Moving into the Modern Archival Age: ArchivesSpace Implementation – Part 1

In January 2020 (which feels like 8 years ago even though it was only 8 months), SCRC made a big change behind the scenes to the way that we store information about our unpublished collections. Many archival institutions use Collections Management Systems, archives-specific databases that archivists use to keep track of the material that comes in to our repositories and create the archival description that will be available to researchers as finding aids. For many years, SCRC used a software called Archivists’ Toolkit (AT), which served us well. As useful as it was, however, AT was rooted in the late 2000s, which in technology years might as well be the stone age. Archivists developed a new software, ArchivesSpace (ASpace), as a successor to AT, and it has continuously been updated since its debut in 2013. The SCRC team transitioned all of our collection information to ASpace in January, and this is the first in a series of blog entries where I’ll explain what this entailed and why it will help us serve our researchers better.

While we actually made the switch in January, SCRC staff and library administrators had been discussing and preparing for the transition for several years. I’ve been the Manuscripts and Archives Librarian (the person who’s in charge of maintaining our Collections Management System, among many other duties) since December 2016, and my predecessor in the position had already been discussing an ArchivesSpace transition with our Associate University Librarian for Digital Strategies and Systems. For a variety of reasons related to staff turnover, budget, and concerns about software bugs, the ArchivesSpace transition was put off for a few years. In summer 2019, however, we began working on the migration in earnest, as we had funding allocated for ArchivesSpace membership and hosting/migration services to make the transition and setup of the database easier.

In preparation, our Processing Coordinator and I did a significant amount of data cleanup to make sure that all of the information about our collections transferred smoothly from AT to ASpace. There’s a lot of numerical data about material in our collections in our database – for example, records include the size of collections in linear feet and the dates that material was created. Over the years, with several different staff members and student workers entering in information, there was some variation in the way that this information was recorded. Sometimes “linear feet” was written “linear ft.,” and other times it wasn’t recorded at all. We checked every single Resource Record (over 400 records) and Accession Record (over 1000) and, as much as was possible, standardized the way that numerical information appeared in each record.

AT also contained Subjects and Names of people, corporate bodies, and families who created the material in our collections, and occasionally these types of records were duplicated, either by someone who didn’t realize a record already existed or through automated ingest of data into the system. We couldn’t just delete the duplicate records, though, because subjects and names are linked to the collections that they are related to in the database. In order to preserve those links, we merged duplicate records together into one record with all links to collections intact.

After all of the data cleanup and administrative work, we were finally ready to migrate our collections data from AT to ASpace. I’ll cover that, and the work we’ve done since the migration, in the next post in this series.

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts.  To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.