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Friday, 12 May 2017

AtoM Camp take aways

The view from the window at AtoM Camp ...not that there was
any time to gaze out of the window of course...
I’ve spent the last three days in Cambridge at AtoM Camp. This was the second ever AtoM Camp, and the first in Europe. A big thanks to St John’s College for hosting it and to Artefactual Systems for putting it on.

It really has been an interesting few days, with a packed programme and an engaged group of attendees from across Europe and beyond bringing different levels of experience with AtoM.

As a ‘camp counsellor’ I was able to take to the floor at regular intervals to share some of our experiences of implementing AtoM at the Borthwick, covering topics such as system selection, querying the MySQL database, building the community and overcoming implementation challenges.

However, I was also there to learn!

Here are some bits and pieces that I’ve taken away.

My first real take away is that I now have a working copy of the soon to be released AtoM 2.4 on my Macbook - this is really quite cool. I'll never again be bored on a train - I can just fire up Ubuntu and have a play!

Walk to Camp takes you over Cambridge's Bridge of Sighs
During the camp it was great to be able to hear about some of the new features that will be available in this latest release.

At the Borthwick Institute our catalogue is still running on AtoM 2.2 so we are pretty excited about moving to 2.4 and being able to take advantage of all of this new functionality.

Just some of the new features I learnt about that I can see an immediate use case are:

  • Being able to generate slugs (the end bit of the URL to a record in AtoM) from archival reference numbers rather than titles - this makes perfect sense to me and would make for neater links
  • A modification of the re-indexing script which allows you to specify which elements you want to re-index. I like this one as it means I will not need to get out of bed so early to carry out re-indexes if for example it is only the (non-public facing) accessions records that need indexing.
  • Some really helpful changes to the search results - The default operator in an AtoM search has now been changed from ‘OR’ to ‘AND’. This is a change we already made to our local instance (as have several others) but it is good to see that AtoM now has this built in. Another change focuses on weighting of results and ensures that the most relevant results appear first. This relevance ranking is related to the fields in which the search terms appear - thus, a hit in the title field would appear higher than a hit in scope and content.
  • Importing data through the interface will be carried out through the job scheduler so will be better and won't time out. This is great news as it will give colleagues the ability to do all imports themselves rather than having to wait until someone can do this through the command line


On day two of camp I enjoyed the implementation tours, seeing how other institutions have implemented AtoM and the tweaks and modifications they have made. For example it was interesting to see the shopping cart feature developed for the Mennonite Archival Image Database and most popular image carousel feature on front page of the Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project. I was also interested in some of the modifications the National Library of Wales have made to meet their own needs.

It was also nice to hear the Borthwick Catalogue described  by Dan as “elegant”!


There was a great session on community and governance at the end of day two which was one of the highlights of the camp for me. It gave attendees the chance to really understand the business model of Artefactual (as well as alternatives to the bounty model in use by other open source projects). We also got a full history of the evolution of AtoM and saw the very first project logo and vision.

The AtoM vision hasn't changed too much but the name and logo have!

Dan Gillean from Artefactual articulated the problem of trying to get funding for essential and ongoing tasks, such as code modernisation. Two examples he used were updating AtoM to work with the latest version of Symfony and Elasticsearch - both of these tasks need to happen in order to keep AtoM moving in the right direction but both require a substantial amount of work and are not likely to be picked up and funded by the community.

I was interested to see Artefactual’s vision for a new AtoM 3.0 which would see some fundamental changes to the way AtoM works and a more up-to-date, modular and scalable architecture designed to meet the future use cases of the growing AtoM community.

Artefactual's proposed modular architecture for AtoM 3.0

There is no time line for AtoM 3.0, and whether it goes ahead or not is entirely dependent on a substantial source of funding being available. It was great to see Artefactual sharing their vision and encouraging feedback from the community at this early stage though.

Another highlight of Camp:
a tour of the archives of St John's College from Tracy Deakin
A session on data migrations on day three included a demo of OpenRefine from Sara Allain from Artefactual. I’d heard of this tool before but wasn’t entirely sure what it did and whether it would be of use to me. Sara demonstrated how it could be used to bash data into shape before import into AtoM. It seemed to be capable of doing all the things that I’ve previously done in Excel (and more) ...but without so much pain. I’ll definitely be looking to try this out when I next have some data to clean up.

Dan Gillean and Pete Vox from IMAGIZ talked through the process of importing data into AtoM. Pete focused on an example from Croydon Museum Service who's data needed to be migrated from CALM. He talked through some of the challenges of the task and how he would approach this differently in future. It is clear that the complexities of data migration may be one of the biggest barriers to institutions moving to AtoM from an alternative system, but it was encouraging to hear that none of these challenges are insurmountable.

My final take away from AtoM Camp is a long list of actions - new things I have learnt that I want to read up on or try out for myself ...I best crack on!