Arches—RLG's Archival Server Infrastructure
"Arches" is a concatenation of "archival server," suggesting the bridges between metadata and the whole information objects they describe. It also is intended to reflect the doorways into research resources made available by RLG.
In 1996 RLG launched a variety of efforts to build the conceptual and physical infrastructure to contain information in digital form, provide tools for meaningful access, and ensure long-term availability of the information. The Arches project focused on an online repository for digital resources and the software environment for international access and responsible maintenance.
Digitized collections, finding aids that describe the contents of collections, and other "whole information objects"—all could be maintained in the Arches environment. Databases of bibliographic and citation records could then extend beyond just description and point to whole documents.
Together, Arches and the "Studies in Scarlet" digital collections project specifically addressed the RLG Mid-Decade Planning Group's recommendations for action:
- coordinate digital conversion of research materials;
- ensure quality, retain rights, and achieve critical mass in a reasonable time;
- complement, extend, and reinforce RLG traditional services and programs; and
- provide leadership in establishing protocols and addressing control and access issues.
Another early use of the Arches infrastructure was the WebDOC initiative. Between 1996 and 1998 RLG, in conjunction with Pica (the Dutch Centre for Library Automation), added to the Arches infrastructure the ability to support links on the Web between a database of catalog records and digitized information objects (such as articles)— plus a suite of access control and management functions, which allowed rights holders and other providers to restrict and/or charge for the use of their documents. While the functionality was a bit ahead of its time (no providers stepped forward to make controlled-access publications available in this way), the functionality was successfully tested.
Work begun with Arches continues as RLG moves into new generations of hardware and software, including the latest storage and server hardware, object-relational database management software, and a Hierarchical File Management system. The modular Arches design facilitates these changes. Some of the early modules, such as navigation of complex digital objects and an approach to authentication, have been redesigned to respond to external advancements and to meet current needs.
The evolving Arches infrastructure makes possible many current RLG services—RLG Archival Resources, RLG Cultural Materials, and The AMICO Library™ from RLG—and supports RLG's long-term retention investigations. Our experiences with storage and migration of archival versions of digital artifacts informs RLG's support of responsible practices in digital archiving.