A new Archive Management System for Cambridge

There is a healthy tradition of collaboration among archives in Cambridge. Local archival repositories vary widely in size from large (like the University Library’s Archives and Modern Manuscripts Department and Churchill Archives Centre) to smaller college archives, which are often run by one person working part-time (such as Downing College). Working together enables archivists to share knowledge, resources and expertise. Archivists in Cambridge have been publishing their catalogues on the Janus webserver for over seventeen years: the catalogues can be searched together so that researchers can discover the cultural riches located in the city, and plan research visits effectively.

The Janus interface

Seventeen years is a ripe old age for a digital resource (especially one containing thousands of records from over 40 different archive repositories) so now it’s time for a carefully planned retirement of Janus and a shiny new upgrade. Cambridge University Library (CUL) is currently undertaking a project to implement an Archive Management System (AMS). The project has secured funding from the University’s Information Services Committee: it is excellent news that the University has recognised both the value of archives in Cambridge and the importance of a modern system facilitating discovery and management of them.

The governance of the AMS project has been established: there’s an AMS Replacement Project Board which reports to the UL’s Archives and Digital Preservation Foundation Programme Board. Dr Katrina Dean is the Senior Responsible Officer for the AMS project and Natalie Adams has recently been seconded to the UL as a Systems Archivist. Updates about the project will circulated to Janus contributors and will also be published here. This is the first project update.

Two Open Source systems (ArchivesSpace and AtoM) were identified as potential AMS systems. The decision has now been taken to implement ArchivesSpace on the basis of:-

  • An archivists’ evaluation of both systems: this scored them against over fifty functional requirements identified by the Cambridge archivists’ community
  • A thorough technical evaluation: this used established criteria recommended by the Software Sustainability Institute to assess how the systems could be supported within the CUL plus their sustainability and compatibility with the University’s technical infrastructure.

Next steps

  • ArchivesSpace is based on the US content standard Describing Archives: we are assessing the data entry screens in ArchivesSpaceand exploring the extent to which they can be customised so that they are more intuitive for archivists familiar with working with the descriptive standard ISAD(G) which is more widely used in the UK, in the absence of a national standard.
  • We’re also gathering ideas about a discovery layer to replace Janus, something with powerful search capabilities and easy links to online digital content.
  • Potential participants (mainly from the Colleges and departments of the University) in the AMS system are keen to know about costs so we are devising a funding model.
  • Planning data migration.

AMS for participants

The UL AMS project is an exciting opportunity which we hope will bring significant benefits to archives and archive users in Cambridge:-

  • A stable and supported AMS system for cataloguing using international standards, for making archival collections discoverable and for managing collections.
  • Assistance with data migration to ArchivesSpace and with creation of new data.
  • Increased discoverability of collections and digital versions of them.
  • Easy cross-searching to facilitate and support collaboration.
  • Convenience for researchers – a one stop shop for information about archives in Cambridge.
  • Support for the University’s mission to support research in the UK and globally.

We’re hoping that many Cambridge archives will wish to participate fully in the AMS project, just as they have with the Janus initiative up to now. We’d love to hear from Cambridge archivists and users of Janus: please get in touch (email Natalie Adams at na207@cam.ac.uk) to find out more and to contribute your ideas and suggestions.

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