Archivematica Workshop

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a free information session put on by Toronto Area Archivist Group (TAAG) and University of Toronto Archivist Group (UTAG). As a new summer student employee of the Digital Scholarship Unit it was a great opportunity for someone who trying to break into the world of digital archival initiatives and scholarship. Courtney Mumma, MAS/MLIS, of Artefactual Systems Inc. led the session and introduced the group to Archivematica.

“Archivematica is a free and open-source digital preservation system that is designed to maintain standards-based, long-term access to collections of digital objects. Archivematica is packaged with the web-based content management system AtoM for access to your digital objects.

Archivematica uses a micro-services design pattern to provide an integrated suite of software tools that allows users to process digital objects from ingest to access in compliance with the ISO-OAIS functional model. Users monitor and control the micro-services via a web-based dashboard. Archivematica uses METS, PREMIS, Dublin Core and other best practice metadata standards.” [1]

The session was held in Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at University of Toronto, St. George Campus. Sitting among the floors and floors of unique and beautiful books set up an interesting dynamic between the analog, the digital and the initiative to bring them together. The workshop started with a demonstration showing steps that may be included in a basic workflow, she explained the output capabilities and used a staggering amount of acronyms, which, as I gather is par for the course in this field. Mumma did an excellent job of explaining the program and the demonstration helped to guide those of us who were new to the program. Even with Mumma’s skill as a presenter there was a lot of information to process and it was impossible to grasp all of the programs’ capabilities in the time given. Thankfully, they have a detailed wiki that explains the basic capabilities of the program.

Archivematica, as Mumma said, “Allows an archivist to remain an archivist,” by facilitating appraisal (a forthcoming feature), preservation and metadata creation. What Archivematica has done is gather together all the best open-source tools, what they call micro-services, to allow for individual configuration to the specifications and needs of individual repositories. In providing an individually configurable program this allows archivists to use the program without fussing around with the multiple and varied individual tools for discrete tasks. Archivematica is also compatible with most storage and access systems.

Archivematica can be downloaded for free and used for free, and it is open-source. It also comes with a detailed user manual and an online forum where users can discuss issues and post questions. In theory, it can be used without costs. However, for those who are uncomfortable with more robust technologies, the set-up and maintenance may be daunting without the help of an IT department. Thus, Artefactual Systems offers Archivematica set-up, configuration, tutorials and maintenance services and more, at a cost. The services provided are extensive and highly valuable but they bring up the issue that is plaguing all heritage organizations these days: money.

Artefactual is upfront about their costs (they can be found here). But many archives or library departments are small and have small budgets and some institutions do not have access to the kind of IT support needed for the DIY option. While we recognise the digital future and want to move toward it, sometimes it seems insurmountable in terms of resources.

During the workshop there was some talk about how to spread out the costs amongst institutions willing to engage in Artefactual’s services. For example, the Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL) have formed a consortium to employ and pay for Artefactual’s services amongst them. At the workshop, there was some talk of Ontario institutions also employing Artefactual’s services consortially.

Overall, the workshop was very informative and promising. It shows that there are great initiatives and great interest in the move toward digital. It is exciting to see where the push toward digital will bring archival institutions and how it will shape the heritage professions. Thanks is due to TAAG and UTAG for putting on this session and also thank you to Courtney Mumma and Artefactual Systems for the opportunity to learn more about your services and resources.