Using QLC’s ArcheoLINK software to catalog a decades-old archaeological collection has been a challenge, and as the first case study of this type of project, challenges were to be expected. The Dayton Society of Natural History (DSNH) adopted ArcheoLINK in the summer of 2014 with a generous grant from the Council for Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Through training with ArcheoLINK’s developer Michiel Kappers, technical issues, and much trial and error, DSNH staff have been able to master the software within a museum setting. Many of the following summations and suggestions are specific to the DSNH project; however, some are more general in nature and could be applied to any institution’s needs (specifically museums in the United States).
In general, ArcheoLINK’s interface can seem cumbersome to first-time users. A more user-friendly interface may help the speed of training, allowing more time for work on the project and less staff time spent on setup. Also, an updated user guide with more general information about the differences between European and American archaeology could also cut down on training time. At the DSNH, only one staff member is completely trained on the system because of these time constraints (along with many other factors that are not contingent on ArcheoLINK). For example, a checkbox could be used to indicate if a find is from the surface, which would negate filling in arbitrary fields (such as the feature field) with “not applicable.” Also, deletion of records is complicated. The user must delete every field – the field find, the feature, the planum, and the trench – separately and in that order; if only one of these fields must be deleted, all preceding fields must be deleted also. Instead of this, a dropdown box for deletion of records could prompt the user with options on which field to delete.
The DSNH project included many conventions of archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s. These include a reliance on more hierarchical fields than are used today. Because ArcheoLINK utilizes only trench, planum, feature, fill, and square, DSNH staff have had to include other hierarchical fields in the remarks section. This section is not searchable, so not all hierarchies are able to be represented in a query or analysis of the site’s geography. ArcheoLINK could include more hierarchical fields, or could give the user the option to break down existing hierarchical fields into larger units of investigation. The “find group” concept could be used here; for example, a trench could contain many different units that would all be connected, like the pieces of a broken artifact are connected.
Decades-old museum collections post other challenges to twenty-first century technology, also. The notes fields in each of the provenience levels do not provide a large amount of space for remarks from field notes. Because the notes are almost fifty years old, the authors did not plan to keep their observations to a certain number of characters. Making these fields larger and searchable would be ideal.
Technological issues were also prevalent with this project. Although some of these issues may have been on the DSNH side, many other small institutions may come across the same problems, so a permanent solution may be necessary. The DSNH system will only support one person working on ArcheoLINK at a time with the data on a desktop hard drive and backed up on an external hard drive; this has slowed our progress and our ability to train more staff or volunteers to use the system. This could be an issue for institutions that keep a minimal amount of artifacts in curation and run on one independent server, such as CRM firms. This problem may require more research, such as collecting data on the institutions that utilize ArcheoLINK and the setup of their servers.
Finally, terminology is another hurdle that DSNH has had to jump. Switching the European conventions to American conventions would be helpful, especially for new users. Also, Dutch error messages could be translated into English for ease of database entry.
These improvements would assist the DSNH with future projects, and would have an impact on other museums trying to inventory decades-old archaeological collections Things the DSNH would change before starting a new project within ArcheoLINK would be to: a) start with maps instead of artifacts (staff was unable to do this because of stipulations of the CLIR grant); and b) if in the field, predetermine a numbering system that could be entered into ArcheoLINK before artifacts were entered.