Acquisitions Needs

August 30, 2007

At the Kansas Historical Society, several years ago we developed some fairly detailed specifications for what we wanted and needed from an archival acquisitions system. As part of recent discussions about a planned Archon acquisitions module, we dusted off those specs, stripped out a lot of institution-specific detail, and are herewith posting them for review and comment.

The Acquisitions module is intended to cover all materials added to our collections, whether received via purchase, loan, donation, or legal deposit, from the time we first learn of the item through receipt, legal accession, and assignment of preliminary location.

Major Tasks

  • Gathering leads
  • Selection of materials to be pursued
  • Donor contacts and solicitations
  • Receipt of Materials
  • Payment, where required
  • Preparation of preliminary descriptions
  • Appraisal of content/usefulness/appropriateness for collection
  • Preparation of legal documentation
  • Disposal of unwanted materials
  • Assignment of preliminary location

Overview

Pre-Accession Workflow

Pre-Accession Workflow
Post-Receipt Processing

Business Events

Item of Interest Comes to Staff Attention

The staff records author, title, description, reason for interest (e.g., Kansas connection), source of information, and source of possible acquisition in a PotentialAcquisiton table

Staff Decides to Solicit Donation/Loan

For each potential donation, the system generates a letter, based on a template, soliciting a donation or loan.

Staff Decides to Purchase

Notation made in database and bookkeeping staff notified.

Unsolicited Material Received

Acquisitions staff shall enter the date of receipt, donor name(s) and address(es), accessioning instructions (such as what to do with unwanted materials), and basic descriptions of materials received, and forward it all to collections curator for appraisal.

Receipts are issued for materials delivered in person.

If appraisal is needed, the item description is in the PotentialAcquisition table. No information is entered in Collection prior to acceptance of the materials into the collection.

Solicited Material Received

Acquistions staff will enter date_received, confirm and if necessary correct existing information (donor name/address, title of material, etc.) in the Accessions and either the PotentialAcquisition or Collection tables, and forward to collections curator. A receipt is issued for materials received in-person. Bookkeeping staff will be notified of materials requiring payment.

State Archives Materials Received

Staff completes a Temporary Receipt/Accession Worksheet at the time the materials are picked up. A copy is given to the records custodian.

Material Received on Approval

These materials are treated the same as donations requiring appraisal.

Appraisal Required

Staff records who is going to be doing the appraisal, the timeframes, current location of the materials, etc.

Accession Accepted

Acquisitions staff enters type of accession (e.g., Loan, Donation, Purchase, Archives Receipt, Intra-Divisional Transfer, or Accretion). The system generates the appropriate paperwork, which may include a Deed of Gift, Lending Agreement, Letter of Acknowledgement, and/or State Archives Transfer Form.

Potential Accession Declined

System generates letter. Staff documents disposition of materials in accordance with owner’s wishes (return, transfer to another institution, destruction, etc.).

Legal Document Sent

When any Legal Document (e.g., Deed of Gift) is printed, a copy of the document’s contents, including the description, restrictions, and quantity of the accession, is archived in the LegalDocument table, along with the date and the current user’s ID. Thus, we have a record of our description of the potential accession as it existed on the date of the document, regardless of future changes to that description.

Legal Document Returned

Staff records return of signed Deed of Gift, Lending Agreement, etc.

Legal Document Not Returned

If the first copy of the Deed of Gift or other document is not returned within a reasonable period of time, staff may send a second or subsequent copy. Any changes to the information on the document, such as address changes or changes in the description of the materials, may be made by the staff prior to sending the deed again. The revised information is captured again in LegalDocument.

Accession Completed

Staff click a checkbox to record that the accession is completed (legal paperwork returned, payment sent, etc.). The system then verifies that all of the appropriate information has been recorded, and transfers the information from PotentialAcquisition to the Collections table.

Loan Completed

Staff shall enter the date returned, the method of return, and to whom and by whom returned in IncomingLoanAdministration.

Assignment of Temporary Location and Cataloger

These assignments may occur at any point prior to or at the time the Accession transaction is completed, and may change during the process. The cataloger name is not mandatory.

Reports Required

  • Volume of Materials Accessioned: For each repository, a summary of the quantity of materials received by each acquisition type within a given timeframe.
  • List of Donors and Donations: A list of all donations received within a given timeframe, including the donor’s name(s), the city and state of residence, the title(s) of each item included, and the quantity of materials received.
  • New Book List: List of all newly-accessioned materials received in an arbitrary timespan, including title, creator, description, etc.
  • Deeds of Gift and Lending Agreements Overdue: A list of all donations/loans for which the appropriate paperwork has not been returned by the donor/lender.
  • Loans Outstanding: A list of all loans wherein the materials have been received at the repository but not yet returned. The list shall include: the date of receipt, the name and address of the lender(s), the title of each Collection, and whether or not a lending agreement has been received, sorted by the name of the lender.
  • Materials Ordered But Not Received: A list of all items we are expecting to receive.
  • Unacknowledged Donations: A list of all accessions received between arbitrary dates for which we have not done our part of the paperwork, such as sending a letter of acknowledgment or Deed of Gift.
  • Mailing Labels: For individual donors/vendors/etc.
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Harvard University Libraries has an Archivists’ Toolkit Working Group investigating use of AT in Harvard’s archival repositories. Homepage for the group is at

http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k15469&pageid=icb.page73213

See especially the beta test feedback summary. Overall conclusion: “powerful application with great potential,” but significant areas of concern, especially in accessioning, location management, and lack of flexibility in creation of finding aids.

As an experiment, I tried importing a file of MaRC records from our online catalog into Archon. The process was straightforward, but the results were not as good as I hoped.

The test file contained 233 records, describing collections at a variety of levels ranging from a single-page letter to a 3000-box record group. Both official governmental records and personal papers were included, but not any printed material or maps.

Pluses:

  • Easy-to-follow instructions made it a quick process
  • Fast way to add at least minimal records to the system

Minuses:

  • Only certain subfields were imported, leading to truncated entries
  • Duplicated titles and/or classifications prevented many records from being imported
  • Records without field 245|a were not imported
  • Not all of the notes and subject headings transferred
  • Error messages did not clearly specify the problems and the culprit records

Subfields skipped

The import script only looks at certain subfields. For example, in the 245 (title) field any subfield b (subtitle) is silently dropped–only |a transfers to the Archon title field.

This truncation is particularly noticeable on subject headings. For example, one record had the heading “610 10 New Mexico.|bGovernor.” What made it into Archon was “610 0 New Mexico.”

Duplicate titles and classifications

Archon refused to import more than one record with the same title, and it used 245|a to determine uniqueness. The test file contained six records entitled “Letter”; each had a subtitle identifying the author, recipient, date, etc. Archon imported the first record, and for the remainder declared “Could not store Collection: A Collection with the same title, sorttitle and repository code already exists in the database.”

The McEntire-Brook family papers and the Richard McEntire papers share the same classification number, being physically housed together although described separately. “Could not store Collection: A Collection with the same classification and collection identifier already exists in the database.”

Records without 245 |a

Records whose title field lacked a subfield a, which is permitted under OCLC rules for archival material, could not be imported. We have a number of records that have only a form heading in subfield k (e.g., “|k Diary, |f 1868-1869”), and since the import script only looks at subfield a it could not find a valid title.

Subject headings and note fields

Many many subject headings were silently dropped. One record had 12 subject headings (6xx) in the MaRC record; 3 were imported into Archon, and I have no idea why the others failed.

[UPDATE: Yes, I do have an idea. The import script can only handle one of each MaRC tag field–one 650 topical subject heading, one 651 geographic heading, one 700 added personal author, one 541 acquisitions note, etc. For repeatable fields, the extras are lost. If the record contains two or more 650 fields, for example, only one will be imported. (import-marc.php.inc, line 125–see the PHP manual for alternatives to array_merge)]

Only certain note fields and subfields (list below) were imported; the remainder simply vanished without warning. These six are the only 5xx fields mapped to an Archon database field. It looks like additional mappings could be added fairly easily to the importer script (import-marc.inc.php), but I did not try this.

Note fields imported:

  • 506 |a [Access Restrictions]
  • 520 |a [Scope]
  • 541 |a [Acquisition Source]
  • 541 |c [Acquisition Method]
  • 541 |d [Acquisition Date Year]
  • 561 |a [Custodial History]

Error messages

When I ran the import, the message screen listed the title of every record successfully imported, and one or more errors for those that failed. Unfortunately, it did not list the title or any other identifying information for the those that failed, just the error generated. A sample from the log:

Imported Adair collection
Imported McEntire-Brooke family papers
Could not store Collection: A Collection with the same classification and collection identifier already exists in the database.
Imported Credit journal
Could not add Collection: Unable to insert into the database table

Only by having a list of the titles in the file, in record order, could I determine that the first error message above referred to the Richard McEntire papers, and the second to the William Henry Avery congressional papers. Moreover, the message is misleading: the Avery papers were added, but some (as yet identified) problem prevented adding any notes or subject headings.

Conclusions

Of the 233 records in the test file, Archon imported 184. None, however, were imported in their entirety.

The ability to import MaRC records is a terrific feature for Archon. Unfortunately, it’s not quite ready for primetime, at least in our situation. Many, perhaps most, of the problems identified above could be fixed fairly readily by someone familiar with the php scripting language. (Some, in fact, may not be “problems” so much as differing cataloging practices and expectations.) In the meantime, the MaRC import serves only to bring skeletal records into Archon, not to import full MaRC records.

Appendix: Sample before-and-after record

MaRC record from the test file:

099    Ms.|aColl. 757
100 1  Franklin, Margaret Barnum,|d1905-1997
245 10 Margaret B. Franklin Papers,|f1883-1992.|g(bulk 1900-1935)
300    11|fdocument cases (5 cubic feet)
351    Organized into four series: I. Biographical Notes; II. Origins: Chautauqua, N.Y.; III. The Rural cultural
       Movement; IV. Afterward
520    The Franklin Papers, donated by Mrs. Margaret Franklin who was actively involved in the chautauqua movement, focus on
       the famed circuit chautauquas almost exclusively.  This collection is divided into four series -- the first
       pertains to Mrs. Franklin personally; Series II focuses on the Chautauqua Institute of Chautauqua Lake, New York;
       Series III centers on the travelling circuit chautauquas; and Series IV covers this previously famous element of
       Americana from a reminiscent view-point.  The collection includes administrative records, financial records, talent
       advertisement, chautauqua programs, articles and a miscellany of other material.  Mrs. Franklin's donation
       provides a wealth of information and material on the chautauqua movement
541    |cGift:|aMrs. Margaret B. Franklin;|d1995
545 0  Margaret Lavona (Barnum) Franklin was born in Caldwell, Kan. in 1905.  In her adulthood, she was a school teacher
       in a variety of places in  Nebraska and Iowa.  For several years, she either performed in or worked for the
       chautauqua systems.  She performed in at least two singing groups: the Marine Maids and Uncle Sam's Nieces.  She
       worked for the chautauqua systems as both a junior supervisor and as advance girl.  In 1940, she married
       Charles Benjamin Franklin, the president of the Associated Chautauquas of America, and with him, had two children:
       Margaret Lee Franklin and Benjamin Barnum Franklin.  The Franklins lived in a variety of  places in the Midwest and
       the east, but eventually settled in Topeka, Kan
545    Originally, Chautauqua was the name of a lake in western New York.  This became the location for a Sunday school
       teachers' training seminar, held in an out-door setting and conducted interdenominationally by  renown Bible
       scholars.  Over the years, the schedule of events included more secular speakers, performers and entertainers.
       However, the Chautauqua Institute never strayed from its educational and cultural focus.   This idea became
       immensely popular in other parts of the United States, especially in the recently settled rural, western states.
       Within a few years, "chautauquas," like the first one at Lake Chautauqua, New York, could be found in a number of
       locations around the country.  By the end of the nineteenth century, chautuaqua companies organized to
       contract talented  individuals and groups and to take them "on the circuit" to towns and rural, park-like settings,
       performing inside huge tents.  For literally millions of people in the sparcely settled west and midwest, this was
       their  only form of cultural enlightenment and entertainment. However, by the early 1930s, the once
       popular chautauqua movement was declining.  As technological advances provided newer forms of
       entertainment (the radio and  sound movies) and as the once sparcely populated states gained more people  --
       enabling previously small towns to support their own theatres, dance halls, and libraries, the chautauquas
       eventually found it impossible to compete with other diversions.  By 1934, the last circuit chautauqua closed
       down
555 8  Finding aid available in repository
600 10 Franklin, Charles Benjamin,|d1891-1983
650  0 Chautauquas
650  0 Education
650  0 Lectures and lecturing
651  0 Chautauqua Lake (N.Y.)
691    Topeka (Kan.)

MaRC record produced by Archon:

099    _aColl. 757
100 1  _aFranklin, Margaret Barnum
       _d1905-1997
245 00 _aMargaret B. Franklin Papers
       _f1883-1992
       _g(bulk 1900-1935)
300    _a11.00
351    _aOrganized into four series: I. Biographical Notes; II. Origins: Chautauqua, N.Y.; III.
       The Rural cultural Movement; IV. Afterward
520 2  _aThe Franklin Papers, donated by Mrs. Margaret Franklin who was actively involved in the chautauqua movement, focus on
       the famed circuit chautauquas almost exclusively.  This collection is divided into four series -- the first
       pertains to Mrs. Franklin personally; Series II focuses on the Chautauqua Institute of Chautauqua Lake, New York;
       Series III centers on the travelling circuit chautauquas; and Series IV covers this previously famous element of
       Americana from a reminiscent view-point.  The collection includes administrative records, financial records, talent
       advertisement, chautauqua programs, articles and a miscellany of other material.  Mrs. Franklin's donation
       provides a wealth of information and material on the chautauqua movement
541    _aMrs. Margaret B. Franklin
       _cGift:
       _d1995
600  0 _aFranklin, Charles Benjamin
650  0 _aChautauquas
651  0 _aChautauqua Lake (N.Y.)

			

Email received today from Becky Simmons of the Rochester Institute of Technology:

I did compare the two systems [ARCHON and Archivists’ Toolkit], but I want to warn you that I have not implemented either of them, and therefore have no real experience using them. I was simply comparing the interface, user manuals, and basic data about the systems. That said, we have decided to go with AT.

The interface for Archon is very user friendly, and it is easy to use. It also publishes a web site that is very compelling. But we had some issues loading the system, and that caused the technical folks here at RIT to shy away from it. Archon has no accession module, although Chris Prom, archivist at University of Illinois told me that they are planning an accessions module as part of the new version due out this summer.

AT offers more fields for information (way more that I will ever need) and a number of reports and ways of compiling statistics. AT has a user group, and a system and people on staff to deal with bugs. Once the findings aid are output in EAD, your institution will need to create a style sheet to publish to the web. We are also looking into a search engine that can search across the finding aids.

Archon is a product of one institution – U of Illinois, while AT is a Mellon funded project that will continue through 2011, with a number of important institutions involved from the start. It seemed like the support for the system would be there long term, which ultimately was the basis of our decision. AT’s user manual is very complete, and very detailed, with information on the associated EAD fields.

I suggest you take a look at the messages in the AT users group. There you will get a feel for the types of issues people are having with the system. It looks like the problems are technical issues with certain very small parts of the system. But it looks to me like all issues are being addressed by staff members who monitor the e-mail list. You can also look at the list of current bugs on their website. Archon has a user group as well, and it may be useful to take a look at theirs as well.

Good luck with your choice,

Becky Simmons
RIT Archivist
RIT Libraries
Rochester Institute of Technology
90 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623
(585) 475-2557

 

The Kansas State Historical Society (http://www.kshs.org) is currently evaluating the relative usefulness and capabilities of three open source archives management software applications:

ARCHON – http://www.archon.org/

Archivists’ Toolkit – http://www.archiviststoolkit.org/

ICA AtoM – http://archivemati.ca/category/ica-atom/

If you have any experience with any of these packages, or can suggest special evaluation criteria we should apply, please let us know by either adding your comment(s) here or emailing Kate Rogge at krogge@kshs.org.

We’ll post our evaluation results (and any significant discoveries along the way) on this blog.