University of Minnesota
Immigration History Research Center

Immigration History Research Center's home page.


VITRAGE (Virtual Information and Tools for Research of Archives on the ImmiGrant Experience) was developed by the IHRC in late 2004-present to provide online access to the Center's archival collections. It has been one of the results or products made possible by a re-design of the IHRC's Collection Management database (in the informal working environment of the Center a.k.a. Collmas Ardimmex or Collection Management System for Archives Documenting Immigrant Experience). The objective of the project (2003-present) was to create a system that would enable the Center to centrally store and manage descriptive as well as administrative information about its archival collections reflecting their "life cycle" and also generate various reports and standardized finding aids. VITRAGE is in a way a virtual off-spring of "Collmas Ardimmex" presenting finding aids for the IHRC archival collections on the web, also a relative to COLLAGE, the IHRC online database of images. VITRAGE invites viewers to have a glance at the Center's collections through a filter - sometimes colorful, see examples with images - of finding aids.

During the process of developing the system, the IHRC benefitted greatly from intensive cooperation with software developer Craig Johnson of Sogn Design. Communication between archivists and a professional programmer has proven not only possible, but effective and fruitful. After considering the existing collection management practices, reviewing and evaluating the workflow at the Center and assessing future goals including fast delivery of information about collections to the users, a decision was made to continue using a MS Access database which the Center first utilized in 1998 (with the prospect of eventually migrating it to MySQL). However, the original database was redesigned and a new relational database was created to meet the Center's present and future needs and goals. In addition to MS Access, two newly developed software products - MARC Import and EAD Builder (both in the Microsoft.NET environment) - are used to 1) import the existing MARC records for the IHRC collections converted to EAD format into the database and 2) generate in an automated way standardized (EAD) finding aids that are simultaneously converted into HTML format for display on the IHRC website. VITRAGE makes use of the HTML files to create a virtual environment allowing visitors to the Center's website to either browse or search the finding aids using the Google search engine, and making them discoverable by Internet users outside the IHRC website as well.

This is still very much a work in progress as legacy finding aids, acquisition and other information are being entered in the database, new collections are being acquired, accessioned and described - depending on the degree of processing capacity currently available at the Center. The IHRC strives to maintain VITRAGE as up-to-date as possible, so that an online access point to at least rudimentary descriptive information is created for all collections (currently ca. 1600), for newly received ones immediately or very soon after acquisition.

The level of description in the present finding aids differs according to the degree to which the materials have been processed. At least a basic record (examples) is provided for all collections, for the majority, a collection level description (examples) derived (in most instances) from a MARC record is available (and all MARC records for IHRC archival collections can also be searched - along with records for catalogued print holdings - in MNCAT), detailed descriptions (inventories) including container lists (examples) are provided for selected collections, some inventories contain links to digital images of items (in COLLAGE) selected from the individual folders (examples). For those finding aids where sufficient descriptive information has been compiled to meet the University of Minnesota Libraries Best Practices requirements, fully searchable EAD files will be submitted to the future U of MN Libraries central EAD site.

Explore IHRC archival collections through VITRAGE!