Archon Repository Profile: Litchfield Historical Society

Question responses date from approximately 2009-2011.

 Institution description

The Litchfield Historical Society (, founded in 1856, is a private non-profit dedicated to collecting, preserving and interpreting the history of Litchfield County, Connecticut through its museum, research library and historic house. The Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library houses local business and organizational archives, manuscripts and family papers, reference books, and genealogical material. The Tapping Reeve House, built in 1774, and the 1784 Law School interpret the family and home life of Tapping Reeve and his role in the development of American legal training. The Litchfield History Museum invites visitors to explore the evolution of a small New England town. Furniture, historic clothing, household objects and paintings reveal Litchfield's history from its earliest European settlement to the present day.


When did you adopt Archon?

Upon notification of a Cataloging Hidden Collections grant award from the Council on Library and Information Resources, we selected Archon to implement a project to create online description of our archival holdings.


For what purposes?

As a small organization with a very long history, our finding tools were an amalgam of various antiquarian and professional practices including an item-level card catalog and box listings and some description in PastPerfect. We wanted to create traditional finding aids, but we knew that if they were only in-house it would be difficult to make researchers aware of our collections.


How are you using it?

We are doing as we intended and creating various levels of description for a variety of collections. We also found that we are able to use the digital repository to enhance our description by including images of items in our object collections. For example, the Benjamin Tallmadge Collection is associated with portraits of Tallmadge and his family. Researchers who never thought to look for objects are finding them. Since it is cost prohibitive to put our object collections database online, we are able to use this feature to show popular images to researchers who are interested in material culture.



Since implementing Archon, how has your researchers' experience changed? How are they interacting with and using the system?

Some researchers still want to use the card catalog, which we plan to move out of the reading room. Other users who learn how to use the “research cart” feature almost immediately, while still others cannot seem to register. We have had challenges with people who seem to think everything that has been described online should be scanned and made available instantaneously, or others who think that they can bring in a printout of hundreds of documents and expect to have time to go through them in a day. I doubt these experiences are unique to Archon, but more of a learning curve to the type of users who contact us, many of whom are first-time archives users. They could not do this before as they had to come to our repository to find any description at all. It is a teaching opportunity, though it might help to have an area within the system dedicated to user orientation.



Did you migrate from another system? If so, what challenges did you face?

We did not migrate from another electronic system, but we are facing some challenges transitioning to the electronic database. There is a transition period during which we have essentially added one more step to our job when trying to help researchers locate things because the old catalogs are not completely out of use. This is gradually becoming easier as we are adding more data and transitioning to heavier reliance on Archon. Training reluctant staff members and long time researchers how to use the new tools is an ongoing process. Collections previously described at an item-level in the card catalog and indexed by every name listed in the collection now have less description, so researchers have to do more work. Staff members comfortable with old tools have to be urged to transition to the new system.


What do you like best about it?

The greatest benefit, by far, is that people are finding our collections. While it is somewhat challenging to deal with the increase in on-site and remote research requests, it is gratifying to have collections that were previously unknown be used.


What do you like the least about it?

It has been challenging to keep up with the number of upgrades that came with the new version. While many things I read prior to the install made it seem not very demanding in terms of technological knowledge, unless one has a full-time I/T staff or even technology person, it can be difficult to keep up with the maintenance. Having to learn programming languages is not usually part of archival training, and no one on our staff has that skill. We have not been able to customize the site for this reason. I will say, though, that the user forum is a great place to turn for assistance and every time I have a problem someone is there to help.


Lessons learned in the process?

Even when you have the tools to start using a program, future upgrades can make it difficult to sustain if you do not have the appropriate technology.


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

I am cautiously optimistic about the new product. I am excited about the potential for reporting, accessioning, and other options that are available in AT but not Archon. I do, however, have concerns about the merger. My organization committed to using Archon, an open source tool, after reading and hearing of the developers strong commitment to making it available to small organizations. Recent surveys make it sound as though the new product may be some sort of membership or fee-based model, which means that the institutions with better funding and different needs will have louder voices than those who cannot join. This would be a shame considering that small organizations with limited funding (and limited public awareness) are the ones that really have no other way to get collections online.



Questions answered by Linda Hocking, Curator of Library and Archives