Find & Discover

The Digital Archive is all about making it easy for users to find what they are looking for and to discover things they didn't know existed. Get started as a user right now by learning how to search.

For archivists, the Digital Archive provides a powerful set of tools that allow you to catalog items in ways that make it easy for users to find and discover what's in your collection.

To get started using the Digital Archive:

Digital Archive terms and concepts

The terminology below appears throughout the documentation. Take a few minutes to read this information so that the rest of the documentation will be easier to understand.

Items & Metadata

An item represents one thing in a Digital Archive collection and all its associated metadata. Examples of items are photographs, documents, maps, publications, physical objects.

Metadata is information about information. For example, the information in a photograph is the image itself which is a picture of something. The metadata for a photograph is the information about the image such as the subjects in the picture or the name of the photographer.

Different kinds of metadata are stored in separate metadata fields such as Title, Type, Subject, and Description.

If you have used other kinds of databases, you might be more familiar with the terms records and columns rather than items and fields. They are the same thing.

A small collection might have only a few hundred items, whereas a large collection could have tens of thousands of items. How easy or difficult it will be for people to find items in a collection is affected by the quantity and quality of each item's metadata. Lots of good metadata that is specific to each item makes for good search results. Conversely, scant metadata, or metadata that is too broad for the item, negatively affects search results.

Type, Subject, and Keywords

An item's type tells you what kind of thing the item is. For example, an item's type might be photograph, document, or object (a teacup, for example). An item's subject clarifies its type. For example, an item of type photograph could have the subjects person and boat to indicate what it is a photograph of. A subject is not required for an item when its type is self-explanatory such as teacup. Read about Common Vocabulary Type and Subject.

Keywords are significant words in an item's Title, Description and all other metadata fields. There is no separate metadata field for keywords. They are simply the words an archivist chooses to describe an item.

Each item can have only one type. Typically an item will have one or two subjects and many keywords. An archivist's choice of an item's type, subject, and keywords affects how easy it will be for a user to find the item when they search the collection.

Image and PDF Attachments

An item can have digital images (photographs or scans) and PDF files attached to it. Keywords in the text of a searchable PDF file implicitly become part of the item's keyword metadata just as if they appeared in the item's Description or other metadata field. PDF attachments are commonly used to provide the biographical or historical information for a Reference item.

Learn about attaching files to an item


In addition to keyword searching, you can find items by drilling down into a collection based on its Subject, Type, Place, and Date facets. Facets appears in the Refine Your Search panel.

Facets let you find items of interest with just a few mouse clicks. For example, if you are looking for images of boats, but don't know what kind of boats are in the collection, you can use the Type and Subject facets to narrow down search results to Photographs of Vessels. You can then further narrow down the results to something more specific such as Sailboat.

Learn to search using facets

Reference Items

A Reference Item is an item that has its type set to Reference. These are special items that serve as stand-ins for things in the real world that are typically not part of a collection, but that tie other items in the collection together via relationships. The most common use of reference items is to provide biographical information about a person, and to provide historical information about a structure, vessel, business, organization, or event.

Learn about Reference Items


Relationships show how items are related to each other. For example, a collection might have three photographs of a person, plus a document about that person's life. These items are related because the photographs depict the person and the document is about the person in the photographs.

The Digital Archive displays related items together so that when you see one item, you also see its related items. For example, if a search turns up one of the photos of the person, you'll also see the other two photos and the document. For this to work, an archivist must establish relationships among the items in the collection.

Learn about Relationships

The documentation on this website describes all Digital Archive features, but some features might not be enabled on your installation. Which features are available depends on which Digital Archive plugins your site administrator has installed.

About the Digital Archive

George Soules and Charlotte Morrill developed the Archive Relational Model in 2016 for the Southwest Harbor Public Library in Maine. AvantLogic Corporation developed the Digital Archive technology to implement the model and showcase the Library’s large collection of historic photographs, documents, maps, and research materials. As of August 2020, sixteen cultural heritage organizations in Maine are using the Digital Archive. Of those, fourteen are sharing their collections online using the Digital Archive.

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