can arrange an online demonstration of the software. Archivists should take the software through a variety of tasks to determine whether it is easy to use, does what it needs to do, and has any bugs. If a commercial application is selected, organizations should carefully spell out the terms of the contract, including support and training. They should also develop a maintenance plan for regular updates, training, and so forth. If an open source application is selected, archives should likewise determine how staff will be trained and how the technology will be kept up-to-date.

 

FOOTNOTES FOR SECTION 5

11 For more guidance on selecting software, see Dewhurst 2001; TASI 2007; and Baron 1991.

12 For detailed, if slightly out-of-date, requirements for archival and collection management software from an international perspective, see Groot, Horsman, and Mildren 2003.

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