Archivists’ Toolkit Repository Profile: Rockefeller Archive Center

This repository profile is no longer an accurate description of the collection management tools and workflows employed at the Rockefeller Archive Center.

Institution Description

 The Rockefeller Archive Center was established in 1974 to assemble, process, and make available for scholarly research the papers of the Rockefeller family and the records of various philanthropic and educational institutions founded by the family, including The Rockefeller University, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. In 1984 the Center began to collect non-Rockefeller philanthropic records. These holdings presently include the archives of the Commonwealth Fund, the Culpeper Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the John and Mary Markle Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council and many other organizations.

The Center's 35,000 cubic feet of documents, 500,000 photographs, and 3000 films provide unique insights into worldwide developments and issues of the 19th and 20th centuries. Major subjects covered in the records include agriculture, the arts, African-American history, education, international relations and economic development, labor, medicine, philanthropy, politics, population, religion, the social sciences, social welfare, and women's history.

The Rockefeller Archive Center is located 20 miles north of New York City in the suburban setting of Westchester County.


1. How is the Archivists’ Toolkit being used?

The AT is currently being used as a collections management tool to support accessioning and processing activities. It has taken the place of the previously used proprietary system, Re:discovery. All the accessioning and archival collection data has been migrated from Re:discovery to the AT. Going forward, the archival staff is creating accession records and finding aids directly in the AT in place of a variety of previously used formats, such as Microsoft Word, Corel Word Perfect, and Microsoft Excel.

We have now begun to explore the use of the AT to support cataloging of our library collection and creating descriptive metadata for digital objects.

2. When was the Archivists’ Toolkit implemented and why?

The decision to switch to the AT was made in the Fall of 2008 after a lengthy review process of the different collection management tools, both proprietary and open-source, available. The Software Selection Committee based its final decision on the following criteria:

  • Places the RAC at the forefront of technological collection management and enable the RAC to serve as a model and a leader in the archival community.
  • Allows for the centralized management and searching of data pertaining to all aspects of archival services, including collection development, appraisal, accessioning, processing, and reference.
  • Supports library and archival standards, including DACS, EAD, MARC, METS, MODS, and DC, as well as various name and subject authorities and controlled vocabularies.
  • Enables reuse of metadata and linking between finding aids and digital objects stored in a separate digital preservation management system.

The Committee’s recommendation was also influenced significantly by the preference for open source software and its inherent developmental and licensing freedom. Moreover, at the time, no other open source software demonstrated as robust collection management functionality or as much adoption by the archival community as the Archivists’ Toolkit.

3. Has implementation required any customizations or development?

The basic installation required no significant customizations or development. We were essentially able to start using it immediately out-of-the-box. The only portion of the AT that has required significant customization on our part to achieve what we would consider to be basic functionality is the stylesheets for PDF and HTML output. We found the default stylesheets to be quite inadequate for our needs. We also had to make use of several of the user-defined fields in the Accessions module, but found customizing those to be quite easy to do within the system configuration options already available.

Going forward, the RAC has initiated a project to build a Reference Module for the AT now that the original development team has ceased further development and moved on to the ArchiveSpace project. This new module will allow institutions to manage reference and duplication services, including keeping track of researcher visits, automating retrievals, tracking duplication requests, etc. We also plan to change the way user permissions are assigned eventually, although this customization is not critical - the current AT functionality being sufficient for now.

4. What were the most significant challenges you faced in implementing the AT?

The largest obstacle of the implementation was the lack of consistency in existing collection data. There was also a challenge in converting the Re:discovery data export into valid EAD 2002 records for ingest into the AT. Luckily, Tufts University had already developed a template for that conversion and was kind enough to give us a copy. I also had to spend a significant amount of time in discussion with other staff members deciding on policy and local implementation issues prior to implementation. This aspect wasn’t particularly difficult, but it was time consuming and critical to complete prior to ingesting any data into the AT.

We also ran into a problem with assigning locations to instances because in some of our collections boxes were not numbered uniquely and consecutively throughout the entire collection. The AT, therefore, saw Box 1 in Series 1 as the same as Box 1 in Series 2. We came up with 3 options for how to handle this problem: 1. Renumber the boxes in the problem collections, 2. Create complicated unique identifiers for each box that incorporated the series and/or subseries information into the box number, or 3. Barcode the boxes. We ultimately decided that option 3 would be the best solution.

5. What resources (staff, funding, time) were needed to implement the AT?

To get the accessions and resources modules implemented took approximately 2 years if you include the policy decisions, manual writing, data migration, data cleanup, and staff training. There were periodically 2 FTE and 1 PTE staff members working on the project for varying lengths of time. The Systems Administrator was able to setup the IT infrastructure fairly quickly, but we already had a network and virtual machine environment in place.

6. Looking forward, what additional work remains to be done?

Work continues with converting print-only finding aids into EAD and importing them into the AT. We are working with an external vendor to create the EAD electronic versions of our finding aids and then importing then and cleaning up the data ourselves. We are also building out controlled vocabularies, starting with creating authorized headings for names and subjects and linking them at the collection level only. We are still actively working with staff to help them adjust to the new tool and developing a solution for quality control going forward. Work also continues on developing and EAD web delivery solution.

7. Any lessons learned or recommendations for other implementers?

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel! There are lots of AT users in the archival community who have already tackled the similar issues, so make good use of the user listserv and your colleagues’ experience.
  • Garbage in, garbage out still applies. If your finding aids and collection management data were in poor condition prior to implementation, importing it into the AT will not miraculously fix it all for you.
  • Be prepared - as with all projects involving change, than managing the technological one.


Answers provided by Marisa Hudspeth, Lead Archivist, Digital Program, Rockefeller Archive Center