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In bitterly cold January of this year, I attended an SAA-sponsored 2 day class in New York to learn how to use the Archivists’ Toolkit, a “shareware” database created for archival collections and developed by several schools. There aren’t lots of great archival databases currently, but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen and the fact that it is free makes it even more attractive! And to add to the excitement of a free database program, we were in NY the day that the US Air flight crashed in the Hudson river! It was just a few blocks from the hotel, but we were “down South” in the Village when it happened and didn’t have any idea until class let out. In spite of the cold and the plane crash, it was a good trip and I learned a lot of useful info.
Since each archives collection is unique to the intstitution that maintains it, it is difficult to design a database that will meet the needs of all users. But the Archivists’ Toolkit is flexible enough to let the user enter data that is specific to his or her collection and is also searchable by key words. This in itself is a big help compared to some older programs that have been used. The fact that it is designed by working archivists also helps, since they are familiar with terminology and ways of grouping information that are very different from a standard library catalog or arrangement.
We spent each of our two days in the basement computer lab of NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst library, practicing by entering fictitious archival collections from various fictitious donors. It took a lot of work to become familiar with the ins and outs of the database, but once we were more comfortable with it we could experiment witht the data input and then search to see how it would show up.
Our main goals were to create accession records, create descriptions for collections and their components, create and manage name and subject authorities, record and manage physical locations, produce reports and import legacy data. Needless to say, it was a lot to cover in two short days, and we had more luck with some aspects than with others. Even the computers seemed to feel a little overwhelmed at the end of both days, and they decided to freeze up several times which caused frustration for students and instructors alike.
But in the end we felt much more comfortable with the Archivists’ Toolkit and what it can do for collection management. There is still much to learn as we work to input our WFU collection, but it will be a huge help in locating and adding information as we consolidate our information.