Archon: A Unified Information Storage and Retrieval System for Lone Archivists, Special Collections Librarians and Curators

By Schwartz, Scott W.; Prom, Christopher J. et al. | Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Archon: A Unified Information Storage and Retrieval System for Lone Archivists, Special Collections Librarians and Curators


Schwartz, Scott W., Prom, Christopher J., Rishel, Christopher A., Fox, Kyle J., Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research


Abstract

The University of Illinois developed an open-source collections management software program and in August 2006 began making it freely available to archivists, curators, and special collections librarians. This program gives those with limited technological resources and knowledge the ability to easily mount a variety of on-line access tools to their historical collections using ISAD(G)1 and DACS2-compliant standards for description. Archon was created with robust interoperability using a single web-based platform for the management of collections of documents and artifacts held by archives, museums and libraries. It was developed as a "plug and play" application for easy installation on any web server or on any web hosting service. It uses common web-browser input mechanisms and SQL data storage to produce dynamic data output in the form of searchable collections websites, MARC bibliographic records (Smiraglia 1990), EAD finding aids (Pitti 268-293), and long-term preservation TXT data files. The article discusses the design concepts that lead to the University of Illinois' creation of Archon, the challenges faced by the archives community when providing descriptive access to large bodies of historical papers and records, and describes Archon's public and administrative interfaces as well as future plans for additional developments to this software program.

Keywords: Archon, encoded archival description, archival information systems, databases, web interfaces

Archives, museums, and libraries strive to promote open and equitable access to historical and documentary records of enduring value in their care, and they recognize their responsibility to promote the use of those records as their fundamental purpose. (Society of American Archivists)

Introduction of Design Concept

The University of Illinois' Archivist for Music and Fine Arts and the Assistant University Archivist developed Archon, a new automated collections management program, because we needed a new easy-to-use archival information system that could be adapted to any institutional setting because several units in our Library hold archival materials.3 We also believed that many of our colleagues in North America had the same need. We wanted our application to be particularly useful to small "one-person" repositories that have been unable to take full advantage of current archival descriptive standards and other complex collections management software tools under development. Our objective was to create an application in which the entry of collection information would be through a single web form, but with the power to output this data in many different formats. In addition, updates or corrections to our repository's on-line collections information would propagate automatically to their related output formats in order to ensure the public's access to the most current data about our collections without any manual intervention.

Optimistic skepticism from many colleagues was the most common reaction we encountered when explaining our initial idea to them. However, a demonstration of Archon 1.0 to a standing-room-only audience during the August 2006 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists has tempered much of this uncertainty among the members of the archives community. Since this initial presentation we have had 880 downloads of the application from our Archon website4 and 117 completed installations of the program by a variety of repositories including: Archivistica Dominicana Inc., Auburn University, Church USA Archives-North Newton, Edinburgh University, Lawrence Massachusetts Historical Society, Purdue University, Simmons College Archives, Southern Baptist Theological Society, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, University of Akron, University of Houston, University of Illinois at Springfield, University of West Florida and William and Mary College.5 As more archives, museums and libraries in North American begin to use Archon we hope a user group of archivists, curators and librarians will join the University of Illinois in the future collaborative development of this application, which we believe will better serve our communities' preservation and access needs.

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