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Introduction

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

Whether called "the elephant in the closet" (Mandel 2004, 106) or a "dirty little secret" (Tabb 2004, 123), hidden collections are becoming recognized as a major problem for archives and special collections. As the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) stated in launching its Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Program, "Libraries, archives, and cultural institutions hold millions of items that have never been adequately described. These items are all but unknown to, and unused by, the scholars those organizations aim to serve" (2008). Reducing archival backlogs and exposing once-hidden collections will likely require that archives revamp their workflows, but software can play a role in making archives more efficient and their collections more visible.

 

What technologies can help archives and special collections tackle their "hidden collections" and make them available to researchers? This report explores archival management systems such as Archon, Archivists' Toolkit (AT), Cuadra STAR, and Minisis M2A. It also considers tools for creating and publishing encoded archival description (EAD) finding aids. Archival management systems are a kind of software that typically provide integrated support for the archival workflow, including appraisal, accessioning, description, arrangement, publication of finding aids, collection management, and preservation. (Tools, on the other hand, are software applications that typically focus on specific tasks and can be components of systems.) Rather than explicitly recommending particular software, this report takes archivists through the main decision points, including types of licenses, cost, support for collection management, and flexibility versus standardization. The report draws upon interviews with users as well as on previous studies of archival software and information provided by the developers and vendors. It offers features matrices for selected archival management systems so that archivists can make quick comparisons of different software. Instead of evaluating the performance of the software, this report compares features and reports on the experiences of archivists in implementing them. This report is intended to be a resource for the archival community to build upon; hence it is available here as a wiki. Archivists, software developers, IT staff, and others are invited to contribute new information to the wiki.  To gain access rights, please email lspiro@rice.edu or follow the "request an account" link at the top of the page.

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