As most of you know by now, we’ll be implementing Aeon here at the RAC starting in a couple of months. This will be a pretty big project, and one that gives us the opportunity to reconfigure and restructure some core reference services workflows. It’s an exciting prospect, but one that will also involve a lot of change, so I thought I’d outline the three major processes that will be affected by Aeon.
Currently all of our researcher registration is done onsite, which means that researchers have to spend about half an hour filling out and signing forms when they first get here, rather than jumping right into their research. We manage some of this information in ATReference, and some of it via paper forms.
With Aeon, researchers will be able to register online ahead of time, filling out their contact information and electronically signing off on forms and agreements. In some cases researchers may be unable to complete the registration online before their visit, and Aeon accounts for those cases by allowing staff to create accounts for researchers as well. Not only does this mean that researchers will be able to begin their work much more promptly upon arriving, it also means that we’ll have all of the information about researchers in one place, and that we’ll be able to easily search and run reports on that data.
These user accounts serve as the basis around which Aeon structures a number of other workflows. Researchers can log into their account, manage their information, and initiate a number of processes such as requests for material, copies or scans.
Retrievals and reshelving
One set of processes that Aeon will help us manage better is our retrieval and reshelving workflows. These processes are currently managed and documented almost exclusively with paper-based forms, which creates several sets of problems.
First of all, it means that researchers have to interpret the information they find in DIMES or in paper finding aids and translate that to a materials request form. As a result, these forms are often filled out incorrectly, incompletely, or illegibly, which then results in a lot of wasted staff time (not to mention unnecessary frustration) spent looking up materials and then connecting them to our shelf list.
Perhaps most importantly, though, it means that we don’t have a way to track use of collections (or even what collections a researcher used) without doing a lot of tedious culling through paper slips. As a result, we can’t really make fully informed decisions about preservation priorities or offsite storage for collections. This will only become a larger problem in the coming years as our holdings continue to grow.
Aeon will connect with both DIMES and ArchivesSpace to leverage the descriptive data in both of those systems. Researchers will be able to request materials directly from online finding aids, and Aeon will gather together the relevant information needed by staff to retrieve the material, generate any necessary paper forms, and provide checkpoints for managing the physical process of pulling material and returning it to its proper location once a researcher is done with it. Since not all of our materials are described in DIMES (yet!) we’ll need to have a secondary avenue for requesting materials. We’ll figure out exactly what that looks like as we get further into the implementation process.
In addition to managing requests to pull and reshelve material, Aeon also has the ability to manage duplication processes, including photocopying as well as digital duplication.
As with retrieval and reshelving, our workflows for duplication are managed via a number of paper forms and logs, creating a similar set of problems; inefficiency, inaccuracy and a lack of reporting functionality. In addition, since we record credit card information on paper forms, there are serious issues regarding security of sensitive information.
With Aeon, researchers will initiate requests for duplication. Interfacing with DIMES and ArchivesSpace, Aeon will pass along the appropriate information to initiate and manage this process. Credit card processing is handled by a third-party vendor, creating a much more secure process for researchers which will also entail less work on our end.
Since Aeon is so flexible, it’s possible we’ll find other ways for the system to help us manage workflows. For example, it may be able to help us manage loans of material to donor institutions, initiate and track preservation activities, and keep tabs on material used in exhibitions.
With all of these processes, implementing Aeon will give us a chance to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. Many of our workflows for reference services have been inherited from a time when archives, scholarship and the RAC were all very different. This is a great chance for us to think about what kind of needs our researchers have, and how we can best meet those needs through unique, value-added services that minimize the amount of menial labor on our part and improve the experience of our researchers.
If you’re interested in reading more about Aeon, you can visit their website, or take a look at their brochure which explains how the system works in more detail.