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Progress Report: FOLIO Special Collections & Archives Working Group (SC&A WG) January-April 2018

Overview

The FOLIO SC&A WG was formed in late 2017-early 2018 in response to questions about FOLIO from the SC&A community and at the suggestion of the FOLIO Product Council (PC). The formation of the WG also reflected the general recognition that traditional Integrated Library Systems and even comprehensive Library Management Systems are not good solutions for special collections and archives, and that the needs of the SC&A community need to be represented in the FOLIO project. The WG defined itself as "an exploratory pre-SIG" in recognition of its preliminary nature and to distinguish its work from the other FOLIO SIGs.

The WG started with seven members and currently has sixteen members from institutions in the U.S. and the United Kingdom:

  1. Gregory Bailey (Texas A&M)
  2. Erin Faulder (Cornell University)
  3. Kathleen Feeney (University of Chicago)
  4. Ricc Ferrante (Smithsonian Institution)
  5. Sebastian Hammer (Index Data)
  6. Pablo Morales Henry (Harvard University)
  7. Noah Huffman (Duke University)
  8. Julia Kim (Library of Congress)
  9. Peter Murray (Index Data)
  10. Jeanine Nault (Library of Congress)
  11. Aaron Rubinstein (UMass-Amherst)
  12. Sarah Schmidt (Duke University)
  13. Katharine Short (De Montfort University)
  14. Aaron Trehub (Auburn University; convener)
  15. Catherine Uecker (University of Chicago)
  16. Christine Wise (SOAS)

Although three of the WG members are also members of the FOLIO PC, the convener has made an effort specifically to recruit archivists and special collections librarians from outside the FOLIO fold, both in order to get the best representation from the field as a whole and to spread awareness of the FOLIO project in the profession.

The SC&A WG meets every Monday on Zoom. Its first meeting was on January 29, 2018. Since some of the newer members of the WG were unfamiliar with the FOLIO project, Sebastian Hammer of Index Data gave an overview of the project on the March 12 conference call. He discussed ways in which SC&A-specific apps might be included in the FOLIO app store. His presentation can be found at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hof-0XjwEJTJZly8A9jdM43MwFigVJ1n/view

The best source of current information on the group's membership and activities is its Wiki page, at: https://wiki.folio.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=7833640.

Charter

The WG's charter was drafted in late January 2018. It proposed four specific areas of activity:

  1. To identify unique needs of SC&A departments that are within the scope of the FOLIO Project and/or relevant to FOLIO SIGs (e.g. the Metadata Management SIG).
  2. To determine the degree to which these needs are being met by existing open-source SC&A software applications.
  3. To explore whether existing SC&A software can be adapted, modified, and/or incorporated into the FOLIO code base.
  4. To report back to the FOLIO PC on its findings, with recommendations. Report date: May 1, 2018.

The charter originally projected that the WG would finish its work by the May 1 reporting date. That projection was quickly revealed to be wildly optimistic. There is still plenty of work to do in this area. Whether the SC&A WG is the best vehicle for carrying it out will be addressed in the recommendations at the end of this report.

Work to Date

The WG will have been active for three months on May 1. In that brief time, the group has made modest progress on the first two points in its charter—specifically, to identify unique needs of SC&A departments that are within the scope of FOLIO and/or relevant to FOLIO SIGs; and to explore the degree to which these needs are being met by existing SC&A software. It has yet to address the third--that is, to explore whether existing SC&A software can be connected to FOLIO or eventually integrated into the FOLIO code base. Details:

1. To identify unique needs of SC&A departments that are within the scope of the FOLIO Project and/or relevant to FOLIO SIGs (e.g. the Metadata Management SIG). To this end, group members have been contributing desired features and functionalities to a so-called blue-sky desiderata list on the SC&A WG Wiki. These include:

  1. Ways to manage related collections in other repositories.
  2. Ways to handle cataloging issues that are specific to SC&A departments (e.g. provenance).
  3. Ways to manage gifts (in the FOLIO Acquisitions module), a process that is much more common in SC&A departments than in general libraries.
  4. Ways to manage relationships among digitized and digital collection files (digitized analog, generations, directory structures).
  5. Tools for electronic records management (e.g. e-mail archives).
  6. Better descriptive modules and management tools for born-digital archivalcollections (especially born-digital video and complex digital files).
  7. Ways to handle algorithms in an archival setting. These have been defined by Cliff Lynch as "large, complex socio-technical systems (often today shorthanded as 'algorithms') that centrally involve some mixture of personalization, opaque rules, and machine learning components" (http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/8097).
  8. Ways to record and provide support for restrictions on access, often date-driven (sensitive materials, copyright, donor agreements, etc.), particularly relating to born-digital materials but really across all collections.
  9. A calendaring system (e.g. for restricted collections).
  10. Modules for recording long-term conservation and preservation activities.
  11. Better transmission methods (read: documented APIs) between existing SC&A systems and FOLIO modules (e.g. ability to talk between an SC&A system and the FOLIO Acquisitions module).

The list of desired features and functionalities is still open for contributions. The WG has also examined Ashley Blewer's matrix of archival management solutions and the technical documentation for existing SC&A software packages (e.g. ArchivesSpace).

As for connections to other FOLIO SIGs, the WG determined that SC&A issues clearly intersect with the Resource Management and Metadata Management SIGs. They also overlap to a lesser degree with the Resource Access and Accessibility SIGs.

2. To determine the degree to which these needs are being met by existing open-source SC&A software applications. Status: ongoing. Since not all of the WG members are familiar with existing archival management applications, it has been useful to arrange live demonstrations of them on the weekly calls. There has been one demonstration to date: Noah Huffman (Duke University) demonstrated ArchivesSpace to the group on its April 2 call. The demonstration was recorded and is available for viewing at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zS_hGXbGhjhphN1gwb7aVIgW4KW1t3nO/view

The convener would like to arrange live demonstrations of AtoM (Artefactual Systems), Calm (Axiell ALM), and other SC&A systems on future calls.

3. To explore whether existing SC&A software can be adapted, modified, and/or incorporated into the FOLIO code base. Status: preliminary. The WG is still examining existing SC&A software. It has not yet explored whether or how this software could be incorporated into the FOLIO code base.

Conclusions

A number of points have emerged from the WG's discussions to date.

  1. First, lists of desired features and functionalities are useful, but it is equally important that potential user experience designers and developers understand archival workflows. To this end, it would be helpful to develop a set of case studies or user stories.
  2. Second, there appears to be a lack of consensus regarding the degree to which existing archival management packages address the needs of the SC&A community. Some members of the SC&A WG believe that the existing packages—of which there are at least three in wide use in North America and the UK—represent good solutions for SC&A processes, workflows, and materials. As one member put it, he would not like to see the WG recommend that FOLIO reinvent the wheel by developing yet another archival management package. Other members believe that there may be room in the FOLIO development space for specific apps that are currently absent or inadequately implemented in existing systems. These two views are not mutually exclusive—this is not an either/or question—but they do imply that FOLIO will need to develop a multi-level approach to this community.
  3. In connection with the preceding point, many institutions in North America and the UK have already implemented open-source or commercial archival management software packages and have invested considerable time and effort in populating and customizing them. Regardless of what new development work may be undertaken under the FOLIO umbrella, FOLIO also needs to work with these legacy systems.
  4. The SC&A landscape is more complicated than originally anticipated. It includes open-source and commercial products that already enjoy a substantial degree of adoption by institutions in different countries. Forming a comprehensive picture of how they stack up against each other and the community's requirements is a complex undertaking in its own right. Figuring out where FOLIO might fit into that picture adds another layer of complexity. The WG's convener had hoped that this would prove to be a fairly straightforward assignment. It has proven to be anything but that.
  5. It is unclear whether the concerns that led to the creation of the SC&A WG are widespread throughout the SC&A community, or whether they reflect the situation at a few institutions. In other words, it is difficult to gauge the urgency of these issues and whether there is sufficient interest and engagement to justify transitioning to a SIG, with the higher level of commitment that would entail. The convener's working assumption is that there is enough interest to continue the WG's work through the end of the calendar year. At the very least, it would be helpful to organize live demonstrations of AtoM, Calm, and Aeon for the group.
  6. Finally, there is general agreement that the SC&A WG is not ready to graduate to full FOLIO SIG status. The WG is still at the exploratory stage and there is no FOLIO SC&A product to speak of. That said, it has been suggested that the WG eventually transition to a "floating SIG", on the model of the Consortia and Internationalization SIGs, in order to ensure that SC&A issues are represented in the other SIGs (e.g. Metadata Management).

Recommendations

  1. We recommend that the SC&A WG continue to work in its current form at least through the end of 2018, with its focus shifting to evaluating existing SC&A software solutions and identifying possible points of connection (e.g. through documented APIs) with FOLIO instead of trying to design a new SC&A system from the ground up.
  2. To that end, we recommend that the FOLIO PC spin up test versions of ArchivesSpace, AtoM, and (if possible) Calm. For its part, the SC&A WG will arrange live demonstrations of these and other SC&A software solutions.
  3. We recommend that the WG identify SC&A resource people and product specialists and ask them to serve as liaisons to FOLIO developers and developer teams.
  4. Given the numerous claims on people's time and attention, forming a "floating SC&A SIG" is probably not realistic at this point. Instead, we recommend that the WG draft and distribute a position paper on SC&A issues in order to get and keep these issues in front of the other FOLIO SIGs. That said, the WG floated the idea of forming a so-called an umbrella "Integration SIG" for the SC&A community and other library communities (e.g. Art and Architecture, Corporate, Media, Music, and Law) that have specialized requirements.
  5. We recommend that the WG initiate conversations with potential new developers (e.g. Arkivum and Hermesz-SOFT). We also recommend that the WG reach out to potential new members among SC&A specialists in Europe, Mexico, and other regions or countries where FOLIO is active.

Reporting

The SC&A WG will submit its next progress report and recommendations to the FOLIO PC in January 2019.

(Submitted to the FOLIO Product Council on May 1, 2018)

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