Offaly History Archives Catalogue Development Process

As a follow on to a previous post outlining the concept and development of the online catalogue, this post from Ed Doyle explores the technical development of the catalogue which may be of interest to other archivists and repositories who are thinking of using AtoM software.

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Beginnings

Our first version of AtoM started off on a single local office computer previously scavenged from various spare parts in the back of an office.  The archivist had to create all the data that would appear on the AtoM site from scratch as there were no legacy finding aids to import, all while learning the ins and outs of the new software and communicating her experience with myself.

Our installation used Ubuntu 14.04 LTS as the operating system and AtoM 2.2 and all of its dependencies. If you are starting from scratch I would advise using whatever version that is stable (currently 2.3).

There were multiple issues that arose. I would advise any person installing the software on a server or locally to create documentation on all processes while being careful and double checking your console commands. Ensure that you completely restore the backed up files on a separate machine and confirm with the archivist that all data is present.

Testing

Testing of new versions is very important. We encountered an issue when I prematurely upgraded to a version that introduced exporting finding aids as a PDF. There was a sizeable chunk of data missing on the software as the import process ran into a bug. I assumed that I did not follow all of the backup commands correctly or missed a step. Later it emerged that it was a bug in the version we upgraded to, and all data was subsequently restored. So testing new versions, either via virtual machine or another local installation is very important.

Through testing and communication between the archivist and myself, solutions were found for the aforementioned issues and other features and tweaks to the software which the archivist sought. Soon data input became regular and the database and associated files grew larger and larger. New features in AtoM were added during this time such as the ability to generate finding aids and export a PDF of data from holdings. Features like this made me appreciate how valuable this software was to archivists, even if I didn’t completely understand all of the archival terminology included therein.

Currently we are testing AtoM 2.3 on my virtual machine. The virtual machine is configured as far as having AtoM (earlier version) installed. Then using snapshots I can test the restore of the database file (SQL) and test upgrade to new versions.

Going live

In relation to digital media, we converted images from Offaly County Council’s Heritage Office for the Digby Irish Estates Collection, added watermarks, and corrected exposure, colour and rotation. All of this was done via batch conversion and trial and error using Fast stone Image Viewer. Eventually the site theme, FAQ page images and logo were created also.

We then decided to host the data online, acquired the offalyhistoryarchives.com domain and imported the old database and uploads to the host. You can choose to not publish the inputted data immediately, or even select what the public can or cannot see while visiting the site – certain Archival Institutions, Digital Objects etc. For instance, on our site, there are multiple fonds described in some cases to item level, which remain invisible to the general user until such time as the archivist is ready to release the finding aids for those collections. 

Community support

The Offaly History Archives page could not be created without the help and guidance of an amazing group that volunteer information as a community. AtoM is built on communication between a community that works together to create a platform for archivists and I have seen this first hand from various postings on the Google Group Forum from myself and others that are answered quickly and usually resolved. Even questions on theming and non-bug related posts are replied to quickly.

As a techie I really have no idea about archives or archival catalogues but I now understand what this software means to archivists like Lisa @offalyhistoryblog and Jenny Mitcham @University of York. As AtoM is web-based,  the data is now accessible from anywhere and means that archivists can now create, edit and publish this data for anyone to see – from anywhere. I was very happy to be a part of the creation and maintenance of the site. I hope that the content continues to grow and maybe educate and intrigue others from around the world to the archives of Offaly – my home county.

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