Tuesday, June 9, 2015

ArchivesSpace and Aeon Integration

In keeping with Max's recent post about digital preservation, digital humanities, and HASTAC 2015, the focus of this post will be about another topic that, while not directly related to our Archivematica-ArchivesSpace-DSpace Workflow Integration project, is an important component of our operations here at the Bentley, and one which is being taken into account as we are implementing new systems, particularly ArchivesSpace. 


The Bentley Historical Library has been using Atlas Systems' archives and special collections request and workflow management software, Aeon, since the beginning of 2015. Aeon has greatly improved our ability to the meet the needs of our patrons, allowing patrons to register online, request materials in advance of their visit, track the status of their requests, and view their request history. It has also helped us to enhance our ability to manage our collections, giving us the ability to know exactly which materials need to be retrieved or returned from offsite storage, which materials are on hold for patrons, and which materials are in use by staff, whether they are in conservation, processing, duplication, or elsewhere. 

The degree to which Aeon has been integrated into daily operations at the Bentley means that any collection management and/or access systems we implement going forward will need to be able to communicate with Aeon. As briefly mentioned on this blog (and as discussed elsewhere), ArchivesSpace and Aeon are not currently integrated[2]. This is not an immediate deal-breaker, as it is likely that we will still be using DLXS to provide access to our finding aids for some time after we have migrated to ArchivesSpace. Our patrons are already able to request materials from our finding aids in DLXS (check out the checkboxes) or through the University's catalog, Mirlyn. However, ArchivesSpace and Aeon integration would give us the ability to manage our collections with Aeon much more efficiently by, for example, sending the exact shelf location for materials to Aeon, providing detailed information about access restrictions, letting us know which materials are already checked out or on hold when a request is submitted (hooray for unique identifiers!), among other exciting possibilities.

So, while the bad news is that ArchivesSpace and Aeon integration has not happened yet, the good news is that it's definitely coming.

Northeast Aeon Users' Group Meeting

Last week I had the opportunity, along with my colleague Matt Adair, to attend the Northeast Aeon Users' Group Meeting at Yale University. The meeting included attendees from numerous institutions that either are currently or will soon be using both ArchivesSpace and Aeon, and the discussions and presentations reflected that fact.

The importance of future integration between the two systems was such an important concern for many of the meeting's attendees that the evening before the official meeting was dedicated solely to a discussion of potential integration between ArchivesSpace and Aeon. Representatives from Lyrasis, Atlas Systems, and numerous archives and special collections got together to discuss their status with ArchivesSpace and Aeon implementations and their desired features for future integration. Among the most discussed integration features were:

Locations Locations Locations

As a result of the recently released ArchivesSpace container management plugin, archival objects in ArchivesSpace can be linked to their 'top containers' in a much more meaningful way than before, and container locations, barcodes, profiles, and other characteristics can be managed separately than, but still remain linked to, components of archival description. One of the intriguing possibilities of this is that patrons might not need to know or care about which box a particular component of archival description is in; as long as ArchivesSpace knows that an archival object is linked to a particular physical container, and that that physical container is located on a particular shelf in the stacks, patrons could request materials based on the information that they want/need to know, and in the background ArchivesSpace could send Aeon the information that reference staff needs to know to retrieve the physical containers. This alone would be a boon to our use of Aeon at the Bentley, as currently reference staff must look up the location for each request in our FileMaker Pro database, which only contains locations for ranges of containers in a collection, not specific stacks locations for individual containers. Obviously, getting something like this to work for us would require further metadata clean up and enrichment on our end (we don't have exact locations for specific containers or barcoded containers, for example), but the degree to which it would improve our ability to manage our collections in ArchivesSpace and in Aeon makes it a compelling possibility.


Currently, when a patron at the Bentley places a request for restricted materials, all Aeon is able to tell us is that there is some sort of restriction on the material, and the restriction information needs to be reviewed. In order to find out more, reference staff must look in the collection's finding aid, or in physical books containing detail restriction information, to learn more about the details of the restriction. Are the materials closed for another 30 years? Are they open to patrons who have approval from the records' or papers' creator? Did the restriction actually expire 3 years ago? The answers to all of these questions can be found in our archival description, which means that ArchivesSpace could pass along that information to Aeon in a more sophisticated manner than just saying "Hey, there might be some sort of restriction here. Sort it out." This is another possibility afforded by ArchivesSpace and Aeon integration that would be a big improvement over our current practice.

Live Status Updates

Right now, requests for materials in Aeon (at least for us) are atomic: each request is a separate transaction, the requests don't know anything about one another, and we have no way of knowing, without performing a citation search in Aeon or by going to a location in the stacks, whether or not a container is currently checked out, on hold, or otherwise unavailable or associated with an existing active request. This is another experience that could potentially be mitigated by ArchivesSpace and Aeon integration. Since all archival objects in ArchivesSpace get unique identifiers, and each archival object can be meaningfully linked to its top container, ArchivesSpace and Aeon could theoretically communicate with one another to provide status updates for materials. ArchivesSpace could, for example, display whether or not a container was on the shelf, checked out by another patron, on loan, or in processing, giving patrons a realistic understanding of how readily available certain materials are, and giving reference staff a heads up that containers are on hold, in conservation, or in another temporary location before they make the trek to the permanent stacks location, only to discover that the container is elsewhere.

Shopping Carts

There was a lot of discussion at the ArchivesSpace-Aeon integration meeting about future integration incorporating some sort of shopping cart functionality, allowing patrons to build a list of requests across separate collections and submit those requests to Aeon all at once. Check out the Rockefeller Archives Center for an excellent example of this kind of functionality already in operation, and get excited about the possibility!

Now, all of this is not to say that these features will definitely be incorporated into future ArchivesSpace-Aeon integration. The exact functional requirements for integration still need to be worked out, and both the ArchivesSpace and Aeon development teams have other development priorities to attend to. The discussion at the Aeon Users' Group Meeting, however, was so overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic about future integration, and the discussed features were so functional and broadly applicable, that I am confident that good things are coming. Keep an eye on the ArchivesSpace and Aeon email lists for updates!

[1] https://prometheus.atlas-sys.com/download/thumbnails/112328952/aeon_color.png?version=1&modificationDate=1381234049753&api=v2
[2] This is not 100% true. Check out the code and take a look at basic integration in action at USC.

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