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What is Arches, How is It Implemented
Uses of Arches
Arches and Open Source
Arches and the Getty Conservation Institute
Arches Features
Arches and Standards
Access Control and Permissions

What is Arches, How is It Implemented

What is Arches and where is it installed?
Arches is a Web-based open-source software platform that organizations independently deploy on their own servers or their own cloud computing accounts for management of their data. The Arches platform works as a Web server, and Arches users interact with Arches through their Web browsers. While Arches uses standard Web technologies, all of these interactions can be as secure and private as required.

What skills are needed to install Arches?
Installing Arches requires some technical skills, especially familiarity with Web servers and familiarity with command line interactions, as well as administrative privileges on the hardware used by Arches. Familiarity with Python, Django, Elasticsearch, and Postgres/PostGIS is also recommended.

How difficult and expensive is it to install Arches?
Because Arches is open source, it can be deployed free of charge. However, Arches requires more time and technical expertise than installing apps on phones or personal computers. Arches is a powerful, enterprise-level application that requires sufficient hardware to run and requires support by people with technical backgrounds in Web hosting and systems administration.

Where are Arches data stored?
Each organization decides where to store their own data in Arches independently. Sometimes they use servers they own, sometimes they use servers contracted via cloud computing services.

Is there a single centralized Arches database?
No. Each organization controls access to any installation of Arches that it sets up. Each organization independently has full control and responsibility over the data they manage with Arches.

Are data managed in an Arches instance controlled in any way by the Getty?
No, absolutely not. Each organization that implements Arches controls its own information completely independently. The Getty has no access or even knowledge of the data in any Arches instance unless the owners of that instance choose to make such information public.

Uses of Arches

What purpose does Arches serve?
Arches is an enterprise-level system developed to improve data management in support of effective heritage conservation and management. Because Arches has grown in power and flexibility it serves a wide range of needs in the cultural heritage sector and beyond.

What is Arches used for?
Arches serves a variety of needs in the cultural heritage sector and beyond. Some of these needs include:

  • Identification and documentation
  • Conservation and protection
  • Compliance and impact assessment
  • Planning
  • Emergency preparedness and response
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Public Engagement
  • Crowdsourcing

Arches and Open Source

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 freely available to everyone under the same license.

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 entire Arches 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.

Does the Open-Source license impact the copyright status of my data?
No. Copyright ownership of content managed by an organization’s instance of Arches will not be changed by use of Arches. The Arches open-source license only applies to software, not to data managed in an Arches instance. Please refer to laws in your country about making copyright material available over the internet via Arches or any other platform.

Does use of open-source software require sharing open data?
No, absolutely not. Open source refers to the software code being open, not the data. Open source is not related to data access and permissions. In many cases, organizations have legal and ethical obligations to protect sensitive information with strict access restrictions. Arches open-source software has powerful tools to manage access permissions and restrictions to data.

Is Arches really free of cost?
While Arches, as open-source software, can be freely installed and modified without licensing fees, no technology is developed or maintained without cost. Another key cost-savings from open source comes from the pooling of resources across multiple organizations and the wider community. While running Arches will require your organization to invest in technical infrastructure, technical expertise, training, and maintenance, pooled investments from the Arches community can reduce these costs and make planning more predictable.

Arches and the Getty Conservation Institute

What’s the motivation behind the Getty Conservation Institute’s development of Arches?
As part of a nonprofit charitable organization, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has a mission and legal charter to serve the public interest through the conservation of cultural heritage. As a public charity, the GCI and its staff are required by law to direct funding and programs towards this public interest mission and they are not permitted to engage in profit seeking. Open source aligns with the GCI’s public interest goals and values.

What’s the role of the Getty Conservation Institute in the Arches Project?
The Getty Conservation Institute is the sponsor of the Arches Project. A decade of investments from the GCI, and initial investments by the World Monument Fund, created a stable software platform for cultural heritage data management where little existed before. The GCI believes a thriving open-source community will be a key determinant to Arches being broadly adopted and supported over the long term. The GCI is now working with other community stakeholders through the Arches Governance Initiative to transition to a more community-governed and sustainable open-source project. See FAQs about the Arches Governance Initiative here.

Arches Features

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 authorized users, as required by each organization, and is controlled by a system administrator.

Why is Arches considered enterprise-level software?
We characterize Arches as “enterprise-level” to highlight how Arches is designed for deployment in organizational contexts with both needs and capabilities beyond those typical of an individual person. Arches aims to support data management needs for organizations in the cultural heritage sector (and beyond). For this purpose, Arches must be deployed on public or private networks to be able to simultaneously serve multiple users, manage their permissions, and scale to host sometimes very large collections of data. These requirements mean that deploying Arches is more complex and involved than installing an app on a phone or a personal computer. While Arches can be installed and tested on a personal computer, it is designed for deployment on servers in a networked environment.

If it is a requirement to make our data available to the public over the internet, can we do that using Arches?
Yes! Arches provides many intuitive ways for the public to access and search the data that you make available online.

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 completely private, 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.

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 can be 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.

Is it possible to export search results data?
Yes! The results of a search query can be exported by users as .csv, .shp, Excel and geojson url files. The search result data that can be exported by users is determined by the administrator of that Arches instance.

Can I migrate data into and out of Arches?
Yes, absolutely. Arches provides a number of tools to import and export data, including tools for bulk data migration and comprehensive export. Arches uses the open-source PostgreSQL database to store data in non-proprietary formats. This also provides a large variety of widely known and supported methods for data migration. These multiple data migration pathways help give organizations full control over their data.

Arches and Standards

What are “semantic standards” and why are they important for Arches?
Arches both supports and recommends adoption of semantic standards, especially the CIDOC-CRM. These standards promote data interoperability and longevity because they help explain the meaning of data in an Arches instance to future users of that data no matter what software they choose to use. These semantic standards also promote better data modeling because they are developed and improved over many years by experts in organizing information. Thus, such standards support more precise data searching, analyses, and interpretation.

We have unique data modeling needs. Can we still use Arches?
Absolutely! Arches provides powerful and flexible features to allow users to organize data to meet their own needs. Arches users can adopt shared standards, they can design their own unique data structures, or they can combine elements of standard data models shared by the wider community with their own customized schemas. Moreover, one does not need to be a programmer or database expert to use Arches for data modeling. The Arches user interface gives these capabilities to end users, which both reduces costs and allows for more experimentation and iteration in organizing information.

Are you saying that I can use Arches to adopt standards and customize data for my own needs?
Yes! The ability to both participate in community-wide standards and shape custom data models is one of the most powerful and compelling features of Arches. Both global semantic standards and more local systems of meaning can coexist in an Arches instance as required.

What other standards does Arches support?
In addition to semantic standards, Arches also implements a wide range of other key technological standards. These include:

  • GeoJSON: widely used open standard data format for geospatial information
  • JSON-LD: widely used open format for expressing linked data
  • REST API: REST is a software architectural style based on HTTP (Web) standards that promotes web interoperability through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). REST makes it easier for programmers to integrate Arches with other information systems.
  • Library of Congress Extended Data/Time Format (EDTF): an extension of ISO 8601, the international standard for specifying dates, to handle uncertainty and other complexities in specifying dates (often referred to as “fuzzy dates”).
  • IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework): a set of open standards for hosting images and web services about images
  • W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0 (implementation in Arches in progress): a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible to users with disabilities

Access Control and Permissions

Who controls access and use permissions?
You’re in control. Arches gives you full control over the data you manage. You can set strict access permissions to all, to some, or to none of the data in your instance.

What set of access and permissions rules does Arches implement?
You determine and set the rules. Permissions can be set for every aspect of the way you organize your data. You can use Arches to set access controls according to your specific requirements.

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Last updated:  November 2023