Archives and the Computer by Michael J. Cook (Auth.)

By Michael J. Cook (Auth.)

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The popularity of paper lists and indexes is based mainly on traditional attitudes and the fact that access to electronically stored data has not been easy until recently. Even so, on-line access will presumably always have some need for line printer backup. A combination of the two allows a very flexible interaction between the user and the computer, and will provide for instant access to data and for the production of updated hard copy which can be used in the office or searchroom, sent through the post or for publication.

Both are based on the descriptive information which is contained in it. In archival terms, descriptions consist of a combination of free text and dedicated fields . The latter may be easily retrieved by any system which can recognize and retrieve data in specified fields: thus where the dates of items in a series of documents are placed in separate 'date' fields, most computer systems would be able to sort these into a chronological list. It is mainly the free text fields which are suitable subjects for indexing or searching.

Usually two data input forms will be needed: a complex form for inputting new archival descriptions, and a simpler form for inputting updating information (amendments and deletions). Direct data entry coupled with strong automatic validation facilities may make input forms less necessary. This is discussed in a later section. When on-line working is introduced, the situation has already changed. Contact with the computer is by way of equipment installed in the archives office itself, and staff members who use it must clearly be familiar both with the system requirements and with the original data.

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