Saturday, April 18, 2009

Deploying the AT Across Multiple Yale Repositories: Background

In 2008, four Yale special collections repositories (Arts Library, Divinity Library, Manuscripts and Archives, and the Music Library) participated in a project to 1) install and test the AT as an open source collections management system, and 2) examine the feasibility of establishing a Yale way of managing and tracking collections across the Yale Library system. This project was one of a number of projects that were undertaken as part of the Mellon Foundation Collections Collaborative at Yale University.


The specific focus of the project was to use of the Toolkit for accessioning. Although the Toolkit can do much more, we limited our focus in this project to accessioning primarily because, with the exception of MSSA, the other participants have rudimentary systems in place for recording and managing accession information. In the past, this has been done primarily on paper. The Toolkit, however, facilitates easy capture, management and searching of collection information that is vital to the day-to-day operations of repositories. This allows participants to utilize the same system and terminology to enhance understanding of others’ collections, provide faster and more consistent access to collection information.

Work Summary

The principal investigator first met with the participants to examine existing collections management tools, record-keeping practices, and discuss needs and expectations. These sessions provided the opportunity to specify collections management practices the Toolkit does not accommodate, distinguish between software issues and points where the staff could or should be persuaded to do things differently, and explore the feasibility of developing a “Yale” way of managing special collections. In addition, with little in the way of legacy systems and practices for accessioning materials (Manuscripts and Archives excluded), it was determined that adoption of the Toolkit would be easy to implement and much welcomed.

Following installation, project staff instructed participants in use of the Toolkit and discussed issues concerning implementation and conversion of legacy data. Project staff then gave participants several weeks to use the Toolkit before following-up with a focus group to examine participants’ experiences, issues, questions, and needs. Important outcomes of the focus-group included the expressed need for common practice and use (e.g. best practices guidelines), improved documentation (especially concerning required fields, terminology, and reports), and identification of concerns regarding future administration and tie-in to other systems (i.e. Finding Aid Creation Tool).


To support and further Yale’s use of the Toolkit, a variety of products were (and continue to be) created. These include:

a. Website <>

b. Wiki <>

c. Guided instructions and tutorials for 14 separate Toolkit features and processes.

d. Expanded data dictionary (.xls) [in progress]

e. Best practice guidelines for accessioning

Staff also reported to the Toolkit developers participant experiences and provided recommendations for potential incorporation in future AT releases.

Conclusions & Recommendations

With little in place to accession and track collection material, participants have enthusiastically adopted the Toolkit. Given varieties in local practice/needs however and the amount of information the Toolkit allows you to capture, it is recommended that best practices for accessioning be undertaken to standardize its use. Additionally, ongoing central support and administration will need to be formalized, including bringing in additional special collection repositories. Particularly important here, especially for larger repositories with established record-keeping systems, will be helping repositories map and migrate their legacy data. With future releases and expanded Toolkit functionality, efforts will likely need to be made to further integrate into the AT more and more legacy systems across Yale libraries and special collections.

1 comment:

  1. The conclusions made here regarding ongoing central support and administration as well as conforming a variety of existing practices to a set of agreed upon best practices is important. This is particularly important for larger, and often more de-centralized institutions. In Yale's case, there is currently no person or unit responsible for these tasks. Each repository or unit are responsible for their own tools and practices. It is my opinion however, that it is in the best interest of the organization to allocate resources to this in order to further shared goals.