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About Arches
Open Source Software

About Arches

Who is Arches built for?
Arches has been created for organizations that maintain inventories of heritage places, including governments, research institutions, and private organizations. Arches has been designed to serve primarily as an enterprise-level system, and not as a desktop application.

Is Arches a project to combine data from different organizations or sources into one system?
No. Each implementation of Arches is a standalone system, controlled entirely by the organization that chooses to deploy the software

So there isn’t one centralized repository?
That’s correct. Each organization controls access to any installation of Arches that it sets up.

Do the data in Arches have to be visible or accessible to the public?
No. Each organization can choose whether or not to make its repository accessible online, in accordance with its information access policy. Should an individual implementation of Arches be made publicly accessible, organizations may select certain types of information or classes of sites to be hidden from view. A system administrator is able to further define on a field-by-field level the data that users have access to, for example, depending on their login credentials.

If I make information publicly available using Arches, do I retain copyright?
Copyright issues deal with an individual organization’s data and have no implications for the use of Arches. (See “What license is Arches distributed under?”below). Please refer to laws in your country about making copyright material available over the internet.

Have you heard about crowdsourcing? Is the Arches project trying to crowdsource information about heritage sites? Could we use Arches for that purpose?
Yes, Arches could be used for crowdsourcing. Organizations implementing Arches have control over the ability of public users to view, edit, and create data.

What is the CIDOC CRM? Do I need to know about it?
The CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) is an ontology for cultural heritage information that has been developed by the International Committee for Documentation (CIDOC) of the International Council of Museums.  Using the CRM allows data to be encoded with an additional layer of meaning, which makes them more intelligible by machines and even by humans. This in turn enhances the long-term usability of data in Arches, promotes interoperability of data in Arches with other information systems, and lays the foundation for publishing data as linked open data (LOD). Arches works by mapping its data to CRM classes and properties, using a special graph structure. While the CIDOC CRM is useful for anyone who is interested in inventories to be familiar with, it is especially important to have an understanding of it if you or your organization would like to modify the Arches graphs. There are various resources on the CRM available online, as well as in the Arches documentation and the Arches Forum.

Other than the software, what else does the Arches “system” involve?
Arches is a tool that can help you to improve heritage management in your jurisdiction. However, no software system can provide a substitute for appropriate legislation, professional expertise, and management and reporting structures within an organization. Arches adopters should also expect to establish data collection standards, including relevant controlled vocabularies, that result in well-structured and meaningful data.



What does “web-based system” mean?
Arches is built to be accessed using a web browser, with most Arches deployments operating on a server. Access can be limited to qualified users, and is controlled by a system administrator.

If it is a requirement to be able to make a version of our repository available to the public over the internet, can we do that using Arches?
Yes! Arches provides many intuitive ways for the public to search the data that you make available online and to access information related to heritage places.

If it is a requirement that only staff of our organization have access to our repository, can we still use Arches?
Yes! An organization can set up Arches for internal use and access only.

We would like to be able to share some information with the public, but also hide some sensitive data that we don’t want to be publicly available. Can we do that using Arches?
Yes! Arches allows extremely granular control over which users or groups of users (such as the general public) have access to specific items of information. In fact, a system administrator can control access at a field-by-field level.

Does Arches work on smartphones or tablets?
Yes – provided that you have an internet connection. The Arches user interface has been designed for display on screens of all sizes.

Can I attach an image to a record?
Yes! Users are able to upload images to your Arches database and associate them with existing records. What is more, images that you upload to Arches are treated as resources in their own right. This means that you can add or edit information about them and relate them to any number of resources without needing to upload them again.

How would someone carry out a condition assessment using Arches?
Users can select the overall condition of a site or other resource from a pre-populated drop-down menu and enter the date when it was assessed, and they are also able to record disturbances, threats, and management recommendations in the same way, as well as enter a free text description. As with all controlled vocabularies in Arches, the ones that power assessment of conditions can be managed from within the application (by a qualified user). Images can also be uploaded as part of a condition assessment.

Is it possible to export data?
Yes! The results of a query can be exported as .csv and .shp files. Raw data can be exported in .csv and .shp file formats that other instances of Arches may be able to import. Reference data (controlled vocabulary concepts used to populate dropdown menus) can be exported in SKOS format.

Does Arches record movable heritage?
Arches has been designed to record all types of immovable heritage. Arches provides the ability to record findspots of artifacts as a means to describe sites, but it has not been designed as a collections management tool. For a discussion of this question in greater detail, including ways to achieve additional functionality that may be required for movable heritage, please visit the Arches forum.


Open Source Software

What is open source software?
Open source software is computer software that is freely available in source code form. The code can be modified and redistributed without restriction. Arches has been open source since its inception.

Why was Arches developed as open source software?
An open source approach was chosen because we believe it offers Arches adopters the ability to realize substantial flexibility and cost savings compared to the use of proprietary software. As an open source product, the Arches software is available at no cost, individual adopters may modify it to meet their specific needs, and may pool resources with other organizations to pay for customizations and maintenance. Under the open source license, any improvements must be made available to everyone.

What’s the role of the Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund?
The Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund led the initial development of Arches (see Project Background) with the goal of creating an open source software project. The GCI and WMF are only two of many active stakeholders. The GCI and WMF believe a thriving open source community will be a key determinant to Arches being broadly adopted over the long term, and are therefore committed to providing resources to support the community’s website and management during the first years of its existence.

What license is Arches distributed under?
Arches is distributed under the GNU Affero General Public License, version 3 (AGPL3). The AGPL3 is similar to the GNU General Public License, and it is specially designed so that modifications to software used on network servers become available to the development community. The AGPL3 requires that derivative works be distributed under the same license. Learn more about the GNU Affero General Public License, version 3 here.



Is Arches a Geographic Information System (GIS)?
Yes. Arches models location-based data, such as position and extent, using geospatial data, such as points, linestrings, and polygons (as well as the coordinate systems and spatial analyses associated with GIS).

Do Arches users have to be trained GIS specialists in order to use the system?
No. Although Arches allows users to create and edit GIS data, we have developed a user interface that shields users from much of the complexity usually associated with GIS software.

Does Arches use Esri GIS?
No, Arches does not require any Esri software. Esri software requires users to purchase expensive software licenses, which we believe would limit the ability of many organizations to deploy Arches. Instead, Arches uses robust, well-supported, and technologically advanced Open Source alternatives to Esri software. For example, Arches uses PostGIS and GeoServer as a high-performance alternative to ArcGIS Server.

Can I use my existing Esri technology with Arches?
Yes. Arches can import and export data as .shp files, which are compatible with Esri technology. Information in Arches also can be published through mapping services that ArcGIS can use for cartographic production, spatial analyses, and “what-if” scenario planning.


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Last updated:  March 2017