Most archives that have online catalogues use specialist software, which is used to manage all collections activities. In the past, the cost of acquiring such specialist packages has been prohibitive for our service.
However, in recent years the National Archives have made a fund available known as New Burdens. They asked record offices to let them know how large their backlogs of uncatalogued Public Records were, information that would be used give out a proportionate amount of money to the size of the backlog. At this time, we had taken receipt of a large quantity of Magistrates Court records, this meant that we were eligible for and received £34,700. Rather than use this money specifically for cataloguing the magistrates courts records, we decided it would be more beneficial to invest some of the money in acquiring a collections management system.
We invited quotes from various companies for the provision of such a system and decided on a company called Metadatis, who offered us a product called Epexio, a system which is already in use at the South West Heritage Trust. We can run Epexio on as many computers as we like without additional license costs, which is also very beneficial.
The Epexio system has separate databases for different activities i.e. deposits, depositors, catalogues, loans, conservation work, names, places and subjects. These databases are all cross-referenced, so an entry in one will be linked to the others. When complete, this will mean that researchers will no longer have to look up an entry in the card or online indexes, and then check the reference in the catalogue as well before ordering the document. The most significant advantage for researchers however is that much of this information will be made available online.
Any new catalogues created from now on will be made using Epexio and the catalogues will be available online. What creates more of a problem is how to get all the existing paper catalogues onto the system. We have already uploaded onto the system all our word processed catalogues by sending Metadatis the Word files, who were very helpfully able to convert them into Excel spreadsheets. We then had to painstakingly check these to make sure the data had been copied correctly and would appear in the right place. When Epexio is launched at the end of March it should contain all the catalogues we have created or re-typed from the year 2000 onwards. It will not however contain any catalogues written between 1958 and 2000. Not only are these far more numerous, but there are no electronic copies. This is where our ever ready volunteers came to our assistance…
In the summer of 2018, as part of the process to publish all of our catalogues online, we launched our catalogue retro-conversion project. This involves volunteers helping us as we undertake the huge task of transferring the information from our old typewritten catalogues (all those red/blue/black and green folders in our search room!) into an electronic form. This project involves several processes:
- Staff scan the old catalogue pages
- The scans then undergo OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and are turned into text files
- The newly created text files are then proof read/edited
- The information is then transferred (through cutting & pasting/manual data inputting) into an Excel spreadsheet
- The spreadsheets are then edited by a member of staff
- The completed spreadsheets are then sent to Metadatis to be uploaded to Epexio
We currently have a core of five dedicated volunteers helping us with parts 3-4 of this process. So far we have imported 1903 collections into the system that will be available to view when the catalogue goes public.
It should be noted that this project does not extend to digitising any of the archives themselves, which would be extremely time consuming and expensive, but it should make it far easier for you to find archive material of relevance to your research.
During 2019 it is likely that the only new volunteers we take on will be to work on this retro-conversion project. Some of this work can be undertaken at home after an initial induction.
So, if you have an aptitude for close attention to detail, proof reading skills or are experienced with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and would like to take part in this project then please email me at: Marcus.Buffrey@herefordshire.gov.uk
Marcus Buffrey, archivist