My experience with Archivists’ Toolkit

by Adam McGinn (July 17, 2012)

During the last two months, I had evaluated Archivists’ Toolkit for use with the Catholic Portal project. Archivists’ Toolkit is a program suitable for recording and managing archival metadata. The program stores metadata in either a remote or local SQL database, and also allows exporting to an XML file. The documentation for Archivists’ Toolkit is quite helpful, though it is fairly comprehensive and it may be difficult to find how to do something specific. I am writing this document in the hope that it will help potential future users of Archivists’ Toolkit here at Hesburgh Library.

One thing about Archivists’ Toolkit is that it assumes the user is familiar with archival terms and conventions. I happen to be more familiar with cataloging as opposed to archives, so it took a little while to get accustomed to archival conventions, such as what sorts of fields are normally entered, terms with specific meaning in archival contexts (e.g., fonds, series, collection), how documents are grouped, the use of DACS as opposed to AACR2, and so forth. While there are some similarities to cataloging, there are some differences here and there, and any familiarity with archiving is helpful but by no means absolutely necessary for use of the program.

Custom data entry forms, which are termed “Rapid Data Entry” forms in Archivists’ Toolkit, can be made to allow input only for specified fields. This can be useful in cases where certain fields are not needed for a particular collection.

To create or configure a Rapid Data Entry form:

  1. On the main screen, click “Setup”, then “Configure Rapid Data Entry Screens.” If this option does not appear under “Setup”, the logged in user does not have sufficient permission to change RDE screens (see Note 1).

    Configure Rapid Data Entry Screens

    Figure 1

  2. The “Edit Rapid Data Entry Screens” window will show up with a list of currently available RDE forms. To edit an existing RDE form, double click a name. To create a form, click “Add record.” To remove one, click “Remove Records.”

    Edit Rapid Data Entry Screens

    Figure 2

  3. The Create/Edit screen (“Administration/Rapid Data Entry Screen”) is where properties of an RDE form can be edited. The “Level” field is mandatory and cannot be removed. Move Up/Move Down changes the order in which fields appear when using an RDE form. If you double click an entry under “Items Picked,” this brings up a screen to set stickiness options (“stickiness” is explained later in this guide).

    Rapid Data Entry Screen

    Figure 3

Note 1: In order to create or edit a Rapid Data Entry form, the user account must have proper permissions to do so. Using a Rapid Data Entry form, on the other hand, can be done by any user.

To use a Rapid Data Entry Form:

To make a Rapid Data Entry form, you must be editing a resource. These can be selected on the main window under the “Resources” tab.

Resources Tab

Figure 4

When you are in a “Resources” window, you can use an RDE form by highlighting an entry on the list on the left, then using the “Rapid Data Entry” selection tool to select an RDE form. This will allow input of metadata for a child of the currently highlighted entry. For example, in the picture below, using the “testt” [sic] RDE form to create an entry called “Test1” will make “Test1” a child of “Collection: 023-001-0001 0001” (this hierarchical arrangement is pictured in Figure 6). An RDE form cannot be used to create a top level entry (in this example, “Collection: 023-001-0001 0001”) and it must be manually configured in the field editor on the right side of the “Resources” window.

Resources Window

Figure 5

Item Hierarchy

Figure 6

Once inside the Rapid Data Entry window, information may be entered in the fields. Once all desired fields have had information input, click OK to save the entry and exit. Alternatively, click “+1” to save the entry and make another as a sibling of the previous entry (in Figure 7, for example, clicking “+1” will make a “Test2” entry below “Test1” on the same hierarchical level, and allow creation of another entry with the RDE form).

RDE Form Usage

Figure 7

One useful feature that would be helpful to point out is “sticky” fields. Default data for fields is not set directly, but there is an alternative way to do so through the use of “sticky” fields. If a field is set as sticky in the configuration for an RDE form (Figure 8), it takes whatever is entered in that field as a default for subsequent entries. If the entry is changed, the new entry becomes the new default. For example, if the Language field is set as sticky and “English (eng)” is selected for the first entry, then subsequent entries will default to English as the language. If this is changed in a later entry to, say, “French (fre)” or “Spanish (spa)” then the new selection will be the new default for further entries. Thus, the default for subsequent entries can easily be changed at any time with a sticky field.

Sticky Fields

Figure 8

Some final notes

  • All testing was done with Archivists’ Toolkit versions 2.0 update 13 and 2.0 update 14 on Windows 7 systems. Use of the program should be more or less the same on OS X and Linux, but I make no guarantees.
  • On Windows 7, the following error was consistently encountered upon exiting the program:
AT Exit Error

Figure 9

I encountered this error on two different Windows 7 systems with both AT 2.0u13 and AT 2.0u14. It is unknown what causes this, but it does not have any apparent ill effects on further operation of the program or on any data entered, and only presents a minor annoyance. It can be safely canceled.

  • At the time of this writing (July 2012), the most recent manual available for Archivist’s Toolkit is for AT 1.5.9. In my experience, most of the documentation was still useful for AT 2.0, but I make no guarantees for certain features that I had not evaluated.
  • One final note must be made here: at some point, Archivists’ Toolkit will be merged with another archival program called “Archon.” This merger has been planned since about 2009 but it is unknown exactly when it will happen, nor is it certain if or how the use of the combined program will differ from the current version of Archivists’ Toolkit.

All in all, I found Archivists’ Toolkit to be adequate for archival use, and I hope this guide will help with any sorts of problems that might be encountered.

Author: Eric Lease Morgan

I am a librarian first and a computer user second. My professional goal is to discover new ways to use computers to provide better library services. I use much of my time here at the University of Notre Dame developing and providing technical support for the Catholic Research Resources Alliance -- the "Catholic Portal".