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.

What is Archive Technologies?

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 help a collection to prepare items - objects, photos, documents, books, etc. for inclusion in a well-managed digital system.  Are these items now on a spreadsheet or database?  Are digital photos well-identified - including captions and key words?  See "CarLibrary.org - Metadata" webpage for techniques to identify files. This page shows how to identify photos and documents using archive "best practices" procedures. This step simplifies adding documents and photographs to Collections Management Software (CMS) or a (freeware) digital library/archive using the Greenstone software.

  • Archive Technologies recommends a free, online training course for digital archives, "Digital Libraries, Repositories and Documents".  The module is described as:

"...(it) covers the processes relevant to the creation and management of digital libraries and repositories, including digital file formats, metadata management, database management and the preservation of digital information."

  • Archive Technologies can assist a collection with the steps needed to run Greenstone on a low-cost system, using Ubuntu Server 12.04.

  • For collectors interested in using "best practices" to survey and acquire open-source or commercial digital library offerings - and professional implementation assistance - Archive Technologies can provide technical specifications (requirements) and a statement of work for a digital library project.  The draft is based on standard Requests for Tenders/Proposals used for many large-scale IT acquisitions.  The RFP includes a checklist with specific Collections Management Systems requirements.

Archive Technologies can assist with any of the following processes:

Using Excel for Inventory and Management

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:

Accession No. Make Manufacturer Model Year

Serial_No

Reg No Description
1985.1 Armstrong Siddley Armstrong Siddeley Motors Ltd. Sapphire 236 1955  A567845 PEZ 235 1955 Armstrong Siddley Sapphire 236, red
1985.2 Aston Martin Aston Martin Lagonda Limited Lagonda DB.3 1954  FGR77898

THY 345

1954 Aston Martin Lagonda DB.3, grey
1985.7 Austin The Austin Motor Company Limited 8Hp Saloon 1948  PJT569789 RGT 567 1948 Austin 8Hp Saloon
1985.8 Austin British Motor Corporation A30 Saloon 1956  35406786789 HYT 789 1956 Austin A30 Saloon
1985.9 Austin British Motor Corporation A60 1964  2LF6794 LKY678 1964 Austin A60
1987.1 Austin British Leyland Motor Corporation Allegro 1974  234HGF456 OTR 345 1974 Austin Allegro

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.

A Database - More Functions and More Secure

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.

Digital Library/Archive Software

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.

Sample Car Collections/Libraries/Archives

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.

Collections Management Software (CMS)

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.

We have created an introduction webpage to CMS and also a table listing 38 CMS systems from many vendors.

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.

An overview of this prototype collection appears in two YouTube videos: Part 1 and Part Two.

Experience with PastPerfect have lead to a recommendation:  It is an excellent choice to manage collections/museums of all types.

Contact Archive Technologies for help starting a digital archive or email me with any questions!  

Bob Schmitt, bob@archive-tech.com

Archive Technologies
2219 Olive Ave, 117
Burbank CA 91506

March 17, 2017