Every Damn DAMS
May 30, 2016
3 minutes read

Like a lot of archivists out there, I’m trying to get my data out of legacy systems and professionalize our policies and procedures with have no budget to do so. Whatever system I develop also has to be accessible to whatever part-time student they are likely to hire after I leave.

In my case, I don’t have a single catalog record or inventory of our textual collections left to me. For years, every file that the archivists received was sorted into new folders by document type and fiscal year, labeled, and physically arranged according to a content and subject-based coding system invented by well-meaning library students. A retention schedule now applies to the majority of the division’s textual output, but we continue to separate and code our long-term collections for lack of a better policy and system for them.

First, we needed somewhere to put the data. Last year, I created a list of requirements and limitations I had to work with. Then I reviewed every archives management system and digital asset management system and the like that I could identify.

I discounted most of the proprietary systems right off, including PastPerfect, Proficio, Eloquent Archives, Widen, CALM, Cuadra STAR, MINISIS, Adlib, and Luna Imaging. Even if I could pull the funds for one of these applications, not a single one of them was flexible enough for our needs. If one of them was an option, I wouldn’t know due to the “vague promises, no documentation” style of most of their websites.

By striking off all proprietary applications, abandonware, and applications that don’t understand how object records can exist without digital objects, I was able to narrow the list down to ArchivesSpace, AtoM, CollectiveAccess, and CollectionSpace.

ArchivesSpace, CollectionSpace, AtoM were all too inflexible for our legacy data. I also had doubts as to whether I would be able to implement and administer ArchivesSpace or AtoM without any support after talking to other archivists. Ultimately I developed a CollectiveAccess system for three reasons:

  1. It is agnostic as to the metadata schema and structure of the data.
  2. I felt comfortable configuring and administering it.
  3. The documentation is very thorough and transparent.

Not a single application met every technical or organizational requirement, but one thing surprised me. All in all, it turns out that if you put these three requirements together you get one big ask:

  1. manage both archival records and digital access copies in one system.
  2. configurable to various metadata and archival description standards.
  3. freedom to create custom metadata fields and organizational structures.

DAMS, repository software, and the like only know how to manage objects, not catalog records for objects, while AMS systems are poor at 2 and 3. which seems odd considering the lack of standardization in archival description that persists in archives of all sizes.


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