[Archivesspace_Users_Group] archival object vs. instance?

Matthew J Gorzalski mGorzalski at lib.siu.edu
Fri May 15 15:44:13 EDT 2015

Thanks for clarifying Maureen.  I don’t think I’d ever seen archival object or instance used before in description and it was throwing me off.  I was also confused between the Archon’s container list interface and the way ASpace separates instantiation and description.   But I thought it might be a design improvement if the Archival Object’s “basic information,” “dates” and “instances” menus could be designed into one menu at the top where you could designate your level, instance, and descriptive information.


From: archivesspace_users_group-bounces at lyralists.lyrasis.org [mailto:archivesspace_users_group-bounces at lyralists.lyrasis.org] On Behalf Of Callahan, Maureen
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2015 1:12 PM
To: Archivesspace Users Group
Subject: Re: [Archivesspace_Users_Group] archival object vs. instance?

Hi Maura,

That’s right. I would consider your example to be not terribly useful description, and would also say that there are better ways of letting people know where to find stuff in boxes. You can think of archival objects as a guide to meaningful information about the collection – we’re here to explain the content and context of objects in our care, to make sense of it. Instances, then, are just a relationship between that description and where you can find the darn stuff. Description is important, containers are not.

I’ve written about this before here: https://icantiemyownshoes.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/the-value-of-archival-description-considered/

And here: https://icantiemyownshoes.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/on-containers/


Maureen Callahan
Archivist, Metadata Specialist
Manuscripts & Archives
Yale University Library
maureen.callahan at yale.edu<mailto:maureen.callahan at yale.edu>

Webpage: web.library.yale.edu/mssa
Collections: drs.library.yale.edu

From: archivesspace_users_group-bounces at lyralists.lyrasis.org<mailto:archivesspace_users_group-bounces at lyralists.lyrasis.org> [mailto:archivesspace_users_group-bounces at lyralists.lyrasis.org] On Behalf Of Maura Carbone
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2015 2:06 PM
To: Archivesspace Users Group
Subject: Re: [Archivesspace_Users_Group] archival object vs. instance?

Hi Maureen,
To follow up on that (as a non-archivist), would you recommend then not doing something like a nested Box1-> items in box1 etc.? Something like this:

[cid:image001.png at 01D08F18.788CB9E0]

I don't actually create finding aids, but I am now curious!


On Fri, May 15, 2015 at 1:55 PM, Callahan, Maureen <maureen.callahan at yale.edu<mailto:maureen.callahan at yale.edu>> wrote:
Hi Matt,

I would encourage you to think about encoding differently.

An archival object is similar to what’s considered a unit of description in DACS and a component in EAD. “Level” is an attribute that tells you something about that unit of description — it is associated with levels of granularity in recordkeeping, and has NOTHING to do with boxes and folders. Setting level=‘box’ or level=‘folder’ would be an error, and an unfortunate conflation of groups of records and the physical wrappers that contain them. Please don’t do this.

When you create an archival object, you’re creating a description of evidence from the past, regardless of its physicality. This is why you can associate a digital OR physical instance of it. Indeed, the same archival object may be just digital, physical across different instances, or digital and physical. I like that ArchivesSpace has separated description from instantiation.


On May 15, 2015, at 12:18 PM, Matthew J Gorzalski <mGorzalski at lib.siu.edu<mailto:mGorzalski at lib.siu.edu>> wrote:

This is difficult to explain in an email but here it goes…

I’m having trouble understanding the relationship between archival object and “instance” as it pertains to creating a finding aid content list.  The confusion stems from my familiarity with Archon’s straightforward parent-child relationship hierarchy, which uses established arrangement terminology.  Depending on the collection, creating a series, box, folder, etc. is simply a matter of selecting that option in Archon’s Level/Container menu and adjusting the parent-child relationships from there.

In ASpace, as I understand it, I first need to create an archival object and select the level of description.  If it is just a box list, I select “file” for box, title the box, and make the Component Unique Identifier “Box 1.”  But then I need to go to the “instance” menu and here is where I actually designate the container type as box, but I’m really just called in Box 1 for a second time in a different menu.  This seems redundant to me, because in the “archival object” data I’ve already called it Box 1 and given it a title.  Perhaps the interface could be simplified if the Archival Object, Instance, and Date menus were redesigned/merged so that you can create your archival object and designate the container type, titles, and dates right up front instead of having to scroll to the bottom for “instance.”  Container type, container title, and dates are the most important fields and the other menus like extent, agents, subjects etc. are added value but not critical in a box/folder list.

University Archivist


mgorzalski at lib.siu.edu<mailto:mgorzalski at lib.siu.edu>
P: 618/453-2225<tel:618%2F453-2225>
F: 618/453-3440<tel:618%2F453-3440>

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Maura Carbone
Digital Initiatives Librarian
Brandeis University
Library and Technology Services
(781) 736-4659
415 South Street, (MS 017/P.O. Box 549110)
Waltham, MA 02454-9110
email: mauraa at brandeis.edu<mailto:mauraa at brandeis.edu>
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