With each advance in technology, collections management systems (CMS) carry forward the essential functionality upon which archives rely for their daily operations.
Archival repositories, depending on their types, collections, and sizes, have concerns and requirements that they expect technology solutions to address. Keeping abreast of current service platforms allows archivists in these institutions to ponder their options. No matter what decision an organization makes about a system, one crucial factor is efficiency for staff members and researchers.
Archivists save time with databases and workflows built with them in mind. They spend less time on data entry—or entering the same data in multiple systems—and more time with their holdings and their users. The collections become accessible in ways far beyond traditional methods, meeting users’ expectations and making collections visible to new audiences.
Archival repositories often leverage library systems for their data, even though they lack the specialized templates and workflows required for comprehensive archival collections management. Some organizations use legacy systems or other unwieldy ways to manage information, such as through spreadsheets. Jerry-rigging a system to do work that it was not designed to do requires workarounds and clunky solutions that are often more effort than they are worth.
Focusing on What Matters
A system can automate common archival tasks such as:
- Managing the accessioning process, tracking donors, and generating deeds of gift
- Describing and maintaining multiple collections
- Providing public or intranet access to collections
- Searching within or across collections
- Dynamically generating finding aids, container lists, pull slips, and other reports
- Producing reports related to processing, research, and access
- Generating finding aids in EAD format as XML files
- Linking images and other electronic files
- Managing inventories
With a CMS, archivists can analyze and improve quotidian tasks, using technology to automate many past manual processes. Speaking from my decade-long experience working as a solo archivist, I know how valuable time can be for managing collections; there was never enough work time to do all that was expected of me. The ability to automate processes allows archivists to take a step back and strategize about their work. The gift of time and perspective allows them to examine, reduce, or eliminate tasks.
One is Better than Many
A significant efficiency provided by a CMS is the replacement of multiple incumbent products. In most cases, the implementation of a CMS will displace existing technical infrastructure components, which various platforms managed with a complicated flow of information. When starting with technology, most archival repositories solve problems in the quickest, cheapest ways possible, leading them toward a danger for growing collections—using multiple standalone applications for varying functions in an ad hoc manner. As the collections and their complexities grow, disparate systems create operational inefficiencies that can be detrimental to the bottom line, damage the user experience, and impede the organization’s ability to reach its full potential.
For archives that have not implemented archival systems, archivists can manage data and processes managed previously in local spreadsheets or other information containers through a CMS. One suitable, vigorous system will supersede many components strung together with complicated, cumbersome coding, that only do small fragments of collection management.
A Simple Solution
Today, archives of every type use sophisticated software packages to manage operational duties, but many are still struggling to maintain their growth and manage costs because of a Gordian knot of disparate software applications. These systems cause processing bottlenecks and productivity issues. A software platform that unifies critical archival practices helps repositories serve their researchers better. When archives switch from disparate software systems to an integrated solution, archivists free themselves to focus on bringing their collections to growing audiences. An integrated collection management system transforms archives, enabling them to transcend the issues that held them back and to take their services to the next level.
Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and author is a guest blogger for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts, and register here for her upcoming webinar, “CMS Essentials for Success #3: Efficiency” on March 17, 2021.
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