Behind the Scenes: The Keep Ordering Systems

28th July 2014By Adam Harwood  –  The Keep Systems Administrator

When The Keep project began, the partners (East Sussex Record Office, University of Sussex and Brighton and Hove Royal Pavilion and Museums) felt that a state of the art building required state of the art ICT systems to enable researchers to find and reserve archival documents online to view on a date convenient to them.  The new ordering and inventory management systems at The Keep are the result of this vision and I’d like to use this week’s blog post to write about these systems.

The Keep systems are integral to everything that happens in the building for staff and researchers alike. The Keep online catalogue allows researchers to find records of documents from all three partners of The Keep and place an order for documents to be ready for them when they come to visit.

This kind of online ordering which everyone is so familiar with when they buy a book on Amazon is a relatively new service in the archive world.  We are one of only a few archives in the country that offers this service with availability checks at the point of ordering to ensure that two people can’t order the same document for the same date. There is no one piece of archival software that can enable this system to work and so we had to integrate separate software applications – two of which were designed specifically for The Keep – to realise our goals.

All three partners wanted to continue using their own collection management software.  East Sussex Record Office and the University of Sussex use the archive industry standard software ‘CALM’.  Brighton and Hove Royal Pavilion and Museums use museums industry standard software – ‘MIMSY’. Keeping these systems has allowed each partner to retain continuity for their archivists and curators as well as a continued relationship with the wider archival and museum communities, while taking advantage of the two systems developed specifically for The Keep for ordering and stock management.

The first of these systems was developed by Orangeleaf Systems Ltd. Orangeleaf have been working with museums, archives and local history societies for over a decade creating web-sites, and large scale cross sector data search and aggregation systems. Orangeleaf transform our records to be viewed in a user friendly online interface and developed our Reader Order Management software (the ROM) that allows researchers to book documents to view at The Keep.  When researchers find the record of the document they want to see, they can create a user account and go through the order process. The ROM sends the order through to our inventory management system – the final part of the puzzle that makes up our ordering systems.

Our inventory management system was developed by a company called Wise Software Ltd. They provide inventory management solutions to a large number of businesses and we are their first customer in the archive sector. They retrofitted their existing software ‘Orderwise’ with new archive management modules to enable us to keep track of the movements of every archive container in the building. Hand held terminals tell us what documents have been ordered for the day and where to find them. We can then move these documents still inside their containers to our production room to be issued to researchers. We use Orderwise to record each document issued so we can automatically generate usage statistics.

Since opening we have been working with Orderwise and Orangeleaf to iron out some of the inevitable bugs that come with rolling out new software. We think we’ve found most of them but there are always new developments that we are looking to implement like online downloading of digital versions of documents. We’d also like to make many improvements to the search tools of our online catalogues. I’ll write about some of the things we are doing to enable this in a future post.