Archon Repository Profile: San Diego State University, Special Collections and University Archives

Institution Description

 Special Collections and University Archives at San Diego State University supports the information, curricular and research needs of the university's diverse community through a wide range of resources, and is committed to information literacy, research support, lifelong learning, and creative endeavors in a welcoming environment.  It is the principle repository for the University's collections of rare, fine, unique, and valuable books, periodicals, and manuscript collections, as well as the archival record of San Diego State University.  The department's holdings consist of approximately 60,000 volumes, over 7,000 linear feet of archival records, and 500,000 other items such as photographs, art prints, postcards, memorabilia, scrapbooks, etchings, and oral histories.  Major subject areas include historic astronomy, natural history, popular culture, San Diego history including the history of local minority groups, alternative religious movements, fine press, artists’ books, and SDSU history.


When did you adopt Archon?

After seeing an Archon demonstration at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in August of 2006, staff in the Special Collections department at SDSU reviewed Archon and other available options during the fall and winter of 2006, and decided to move forward with Archon in the spring of 2007.

For what purposes?

The department opted to use Archon for the following reasons:

  • It provided fully-keyword searchable web delivery of finding aids, including built in user-friendly features like "request item" icons that allow users to create lists of materials they'd like to view during a future Reading Room visit. These lists are appended to appointment scheduling requests.
  • It automatically generates EAD-encoded finding aids.
  • It enabled us to export EAD-encoded finding aids for upload to other systems (like the OAC).
  • It enabled us to export MARC records for each collection for inclusions in our catalog.
  • The software is available at no cost and is open source.
  • The staff interface was structured such that data entry was very straightforward, to the extent that professional staff, interns, and even student assistants could enter metadata about collections with minimal training.

How are you using it?

Archon serves many purposes in our department. It is the primary discovery tool used by patrons seeking archival and manuscript collections. It is also used as a collections management tool in support of accessioning and processing. We are currently investigating potential ways to make use of Archon's digital content management functions. When we first started using Archon our library had also recently purchased digital asset management software to deliver digital collections to patrons, and so we opted to hold off on exploring Archon's digital content capabilities. We have more recently begun to investigate Archon's ability to link individual digital objects to items listed in finding aid box lists, all within a single system.

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

No. We had about 25 HTML finding aids prior to implementing Archon. The rest existed as Word documents or in paper only. Today we have finding aids for all of our ~300 processed collections available in Archon.

What do you like best about it?

We really love Archon, so it's difficult to pick one just one thing. Some of our favorite things about the program are the ease with which we are able to deliver finding aids live on our website, which are instantly and fully keyword searchable. At the reference desk we get reference questions of a more advanced nature than we did prior to Archon's implementation, largely because undergraduates now have a much easier time finding information about our collections before they visit the department.

We were able to do a large, batch upload of finding aids for all (approximately 200, at that time) of our processed collections to the OAC, after spending a scant 2 days creating the EAD files. Keeping the OAC and other union catalogs up to date on our newly processed materials requires only limited staff time (the entire process, including generating and exporting the EAD file, making two small changes to the code, and uploading it, takes about 5 minutes from start to finish.)

We also like the automated online appointment scheduling function provided to patrons which delivers requests directly to our reference email address so we can page materials in advance of a visit. Overall, use of our collections has increased dramatically since Archon's implementation. While we have ramped up our instruction program during the same period, a portion of this increased usage is undoubtedly due to Archon and the increased Google-ability of our finding aids.

The least?

All customization, particularly to the online patron interface, needs to be repeated every time the software is upgraded. Additionally, our library does not currently have any graphic design or web design staff, and so we are unable to realize all of the modifications we envision for the web interface. Also, the Collections and Accessions Managers cannot generate a complete list or report of all accessions and collections such that our entire holdings are viewable at one time. This necessitates the maintenance of a separate Excel spreadsheet.

Lessons learned in the process?

Open source products are not really free, due to the brief but significant commitment of IT and Special Collections staff which was required to get the program up and running. Maintenance has (thankfully) been much less labor-intensive. We also did not anticipate the frequency of the unscheduled and somewhat erratically released updates.

Concerns, questions, or thoughts on the AT/Archon merger?

Archon has radically changed how our patrons find, use, and understand our collections, for the absolute better. Though we have not yet been able to utilize the digital library component, we believe that the integration of digital object into finding aid is one of Archon’s greatest strengths, and one of its most revolutionary, forward-thinking elements; we think that feature is essential to retain and to develop in any new product in order to remain contemporary and relevant to archival users of all skill levels.

Other elements that are essential to retain in the merge, in our opinion, include:

  • Ability to publish changes to the web in real time, without any sort of queuing
  • Open source and free (we would not have been able to implement without)
  • Research cart and appointment features
  • Google-ability of public content
  • Automatic generation of EAD-encoded finding aids
  • Customizable web / patron interface

Answers provided by Ellen E. Jarosz, Special Collections and University Archives Librarian