Library Archivists Receive Award

Dec 16, 2008

Two University Library Archivists Honored with 2008 Andrew Mellon Foundation Award

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library was honored in Washington DC on December 8th with a $100,000 Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration (MATC) for leadership and development work on Archon™—a set of web-based tools for describing archives and manuscripts collections and for providing on-line access to related digital objects, such as photographs and electronic records. 

Chris Prom, assistant university archivist and associate professor of library administration, accepted the award on behalf of the University at the Fall Task Force meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI).  Prom and Archon Project co-director Scott Schwartz (archivist for fine and applied arts and director of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music), developed the software with three of their students: Chris Rishel, Kyle Fox, and Paul Sorensen.  The software was first released in August 2006 and has gone through several refinements.

"The University Library commends Christopher Prom, Scott Schwartz, and the entire Archon team on this important award,” said professor Paula Kaufman, university librarian and dean of libraries for the University of Illinois.  “Archon is not only an invaluable resource to this Library and its community, but to archives, libraries, and museums around the world."

MATC Awards recognize not-for-profit organizations that are making substantial contributions of their own resources toward the development of open source software and the fostering of collaborative communities to sustain open source development.  The $100,000 award recognizes highly significant contributions to open source projects offering benefits to more or larger constituencies.  Archon was honored alongside some very well-known projects, including the Kerebos network authentication protocol, the Greenstone and Omeka digital library software, and the Open OceanMap Project.

“We feel humbled by this honor, particularly given the reputation of the other awardees,” said Prom.  “For the past several years, we’ve been cobbling together funding from internal research grants and our student wage budgets.  We knew we had a good idea, but to have this confirmation feels extraordinary.”

The committee that selected Archon included Sir Timothy Berners-Lee (widely acknowledged as the inventor of the World Wide Web), Mitchell Baker (chief executive officer, Mozilla Corporation), John Seely Brown (former chief scientist, Xerox Corp.), Vinton Cerf (vice president and chief Internet evangelist, Google, Inc.), John Gage (now of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and former chief researcher at Sun Microsystems), and Tim O’Reilly (founder and chief executive officer, O’R eilly Media).

Archon is used by many institutions worldwide, ranging from major scientific and research institutions such as the University of Florida and the Niels Bohr Archives, to smaller college archives including Wheaton College in Illinois. 

According to Leah Broaddus, university archivist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, “ Archon takes our profession very close to our visions of instant worldwide dissemination and access without asking us to forego the traditional benefits of finding aid structure and controlled vocabulary.  Archon makes us digital, without asking us to be programmers.”

Archon gives archivists, special collections librarians, and museum curators the ability to easily develop a collections management system and website containing searchable finding aids, digital objects, and electronic records. 

“Archon was developed especially to assist the many small repositories who often lack the technological and financial resources to make their collections easily accessible to worldwide audiences.  This was one of the primary reasons why we made the decision to make Archon freely available to all archives, libraries, and museums,” said Schwartz.  

“Archon has been a godsend,” notes John Lyles, archivist of the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries headquartered in Columbus, GA. “Our workflow has been streamlined, increasing our productivity. Public access has been greatly expanded through the creation of a searchable website and digital library. Impressive accomplishments especially when you consider that Archon had very little impact on our financial resources.”

The system currently uses a single web-based platform for data entry and delivery.  Prom and Schwartz have plans to make Archon even better—for both archival staff and for those who use archives in their research.  They acknowledge that the generous Mellon award will make that goal much easier to achieve.

For more information about Archon, visit www.archon.org.

Do you have a story you'd like added to the Library News & Events? If so, please contact Heather Murphy (hmurphy@illinois.edu).