Archivists' Toolkit Repository Profile: Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives

Question responses are undated but known to be later than March 2009.

Institution Description

The objective of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) Archives is to collect, organize, and preserve in perpetuity the corporate records and official correspondence of the Museum, to make this material accessible and provide research support, and to further an informed and enduring understanding of the Museum’s history. Archives holdings include Board of Trustees records, legal documents, Museum publications, office files of selected Museum staff, architectural drawings, press clippings, and ephemera.

The Archives was established under the Museum’s 1870 Constitution, which states that the secretary of the corporation “shall have custody of and preserve the corporate seal and the archives.” Until the 1960s the Archives primarily served as a resource for the Museum’s secretary, other officers, and trustees, but has since expanded in scope to serve the needs of the Museum as a whole and the public. The Archives operates under the authority of the Senior Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel of the Museum.


When and why did you implement the Archivists' Toolkit?

We made decision to implement it March of 2009 in anticipation of upcoming processing projects. The Toolkit was the first electronic collections management system employed by the Archives for our traditionally processed collections, and in this sense we were lucky—we did not have to deal with the issues of data migration that have proved challenging to other institutions.

Implementation of the Toolkit gave us the opportunity to reinforce and disseminate our processing procedures. Archival management functions, such as collections accessioning, processing, cataloging and reference service, are performed by staff in a variety of MMA departments, including the Museum Archives, Watson Library, the Cloisters Library and curatorial departments. Prior to implementation of the Toolkit, there had been minimal integration across the Museum of procedures for managing this work, and no common technical platform for storing data associated with archival management functions. The implementation of the Toolkit gave us the opportunity to promote consistency and efficiency in handling archival materials across the Museum to bring the institution in line with best practices at peer institutions.


How are you using it?

Currently, we use the Toolkit’s resource module to store finding aid information, with plans to develop a Web-interface for the display of Toolkit-generated EAD-encoded documents in the future. Until such a site is developed, our finding aids are served to the public as PDFs linked to MARC records available through the Museum’s Watson Library and Worldcat.

The accessions module has been particularly useful as a tool to survey our backlog of collections. With the addition of a few user-defined fields to augment data and facilitate the editing of records, an intern captured detailed information about nearly 40 distinct accessions in the span of one semester. Among other things, this information has assisted us in prioritizing processing projects and has made us aware of conservation and other concerns that may impact budgeting.

Use of the Toolkit has also enabled us to streamline the transfer of records to the Archives from other MMA departments. In addition to utilizing the accessions module to accurately capture accessioning information, we are able to import box- or file-level inventories provided by the transferring department into related resource records, making the material immediately accessible to Archives staff.


What do you like best about the Toolkit?

We have benefited from having all of our accessioning and finding aid data in one, searchable tool. The Toolkit has promoted consistency in processing and has facilitated the oversight of intern processing and accessioning projects. Use of the Toolkit has also opened new potential for collaboration with other MMA departments holding archival materials and our many peer institutions also using the Toolkit.


What do you like the least?

The Toolkit is an excellent EAD-generation machine, but its usefulness as an administrative tool is limited. One major drawback is the lack of a component to track information about researchers and the use of collection materials.

Our archivists and interns have found the Toolkit difficult to work with as an aid to processing. This is due in large part to the inflexibility of rapid data entry screens, which facilitate the creation of new records but do not assist with editing existing records.

Thus far each of our processed collections was completed by one processor. As we make plans for the processing of larger collections by multiple processors, we will have to factor in the Toolkits’ inability to accommodate more than one user in any given resource record. Working around such a limitation is sure to compromise efficiency.


What lessons have you learned in the process?

  • Use technology to your advantage. The most rewarding experience with the Toolkit has been its ability to increase our knowledge about and access to our collections with minimal effort.
  • Understand system limitations. We have learned that the Toolkit will not address all of our collections management needs, and in many cases we have created adjunct systems to streamline work procedures.
  • Share with your colleagues. It is important to keep in mind that many repositories use the Toolkit. Sharing experiences and resources helps to strengthen the community and informs improvements to the system.


Do you have concerns, questions, or thoughts on the AT/Archon merger?

Building on current functionality present in the Toolkit, like drag-and-drop of elements in the hierarchical view, we hope that the merger will provide an improved user interface that will require fewer clicks to view and enter data. Knowing that one system will never suit everyone’s needs perfectly, we would like the merger to support more customization options and easier integration of community-provided plug-ins.


Answers provided by Adrianna Del Collo, Associate Archivist, Metropolitan Museum of Art