Friday, October 19, 2007

Archives Deathmatch

For years, there have been no real archival management systems built that are specifically for manuscript archivists. There are museum systems, and obviously library systems.
And in the last year, TWO archival management systems have been released: Archon and Archivists Toolkit.

Since I am on the Archivists' Toolkit listserv, I see all the posts that get made about that particular product. AT comes from a group of universities (The University of California, San Diego, New York University, and the Five Colleges), and is supposed to revolutionize the way that archivists look at data. And I think that it does. Although to me, it looks an awful lot like a cataloging system with a really easy user interface. But I would never tell an archivist that. Archivists are notoriously touchy about being compared to catalogers (except for me, since I'm both). I've actually written about this before, in the guise of the "uniqueness" argument.

But, at any rate, archivists are trying stuff out, and it's not going so well, methinks. Lots of buggy issues with Archivists Toolkit. Some people can never get their computer to let them install the software, some can never figure out how to publish the information that they put into the database, and I don't want to think about the people who may never be able to extract the information that they put in. But of course, Archivists Toolkit is just one of the products; the other is Archon.

Archon was developed by the U of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Archon is web-based, instead of software based. I haven't played with it as much as AT, and since I'm not on the listserv I can't speak to its usefulness now that it's hit version 2.01. But from the descriptions---it just sounds so much better. Web-based? Automatic publication onto the web? Automatic search functionality? Yes, please! And they even appease archivists--"With Archon, there is no need to encode a finding aid, input a catalog record, or program a sytlesheet. " See that? NO NEED to catalog. Just like archivists like it.

We'll see which one wins. I actually put my money on AT, but only because everyone's touting it as a wonderful piece of wonderfullness that will revolutionize archival work. And they only say that because UC and NYU are involved. Not that I'm jaded or anything.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.