Archive Technologies is a Burbank, California business that provides information, advice, training and system/software implementation to collections and museums, both public and private. This business grew from volunteer work at several museums and collections, investigating approaches for organizing their inventory and materials.
Prototype "digital collections" were developed using the techniques described on CarLibrary.org. The CarLibrary.org webpages contain step-by-step guidance for organizing collections and creating digital libraries/archives.
This consulting business was started by Bob Schmitt. Bob has an advanced degree in Information Science and has been a lifelong car hobbyist and historian. His professional career was as a IT contracts manager for large enterprises. As needed, other car hobbyists with extensive business and archives backgrounds can be available.
Archive Technologies can assist with any of the following processes:
Experience shows that an Excel spreadsheet is a good first step for a collections inventory. For many collectors, Excel may be all that is needed. The "data" from a well-designed Excel spreadsheet can be exported to nearly any well-designed software system, eliminating the need for new data entry and postponing decisions on Excel alternatives.
If there is a printed or card-file inventory for the collection, it is likely it can be scanned and converted (Optical Character Recognition, "OCR") into data that can be imported into Excel. If a database has been used, such as (ancient) dBase, File Maker Pro, etc., the data can also be exported into a file type compatible with Excel.
What is a "well-designed" (Excel) file? Without getting too deeply into database file design, each item (for example, a car) should be on a single Excel row. Each characteristic, "Make", "Model", "Year", etc. should be a separate column heading. In database terminology, each row is a "record" and each column heading is a "field".
Each type of asset - cars, books, photos, owner records - should be on a separate Excel file. If any data element repeats frequently, such as "British Motors Corporation" ("Manufacturer"), it can placed in a separate table/file for "lookup". This technique is "database normalization", explained below.
This is an example of a Excel table/file for cars:
What is "Accession Number"? This Wikipedia definition states: "In libraries and museums and other archives, an accession number or catalogue number is a unique, usually sequential, number given to each new item acquired, as it is catalogued."
Why should any (small) collector or historian care about this? Looking forward, there may be a time when you want to match a regular or digital photo, a document or any object to the subject object. If your objects have accession numbers, this will be the basis for a cross-reference in a database or digital archive. Or in any list! If you start using a unique numbering system at the beginning, you'll save much effort later.
Museums use a system of accession numbers based on the acquisition date and hand-written log books to establish provenance. This may not be important to a small, private collection and the exact date any item was acquired may be difficult to establish. A workable system can based on the "best guess" of year and month acquired, with three digits after that. An object car bought in December 1975 could be therefore "75.12.1", but perhaps "1975.12.1" may be necessary if a collection spans more than 100 years.
If a more capable inventory system is needed, Microsoft's Access database program is very powerful and there is an easy transition from Excel to Access. There are also commercial database software systems designed specifically for museums and collections.
Excel spreadsheets does not readily allow advanced searching (query) or building relationships. Microsoft's Access database is directly compatible with data from an Excel spreadsheet and has been used for hundreds/thousands of robust business functions, especially inventories.
Not only is Access capable for managing large archive inventories, but it can also be the "front-end" (interface) to higher-end "database engines" with enterprise capabilities, such as SQL Server, Oracle and Sybase. Access has been a Microsoft product for more than 20 years and there is a very large community of developers and consultants offering professional assistance.
The basic abilities of Access to link tables (such as separate Excel spreadsheets), to provide pre-written or ad hoc input screens, forms and reports allows a collector/historian to expect reduced data entry, better file security and the potential for unlimited "custom" reports and file exports.
"Linking" tables is done on a unique "primary key" field. Access can create this automatically or an existing field can be designated. The Accession Number of the records in the inventory works well for this purpose.
As an example of linking, after separate "events" and "cars" Excel files were imported into Access, a custom list was easily produced showing, by date, all the events (races or exhibits) for each car. This file was readily exported to a new Excel file which, in turn, could be imported into digital library software.
This webpage has examples and guidance for using Access to manage lists. Cars are the objects, with related owners, events and collections.
A very well-developed Access-based "freeware" archives system is Tabularium, developed by David Roberts and the Government of New South Wales, Australia. A version with sample data can be downloaded.
Significant Archive Technologies experience has been with the Greenstone Digital Library software. This is open-source software from the Greenstone team at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Version of the Greenstone software will run on a PC, Mac or under Linux. Software downloads, tutorials and workshops provided on the Greenstone website, The prototype Car Library archives use Greenstone's standard interface but there are tutorials and templates to customize the appearance of a collection's screens.
"Digital library" software is a step beyond a database - it provides extensive functions for organizing collection-related images, reports, video, websites, history, specifications - nearly any item in digital format. The digital library can be a repository of the digital version of these items - the actual digital photographs and scanned documents. This differs from using a database, which typically is only a catalog/inventory of the items.
Greenstone will index the full text of PDF, Word, Excel and other files with text. Searches can be made on any word or term in the archive.
Greenstone was partly customized to be "car data friendly". Many sample "collections" were made and put on a self-running (data) DVD, with the goal to promote interest, discussion and use by the owners of car collections, auto historians or car hobbyists.
Because several car museums showed interest in Greenstone, Archive Technologies created a basic step-by-step guide to importing an Excel file of car-related data into Greenstone. This webpage has examples of the computer screen for each step.
The original Greenstone archive for the Frazer Nash marque was revised to use "museum best practices". This included accession numbering of the digital objects and the use of embedded metadata for newly added digital assets. These best practices are described on a Frazer Nash webpage. These procedures suggest that digital documents and photos get "identified" early and as best possible. A "first step" for digital assets, irrespective of any plans for an archive, collections or other management system, should be to use a numbering system (accession numbers!) and identify digital objects with embedded metadata.
The above-cited Frazer Nash webpage explains how to implement a numbering system and also how the ExifTool was used to both "read" and "write" metadata from and to photos and documents. This technique was used to add digital versions of Frazer Nash articles to the archive.
The image or link below can be clicked to see the samples of the Car Collections/Library/Archives project. This link describes the contents of the library, which are sample, prototype collections of cars, their histories, photographs and documents.
Click any of the logo images to go to that collection. Because these online collections are updates and expansions of the digital library collections distributed on DVDs, the same navigation tips apply if you need help.
The Sample Car Collections/Libraries/Archives are available 7x24 online. When maintenance is required, they will be online from 6 a.m. until midnight, U.S. Pacific coast time.
Related to digital library/archive software are proprietary and open-source software for museum collections management. This category of database software pre-dates "digital archives" and there are many choices. In general, a CMS is more focused on the management of "objects" in a collection or museum - their source, descriptions, locations. The "objects" are not only the physical artifacts, but also documents, books and photographs - and the digital representation of any or all. Although these systems may include direct display to (or links to) Internet browsers, a CMS does not typically have the full-text search and display that is important for a digital library/archive.
A sample "Frazer Nash Archive" was created using the demonstration version of the PastPerfect Museum Software with cars as "objects", a library, archive and photos sections, customized with "car specific" classification categories. The PastPerfect "Virtual Exhibit" function was used to create a sample exhibit with 28 items: The Frazer Nash Archive. Note this has tab links to the Frazer Nash postwar cars webpage and the Frazer Nash Greenstone Digital Library.
Experience with PastPerfect have lead to a recommendation: It is an excellent choice to manage collections/museums of all types.