Comparing AEONs to AtoMs

Meg Travers Friday, November 15, 2013 - 14:22

For many years we’ve been receiving feedback from SRO users through our surveys and feedback forms about AEON – about how it works and what sort of functions and features it should have. We’ve been listening and, while not everything you have requested is possible, we have begun looking at a replacement collection management system which will accommodate many of the functions requested over the years. Over the next few months we will be running sessions setting out what the new system will be capable of providing and seeking additional feedback and comment from our users about what we have planned.  As with all changes, the look and feel of the finished product will be different from what currently exists, but the underlying principles of archival description will remain the same and we hope the new system will provide greater benefits not just for ourselves but to all our users.

One of the more frequent questions that we get asked about our catalogue, AEON, is why don't we have subjects, or other elements that are familiar from library catalogues?  The answer lies in the difference between archives and library standards, and the types of materials we hold. 

Library materials are generally publications, with multiple copies in multiple locations. Other than author or publisher there is often no obvious link or connection between one book or journal and another.  Librarians create these links through the use of classification schemes, such as the Dewey Decimal System, and subject headings, so that we, as users, can make those connections.  To assist us in making and using those connections, library catalogues are designed in accordance with a set of specific rules.  English language catalogues have been created under the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd edition (known familiarly as AACR2) for many years.  In addition, the way in which the elements of computer catalogues are set out is also prescribed - usually in line with the MAchine Readable Cataloguing (MARC) standards developed by the Library of Congress.

While libraries may also hold archives, this is usually only a small proportion of the collection, except for the State and National Libraries. In a 2004 national survey run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the State and National libraries held over 11 million publications and 33 km of archives (around 5 million items). Local libraries held around 41 million items, both as lending and non-lending stock. (At the same time, State and National archives held over 629 km of archives or 98 million items). It makes sense to use the library standards for all the material in a library.

Archives, on the other hand, are unique items which gain much of their value as resources through the context in which they were created and used.  Rather than creating connections, archival systems seek to tease out the connections that already exist. There are a number of different ways in which archives can be arranged and described, from the analysis of 'fonds' in Europe, to an emphasis on 'record groups' in the US and Canada, and the Series Registration System developed by the National Archives of Australia, which is the Australian preferred system. Although they seem very different, there are a number of unifying principles and concepts that have been brought together in the International Standard on Archival Description (ISAD). The SRO's current system, AEON, is based on the Series Registration System and ISAD.  However, because of the differences in approach there has not been a consistent way of presenting items in an archives, in the way that the MARC format works for libraries.

The SRO is currently looking at a replacement collection management system for the data that underpins AEON.  Our preferred option is a system known as ICA-AtoM, developed for the International Council on Archives.  This system is wholly compliant with ISAD and with other international archival standards.  By using AtoM, we will also be looking at a catalogue format that will be familiar to users of archival collections internationally.

We will be running information sessions about the system and the benefits we think it can provide over the coming weeks, which will be advertised on our website and in our search room – if you are interested in attending and participating in this consultation process, please email sro@sro.wa.gov.au or phone us on 9427 3600.