AzAA Blog post November 2020

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This month we feature a write up regarding the Arizona Archives Online (AAO) platform from AzAA Director at Large and AAO Liaison, Elizabeth Dunham, Associate Archivist at Arizona State University Library.  

Arizona Archives Online (AAO) is a consortium of 15 cultural heritage institutions ranging from large universities to small museums dedicated to providing “free Internet access to descriptions of archival collections, preserved and made accessible by Arizona repositories … to inform, enrich, and empower the public by creating and promoting access to a vast array of primary sources across the state of Arizona.”  As of November of 2020, AAO hosts nearly 4,000 guides authored and uploaded by its partners.  Via AAO’s homepage, users can search the entire collection of guides at once, allowing them to locate resources of interest at multiple repositories through a single search. This functionality is particularly useful in cases where collections have become fragmented and several repositories hold different pieces.  AAO exposes these guides for harvesting by ArchiveGrid, which makes them searchable as part of a database of over 5 million records contributed by more than 1,000 institutions. These guides can also be searched using Google, although less efficiently.

AAO was established in 2004 as a partnership between Arizona’s three major universities (Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University), the Arizona Historical Society’s Northern Division, and the Heard Museum. Its founders aimed to support and empower Arizona’s smaller and rural institutions by creating a consortia environment for hosting finding aids that would enable organizations with limited staffing and technological resources to make descriptions of their holdings available online.

The resource initially relied on grant funding and contributions from the three universities and the State Library for most of its financial support. This model proved unsustainable in large part due to its creation of periods of extremely minimal funding during which AAO struggled to survive.  In 2012, the Steering Committee proposed major administrative changes designed to stabilize the resource, including implementing a dues structure and merging with the Arizona Archives Alliance so that the Alliance could serve as AAO’s fiscal agent. The logistics of paying AAO’s bills had long been problematic – because AAO was not incorporated, it could not have its own bank account.  It thus had to rely on one of its members when money needed to change hands, often resulting in inefficiency and frustration.  The proposed changes were adopted by unanimous vote of AAO’s members and the Alliance Board and AAO became a standing, self-governing committee of the Alliance in April of 2013.  In 2017, AAO migrated from an Arizona State University server to a Digital Ocean instance, thus becoming near-fully independent.

AAO has been involved with several metadata initiatives over the course of its history. Most recently, it participated in the “Towards a National Finding Aid Network” (NAFAN) project as a Core Partner. Convened by the California Digital Library, this effort aims to fundamentally rethink finding aid aggregation in order to facilitate participation by a wider array of collaborators, expand collection description options beyond the finding aid, and meet the needs of a diverse set of end users.  It also directly addresses issues of sustainability, including transitioning away from such outmoded technologies as the XTF framework that AAO and many other aggregators rely on and finding ways to ease the often heavy burdens of maintenance and migration.  The initiative recently secured a $982,175 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to continue its work, and AAO looks forward to continued collaboration and improvement.

For more information, please feel free to contact AAO at

Published by Arizona Archives Alliance

The Arizona Archives Alliance is a nonprofit organization that advocates for Arizona's historical archives and their users, provides training to archivists and archive volunteers, and promotes the use of Arizona’s historical archives.

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