On the joys of learning a new system

So, my department (and our library) is implementing ARCHON, an open-source archival management software. This is a very good thing. We will have a searchable database of all of our manuscripts collections, rather than static webpages. We will have Encoded Archival Description-coded finding aids in that database for the first time EVER. (We did HTML and Word and Excel files. ) It’s very exciting to drag our tech for managing these collections into the early 21st century.

It’s also a pain in the butt. I’m really glad we’re doing it…right up until I have a question about how to DO something, and I have to do glamorous things like Read The Manual. Which doesn’t actually answer my question, but gives me enough information about the structure of the program that I can sort of figure out where I need to poke to make it do what I want. I have never been so grateful for that required library school class on information storage and retrieval as I am when learning new software. Understanding how databases work puts me so much further ahead of the game with trying to figure this stuff out. Seriously.

When Google-fu and the manual fail me, I’m glad that I have some of that “web 2.0” thing going on–a lack of fear for my ability to break the software. I just keep trying different things to Make It Work. Eventually, it does. Yay?

It’s not that I resent the new system or the software–not at all;  I pushed for their implementation because I think that it will be a much more efficient way to deal with our manuscripts– but I do vaguely resent the time investment I need to make to figure this stuff out. And the time investment for doing the data entry, which is … less than exciting work to perform.

On the other hand, it can only be a Good Thing that the information on How Some Of These Things Came To NIU does not live only in my head. Some of my predecessors were not … great… about record keeping, and trying to work on those collections becomes frustrating because you can’t change or adjust anything if you can’t prove that you have the right to do so. (This is why EVERY collection that I’ve brought in has a signed Deed of Gift). I’ve tried to be better about it, but the new system is actually forcing me to document even more than I had been before.

Which is probably for the best. Documentation makes the archives go round, after all…




About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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