From Spreadsheets to DSpace: Building a Collection Management System in a Small Archive




Stauber, Elizabeth
Abdirahman, Mohamed Haian

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The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health established its archives in 2012 and appointed two graduate students at UT s School of Information to lead the project. The nature of using student labor meant the Foundation s archives did not have the capacity to maintain robust intellectual control over material. Substantial progress began in 2014 with the creation of several spreadsheets used to index material and group files into fonds structures. The inaugural Archivist and Records Manager was hired in 2015, and the archives has now evolved into an essential part of the Foundation s activities.

The expansion of the archives has necessitated that the metadata management of the collection transition from a series of spreadsheets to a web-based collection management system. This transition is occurring in four phases: Phase I Preliminary Research, Phase II - Database Testing and Evaluation, Phase III - Prototype Design and Project Planning, and Phase IV - Final Implementation. The process of transitioning from spreadsheets to database systems can be intimidating for archives with limited capacities. The objective of this presentation is to provide a structured approach to this transition, helping small archives better plan their move towards more advanced technologies.

Phase I of the transition began with establishing criteria for selecting a collection management system. A graduate student was recruited to research, demo, and implement the database under supervision of the Archivist. Together they drafted initial research questions: What open-source software was available for collection management in a web environment? Could the selected database be built with non-technical expertise? How easy would it be to manage and import metadata (and later digital objects) within the system? Phase II consisted of designing evaluation metrics and testing database systems. Following software recommendations by professional organizations, the archives unit chose to evaluate four databases: ArchivesSpace, Collective Access, Access to Memory, and DSpace. The analysis was conducted using an evaluation matrix and research report built from L. Spiros Archival Management Software and formatted to suit the Foundation s needs. Primary and secondary research was conducted by demoing each database. Review of this research was conducted by the Archivist, graduate student, and Systems Administrator, with a final decision to select DSpace as the web content management and digital preservation solution.

Phase III of the transition included prototyping DSpace and drafting a project plan for full implementation. Following an installation of DSpace into a local environment, the archives unit began building a complete database to test DSpace s local functionalities. The project plan includes database policies, dataset cleaning priorities, workflows, and a timeline leading up to implementation. Phase IV of the transition is expected to conclude by April 2018, and will include a final implementation of DSpace into the production environment of the Foundation s archives.


Elizabeth Stauber serves as the first Archivist and Records Manager for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. She has a Master of Science in Information Studies from The University of Texas at Austin. She has helped many organizations preserve their analog and electronic records for future generations from museums to news organizations. Before entering the archives profession, she worked at an artist agency in New York City, managing artist portfolios.