Contributed by: Amber J. D’Ambrosio, Processing Archivist & Records Manager, Willamette University


Willamette University Archives and Special Collections migrated to ArchivesSpace (AS) in early 2016, not long after I assumed the position of Processing Archivist & Records Manager. I had herded my previous institution into AS from Archivists’ Toolkit (AT), and I felt comfortable working with the system. However, the migration at Willamette proved a far more complicated endeavor than my previous experience. At my prior institution, Dixie State University, I had been responsible for our adoption of AT as a preliminary step to organizing a fledgling archive that had never had a professional archivist. The metadata was clean because I had been the only one inputting it.

At Willamette, AT had been used primarily as an accessions database. Finding aids were created as EADs in Oxygen and then uploaded to ArchivesWest and our instance of CONTENTdm for display on our website. Migrating the data from AT to AS was simple, as it had been when I was at DSU.

The legacy EADs were another matter entirely.

Background job log showing EAD import success/failure status

I hadn’t worked with EADs for about three years at the time I undertook uploading them into AS, and I quickly recalled how to read and manipulate them as error after error prevented AS from accepting our EADs.

Import job failure error report

They had been created from templates provided first by the Northwest Digital Archive (NWDA) and then ArchivesWest (under the umbrella of the Orbis Cascade Alliance). The variety of archivists, archival assistants, and students who had used the template to create EADs over the past few years guaranteed an equal variety of errors, many the result of empty elements.

Example of empty template elements causing errors

I created a spreadsheet to track the errors and ways to fix them. Interpreting the error messages generated by AS proved to be the most challenging aspect. Once I understood the structure of the error messages and how they applied to the EADs, I was able to track down the problematic elements and tags and use batch replace in Oxygen to fix the errors. With about one hundred finding aids to go through, doing them one at a time proved simple enough. If there had been more, I likely would have needed to do something more sophisticated with a metadata editing tool like OpenRefine.

Error tracking spreadsheet

Once the EADs were in ArchivesSpace, the new challenge was cleaning up Subjects and Agents that had proliferated across the various finding aids. With version 1.5 looming on the horizon, I also had to take a look at the container situation in our finding aids. If our timing had been different, I could have easily solved the container situation in Oxygen or OpenRefine prior to ingesting the EADs into AS, but we weren’t that fortunate in timing. Our EADs used a container type box-folder with data in the form of 1.1 or 2.3-10, which would not be at all compatible with the new Top Container data structure in AS version 1.5 and onward. I had to correct the instances of folder ranges in AS, but Chris Fitzpatrick kindly offered code that converted the rest of the box-folder instances to the separate elements preferred by AS.

Example of problematic container type using v1.5

While transitioning to ArchivesSpace has been challenging, it’s proving to be useful in a number of ways. Managing our metadata with greater consistency, reducing the learning curve for student workers and interns, and the promise of our transition to the public user interface in summer or fall of 2018 have all made the effort worthwhile.


Amber D’Ambrosio is Processing Archivist & Records Manager at Willamette University, a small, urban liberal arts college in Salem, Oregon, where she manages the collections and wrangles ArchivesSpace and other archival systems. She earned her MSIS from the University at Albany, SUNY and an MA in English Renaissance Literature from the University of Leeds. In her spare time, she writes, reads about early modern London, hikes, travels, and obsessively visits the Oregon Coast.

User Insights is a blog series that highlights diverse perspectives and experiences of ArchivesSpace users to enrich our entire community through shared stories, strategies, and lessons learned. This series aims to provide insight to the archivists, librarians, information technologists, developers, and so many other contributors using ArchivesSpace to preserve permanently valuable records and provide access to our researchers.

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