This interview with Bonnie Gordon, volunteer at Interference Archive, is part of an ongoing series of interviews with CollectiveAccess users. Bonnie has volunteered at Interference Archive since 2013 and is involved in the Cataloging, Administration, and Born Digital Working Groups. She received her MA in Archives and Public History from NYU and works as Assistant Digital Archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center.
Q: Describe how Collective Access functions at Interference Archive: Why did you decide to use it? What do you use it for? How many staff members interface with it? How does it contribute to the organizational mission?
A: The decision to go with CollectiveAccess predates my involvement at Interference Archive. That being said, we were interested in open source software that was highly customizable and CollectiveAccess fit the bill. It’s important for us that we have a catalog that could be customized to meet the needs of our collection of social movement ephemera, our all-volunteer staff, and our researchers (many of whom are not from an academic background). We use both Providence and Pawtucket to catalog our materials so researchers can find them, display digitized materials, and keep track of donations to our collection. Since Interference Archive is all-volunteer, it’s hard to put an exact number on who uses CollectiveAccess. Many of our catalogers are volunteers who show up to our cataloging parties. But I’d say that around 5–10 people are involved in customizing the database and creating cataloging guidelines.
Q: Tell us about a time you ran into a problem doing something you wanted to do with CollectiveAccess. What was the problem and how did you solve it?
A: As someone who does not have a highly technical background, I found setting up a local instance of Providence in order to do some experimentation to be beyond my capabilities. I wanted to do this so that I could test some features without breaking our catalog, as well as use the instance to train other volunteers on working with some of the more technical aspects of CollectiveAccess. I still haven’t fully solved this issue, but I plan to turn to my fellow Interference volunteers for support.
Q: What’s one thing you wish you knew how to do/do better with CollectiveAccess?
A: I would really like to learn more about using the API, but I’ve found the official documentation to be lacking. At my day job, we use ArchivesSpace as our collections management system, and I’ve helped build all sorts of fun tools using the ArchivesSpace API. I think using the CollectiveAccess API would be a game changer; we could manipulate data more easily, importing and exporting could be easier, and we could build fun things like Twitter bots that tweet out recently added catalog records.
Q: Have you ever used resources or sought advice on CollectiveAccess from other institutions that use it? Have you ever participated in discussions with other members of the CollectiveAccess user community?
A: I, and others from Interference, have attended some CollectiveAccess user group meetings in the past. Since most Interference volunteers who work with CollectiveAccess have library day jobs (i.e., 9-5 jobs), it can be difficult to attend meetings that are during the day on weekdays. I have participated in informal discussions with other members of the user community, and I’m looking forward to increasing virtual conversations in the Google Group.
Q: What advice do you have for organizations who are considering adopting CollectiveAccess as a cataloging or digital collections platform?
A: Interference Archive has found CollectiveAccess’s customizability to be vital for how we approach cataloging and our collections. That being said, the customizability has come at a cost of having a high learning curve. It’s important to have someone (or someones) technically savvy and good at troubleshooting if you’re using CollectiveAccess at your institution.