Many archives and special collections staff leverage library systems for their data, even though an ILS lacks the specialized templates and workflows required for comprehensive archival collection management.
Often, awkward workarounds are necessary to try to make a library system work in unintended ways I will address the benefits of using a CMS designed for archivists in an upcoming webinar, Improving Archival Work through Collections Management Systems.
Through a collections management system (CMS) that has been developed explicitly for archival work, archivists leverage capabilities unique to their profession. For example, they can capture accession data and transfer it into collection records, use standards-compliant description standards, build and reorganize hierarchies, and generate Encoded Archival Description (EAD) finding aids. These standards and practices ensure consistency across collections and institutions, allowing for one-of-a-kind materials to have structure. Adhering to standards allows for data sharing and collaboration between organizations and may be necessary for grants and funding. An archival collections management system enables archivists to describe and manage their collections as they prefer, in a venue built for their desires, rather than tolerating systems meant for other organization types.
Built for Archivists
An archival collections management system improves workflow, enhances descriptive practice, and expands online accessibility. A technology solution creates an all-in-one repository for finding aid authoring and storage, accessioning, locations management, and metadata standardization. Archival professionals use systems to reveal collections and to connect or integrate with external sources such a library catalogs, museum records, Wikipedia entries, or social media.
Collections Management Systems Benefits
Archival CMS advantages are multifold, including:
- More productive use of resources, labor, and time
- Improved efficiency and workflows built for archives-related tasks
- Elimination of redundant data entry and effort
- Faster, more accurate reporting
- Swifter onboarding of staff members, interns, and volunteers
- Improved preservation and security
- Enriched searching across all collections
- Expanded accessibility for archivists and users
- Increased research and educational opportunities
- Greater visibility and use, promoting patron awareness and institutional buy-in
- More efficient, uniform request responses and email integration
- Better archival management standards application
- More granular and material-responsive arrangement levels
- Better donor relationships with improved tracking, documentation, and agreement adherence
- Enhanced usage and request statistics to better justify budgets and resources
- More user-responsive and increased description levels
- Faster, automated publication and finding aid edits
- More potential for growth, partnerships, and outreach
While setting up a CMS is daunting, an archival collection management system’s advantages are worth the investment.
Room to Grow
It is essential to consider not only who needs to access collection information now, but who will need access in the future. As your collections grow, your organization will need to develop consistent practices across collection types and to centralize data in one repository. Software that can grow with your collections will meet the needs of archivists and users over time.
Software should also be actively developed, with new products, services, and upgrades. New developments indicate an investment in the future. The needs of archivists are continually evolving. Investing in a system that cannot keep pace stunts the growth of your repository. The system may serve your current needs, but in time, it will no longer be fit for purpose.
An archival CMS centralizes functions and adds efficiencies to workflows. For example, an archivist can consult one system rather than multiple documents to gather information concerning a collection. It also reduces the likelihood that archivists will erroneously record or forget to document information. A CMS allows users to search and browse holding descriptions with assistance only when they need it. It reduces the institutional knowledge required to search and locate holdings, and to describe archival materials following best practices.
Archives and special collections encounter a growing demand for services while facing diminished resources. Success requires innovative practices that maximize resources while focusing on user needs. A good CMS supports these goals, allowing archivists to preserve and reveal records of enduring value.
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 here, and sign up here to register for her upcoming webinar, Improving Archival Work through Collections Management Systems.
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