Working more efficiently with ArchivesSpace — some use cases

We’ve talked a bit already about our work with a vendor to make sure ArchivesSpace supports efficient workflows. After reading Mark’s blog post, I’m re-energized to think of the good this work will do — archivists in repositories will be able to do collection control projects in a far more robust and efficient way!

Right now, we are deeeeeeeeep into this work. During our planning call last night, one of the software developers asked for use cases for some of our requirements for selecting and changing information about containers — I was going to just make a screencast and notes to put in our project management software, but it occurred to me that this could be useful information to document more publicly, especially since folks are asking about how ArchivesSpace can help them do their work more efficiently.

So, here we go.

Here are some use cases.

Managing information about containers in bulk

An entire collection has been described, and I know for sure which containers I’ll be using. I’m now ready to slap barcodes on these boxes, tell the system what these barcodes are, tell the system what kinds of boxes I’m using (we call this a container profile), associate these boxes with a location, and associate an ILS holdings record identifier.

In order to do this, I need an easy way of saying “yeah, I’m looking for boxes that belong to this resource” or even “yeah, I’m looking for boxes that belong to this series.” In our environment (and I know this happens elsewhere too), it’s very common for each series to start over with box 1. So, when I’m at the point of putting a barcode on a box, I need to be sure I know which box 1 I’m sticking that barcode on.[1]
Holy Cow! Look at all of those box ones!
Holy Cow! Look at all of those box ones!

In Archivists’ Toolkit, if you want to do this work, you can only scope it to a single resource record. We know that it might be desirable to do bulk actions across several collections, so we want the option to scope this work to a single resource, but we don’t want to be stuck with it.

And then, in the current Archivists’ Toolkit plug-in, you would pick the containers you want and update various fields. We’ve been thinking slightly differently about which fields we would want to update and how, but suffice it to say that we would want to pick boxes that share an attribute (like location, ILS holdings ID, container type, whatever), and then be able to enter data about that attribute and expect the changes to propagate across containers. [2]

This is really exciting because currently in ArchivesSpace, every time that you associate a container with a component (like “Correspondence from Anne Shirley to Diana Barry 1877”), you would have to enter the barcode anew. This obviously isn’t very efficient, and it can result in a whole lot of errors. In the workflow we’re proposing, you would be able to know that the box one for each of those components is the SAME box one, and you’d only have to enter the barcode once.

Managing the relationship between containers and locations in bulk

Here’s another use case: Maybe I’m doing a shelf-read. I come to a location in my repository that’s described in a location record. But maybe the location associated with those containers in the database isn’t correct! I want a quick and easy way of selecting the containers in my repository that I see in that location and associating those with the appropriate location record. This is currently impossible to do in ArchivesSpace — in fact, it does a really screwy thing where if you look up a location (like “Library Building, A Vault, Row 1, Bay 1, Shelf 1” ) it gives you a list of all the archival objects there (in other words, intellectual description), not the containers! You don’t want to go into every intellectual description and update the repeating box information. This work would make it possible to say “Boxes 3, 4, 5, 7, and 10 from MSS.111, series 4 all belong in this location” and for the system to know that.

Or maybe that location is a palette or a set of shelves that are designated as needing to go off-site. In order to document the fact that they are, indeed, going off-site, I want a quick and easy way to pick those containers and update the ILS holdings ID. If the palette or location is itself barcoded, that makes it even easier to disambiguate what I’m trying to do! [3]

I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through how we want ArchivesSpace to work. Obviously, software development is an ever-changing endeavour, ruled by compromise and the art of the possible. So don’t take these use cases as promises. But it should give you a good sense of what our priorities and values are as we approach this project.

[1] Our user story for this is: “BULK SELECTION: As an archivist, I want an easy and fast way to choose all or some (contiguous and non-contiguous) records in a result set to further act upon.”

[2] Our user story for this is: “BULK SELECTION: As an archivist, I would like to define a set of container records that are associated with descendant archival_objects of an archival_object with a set Component Unique Identifier in order to perform bulk operations on that set.” which is obviously a perfect storm of software jargon and archives jargon, but basically we’re saying that we need to know which series this belongs to. Since series information is stored in the component unique identifier, that’s what we want to see.

[3] Our user story for this is: “BULK SELECTION: As an archivist, I would like to define a set of container records associated with a location in order to perform bulk operations on that set. When defining a set of container records by location, I would like the option to choose a location by its barcode.”

Cooperation, Co-Everything, and One (of many) Excellent Question(s)

Hi, everybody.  Long-time reader, first-time poster.  I’m Mark Custer, and I’ve been working as an Archivist and Metadata Coordinator at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library for just over two years now.  This past year, most of my job duties have centered on ArchivesSpace. In addition to co-chairing Yale University’s ArchivesSpace Committee with Mary Caldera, I co-taught two ArchivesSpace workshops last year that were offered by Lyrasis, a membership community of information professionals, which was formed by the combination of two other regional consortiums.  In October, I helped out at a Boston workshop as a trainer in training; and in December, I co-taught a workshop that was co-sponsored by the Rochester Regional Library Council and the University of Rochester.  Looking back on the year 2014, then, what stands out most to me in my professional life is the increasing importance and necessity of partnerships. The Latin prefix co- was everywhere, and I don’t think that this notion of co-everything will be taking a backseat anytime soon.

These partnerships are precisely the sorts of things that have me so excited about ArchivesSpace.  To me, the most important thing that is emerging from the ArchivesSpace project so far is the community, not the system — don’t get me wrong, though, I’m extremely impressed by how the software has been able to combine the features and functions of Archivists’ Toolkit and Archon into a single project in such a short amount of time!  I’d even venture to say that the community is not only influencing the development of the software by making itself known through its individual and institutional voices, but that the community is also showing signs that it intends to nourish and nurture that software with a collective voice.  And, full disclosure, I’m also currently serving on the ArchivesSpace Users Advisory Council, so if you don’t agree with that statement, please let me know.

Of course, there’s still a long way for us to go.  For instance, at the end of the two-day ArchivesSpace workshop in Rochester, one of the participants asked an excellent question, which I’ll paraphrase here:

“How can I adopt more efficient workflows using ArchivesSpace?”

Each of the instructors, myself included, as well as a few of the other participants, provided a few suggestions to this important question.  What struck me by those answers, though, is that none of the suggestions were ArchivesSpace specific just yet.  That shouldn’t actually surprise me, given the relative newness of ArchivesSpace – both the software and the community – but it does remind me that we have a lot of work to do.  But it’s precisely this sort of work that I’d really like to see the archival community communicating more about in 2015.

As Maureen has already talked about in another blog post (, one of the ways that we’d like to enable more efficient workflows in ArchivesSpace is to enhance its container management features, ideally by really letting those functions run in the background so that archivists can focus on archival description.  A few other (collective) workflows that I hope that ArchivesSpace will make more efficient include:

  • Assessing archival collections
  • Printing box and folder labels
  • Publishing finding aids to external aggregators, such as ArchiveGrid, automatically
  • Integrating with other specialized systems, such as Aeon, Archivematica (check out what the Rockefeller Archive Center has done with Archivematica and the AT in this blog post, for example!), Google Analytics, SNAC, Wikipedia, etcetera

I’d love to hear how others would like to create efficiencies using ArchivesSpace, so please leave comments here or send me an email.  I think that we need to strive for cooperative systems that promote cooperative data, including web-based documents, and I really do think that the ArchivesSpace community is poised to achieve those goals.

Building a Community Through ArchivesSpace Implementation

So far you have probably seen posts by my colleagues discussing the efforts to make ArchivesSpace work in our complex multi-repository environment at Yale. To date, we have evaluated the application in its present form, hired consultants to develop additional functionality, and are currently engaged in extensive testing. However, in addition to trying to effectively implement ArchivesSpace, we have also needed to consider how we might work together more effectively.

There are twelve discrete repositories at Yale that will be implementing ArchivesSpace. Currently many of these repositories work in their own instance of Archivists’ Toolkit or outside of an archives management system, and the archivists at each repository have developed some individual repository-specific methods for managing containers and describing materials. While we need to ensure that ArchivesSpace will work for us, in committing to a single, university-wide version of ArchivesSpace, the implementation of ArchivesSpace is providing us with a unique opportunity to further develop cooperation amongst the many repositories at Yale.

Much of our work to this end has been straightforward. For example, in the summer of 2014, our Committee standardized the controlled vocabulary lists in ArchivesSpace. However, some of our work has been more complex and far-reaching. In the fall of 2014, we interviewed archivists at all twelve repositories about their practices, including their approaches to managing containers and locations as well as their description of archival material, particularly non-paper formats. While these interviews began with the explicit goal of gaining a better understanding of procedures at Yale so that our Committee could make sure that our implementation of ArchivesSpace met everyone’s needs, during our discussions regarding description it became apparent that current practices are widely divergent among campus repositories, requiring further cross-repository discussion regarding the description of born-digital materials, digital surrogates, and A/V materials.

We have developed a task force consisting of archivists from multiple units on campus in order to determine basic guidelines for description of these types of materials. This task force will share its proposed description guidelines with all stakeholders at the University, responding to feedback and reaching consensus, with the goal of configuring Yale’s installation of ArchivesSpace to accommodate these guidelines.

We look forward to updating you on our progress and sharing our guidelines once they are complete.

Happy New Year!