Computers in Libraries
Vol. 20, No. 10 • Nov./Dec. 2000
Archaeological Research Online—Finally!
The Birth of the ARGOS Project
by Linda Jones Roccos

Accessing ARGOS

ARGOS Greek-Language Database

ARGOS English-Language Database

The American School's Blegen Library

As a librarian and an archaeologist, I've been fortunate to be involved with a fascinating computer project in Greece over the past several years. Although many Greek libraries have had automated systems for some years now, several of the specialized foreign libraries in Athens have been slow to enter the online world.

More than 2 decades ago, I studied at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and like many other alumni, I've continued to use its excellent Blegen Library (a major archaeological research facility 1 ) nearly every summer. However, the lack of the online access that we are accustomed to in the U.S. had been making the experience in Athens increasingly frustrating. Both researchers and librarians seemed to be rooted in the 19th-century practices of painstaking, methodical print research. In fact, most of the foreign archaeological libraries have resisted change in any form, especially in electronic form.

But more recently the Blegen Library has been leading the way in implementing a shared online catalog. In my role as an advisory member of the Blegen Library Committee of the American School, I've witnessed the slow transition from the "beloved" old catalog cards to a new and still "unloved" online system. As a colleague of Blegen head librarian Dr. Nancy Winter, the instigator of this project called ARGOS, I've advised and encouraged her for the past few years. I've seen the project grow from an improbable dream to a complex undertaking and finally to an operational reality. This article describes the ARGOS project, which is allowing for great strides in archaeological research.

ARGOS: The ARchaeological Greek Online System
The ARGOS system is a combined online union catalog for 14 different archaeological libraries with 14 different classification systems in 10 different languages: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish (see the sidebar). Four countries—Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden—are part of the combined Nordic Library; several other libraries use English, German, or Greek as base languages.

Together, these special archaeological libraries in Greece hold more than 500,000 titles covering a range of subjects including archaeology; art history; ancient, medieval, and modern Greek history; literature and languages; topography; ethnology; and folklore. Now, thanks to ARGOS, readers worldwide will have access to this tremendous bibliographic database for the study of ancient, Byzantine, and modern Greek civilizations. In the very near future, there will be access to the bibliographic citations for materials in all foreign libraries through ARGOS.

While participants were designing the union catalog, the multiple-language problem was obviously difficult to surmount for several reasons. Most archaeologists prefer to publish research in their own language, unlike scientific research, which is invariably published in English. These specialized archaeological publications are rarely if ever translated. Although all the languages in the project except Greek do use the Latin alphabet, the wide range of accent marks they employ made programming extremely difficult.

Coordinating the cataloging and classification systems of 14 different libraries was a far more difficult hurdle. These specialized archaeological libraries had developed their own unique systems over the last century, and few of them used standard AACR2 rules or Library of Congress subject headings. The American School's Blegen Library is one example: "The classification system for this [Blegen Library] specialized collection was devised in 1904 by the then-director T. W. Heermance with letter-designations to indicate general subject (B = history) and subdivisions for more specific subjects (BX = Roman history)." 2 Therefore, consortial undertakings were a true challenge and in fact were rarely attempted. As a result, searching ARGOS is still somewhat idiosyncratic. Even now, searching works best with standard word or name searches for subject headings that are brief and basic. Furthermore, the same book has a different call number in each library, so shelf browsing, either inside different libraries or online, is also unpredictable.

The Foreign Libraries and Their Roles in Greece
Greece and other countries with strong archaeological programs, like Italy and Turkey, have long benefitted from foreign support for hundreds of excavations. Foreign countries—led by France, Germany, Britain, and the U.S. in the 19th century—established schools and institutes in the host countries for study and research as well as for support of the excavations. In the 19th century, Greece had very inadequate library support, and so the foreign archaeological programs each started their own collections. Like the American School in Athens, both the American Academy in Rome and the American Research Institute in Turkey also support excavation research and maintain extensive libraries.

The foreign school libraries are unique and necessary to scores of researchers chiefly because they acquire many European publications from small presses that are unavailable in the United States. Not only are these titles unavailable in the U.S., they are not even indexed in the bibliographic tools that we customarily use, like Wilson's Art Index or Humanities Index. Specialized archaeological databases like DYABOLA (the index of records from the German Archaeological Institute in Rome) can point researchers to additional materials, but cannot tell them which library holds the publications. Scholars have previously been aware of such works only by physically visiting each library and consulting its card catalog.

Over time, the libraries of the foreign schools have become invaluable resources for archaeological research, not only because they have had greater financial support than most Greek academic libraries, but also because they started their collections much earlier. Humanities research is a cumulative effort that is based on all prior findings, and so the library with the most extensive collection becomes the prime resource. Archaeologists and researchers from the host country Greece make extensive use of these libraries, but the American School's Blegen Library is used far more heavily than others, since it is by far the largest and has the greatest depth.

Previously, each of these libraries relied only on its own card catalog, and cooperating to share resources happened only through the goodwill of individual librarians. Interlibrary loan as we know it in the U.S. does not exist, because most of these libraries are made up of non-circulating collections. Although the libraries are all based in Athens and theoretically open to all archaeologists, it was impossible to locate books in different libraries without making time-consuming personal visits.

Even though the specialized serials and monographs are considerably more expensive than average (one volume of an encyclopedia may cost $1,000 and the whole set could cost over $16,000), many people could not initially see the benefits of sharing these high-priced resources. Since users could not know what books were in each library in Athens, they expected and demanded that all relevant books be located in their own library. Many of the libraries seem to have remained in a time warp since the early 20th century, preserving traditional methods of research and publication. This may be a good thing fundamentally and even necessary methodologically, but today, the research process can and should take advantage of the new online and electronic world.

Early Funding for ARGOS
The effort to provide all Greek libraries with an automated system started nearly 2 decades ago when Greece became part of the European Community in 1981. NATO also took an active interest in bringing Greek libraries up to par with other western nations, knowing that access to information would enable the country to increase its economic and political standards. However, the ARGOS project for the archaeological libraries just started in 1994.

As with any large cooperative venture, funding for the project encountered its share of difficulties, in part from a lack of financial support in the early stages. The first application for support from the European Economic Commission failed because people thought that ARGOS was only a Greek project. This was, however, before the inclusion of the foreign school libraries made it an international project. ARGOS eventually received support from the Greek National Documentation Center (EKT), which undertook funding applications to the European Union and the necessary leadership, and provided the physical home on its Hermes server.

Funding for the ARGOS project now comes from various sources, and the contracts state that the databases will be available freely over the Internet to users worldwide.

Who is Part of the ARGOS Project?

Cooperating Greek Institutions
Athens Archaeological Society
Center for Byzantine Studies
Center for Greek and Roman Antiquity
Institute for Modern Greek Studies

Cooperating Foreign Archaeological Schools
American School of Classical Studies at Athens *
Australian Archaeological Institute
Austrian Archaeological Institute
British School at Athens
Canadian Archaeological Institute
Danish Institute in Athens
Dutch Institute in Athens
French School at Athens *
German Archaeological Institute
Italian School of Archaeology
Finnish Institute in Athens *
Norwegian Institute at Athens *
Swedish Institute at Athens *

* indicates organizations that are already online  

How ARGOS Was Achieved
ARGOS was conceived in 1994 through agreements between the directors of the various archaeological libraries in Athens. As books and journals became ever more expensive, sharing resources became a necessity rather than a convenience. The aim was to produce a shared union catalog for serials and monographs. Although all of the libraries professed interest, in reality some were quicker to follow through than others. Finding staffing for the project was a stumbling block, since the work had to be accomplished in addition to everyone's usual library activities. Even though the conversion process received adequate funding from a variety of sources, additional funding for staff purposes was more difficult to arrange.

In the first phase of ARGOS, the Greek records were produced manually for all libraries in the group. These records may be searched now through the "grARGOS" database (see list below). Staff from the Greek National Documentation Centre used the ABEKT automation system for these catalog records, which was already being used by several academic libraries in Greece. The ABEKT system is written in Pascal and runs on PCs through Novell local area networks.

In the second phase, the non-Greek cards from all member libraries were scanned and converted by a company in the U.S., which produced the online records library by library. To date, only four libraries have their non-Greek records online: the Blegen Library and the Gennadius Library (both of the American School), the French Library, and the Nordic Library. These records may be searched now through the "int-ARGOS" database. UNIMARC was the accepted standard for all records. Since modifications of the software were required by the member libraries in order to include the multilingual menus, thesauri, and full diacritical powers they needed, the ARGOS member libraries agreed to have the Greek National Documentation Centre as coordinator. The need to retain bibliographic records in the language of the original work, rather than relying on transliteration as is customary in the U.S., is a factor that was a difficult stumbling block in the initial stages of the programming.

Rules for standardized terminology were adapted from those of the Library of Congress, and they have already been successful in resolving consistency problems. This is no small matter, because in future the data entry will originate from the member libraries rather than from a central cataloging service. In addition, member institutions are now able to use the ABEKT system for acquisitions, circulation, authority control, and other bibliographic controls, emphasizing the continual usefulness of this ongoing project. Members will continually add records to the database, which will obviously increase in usefulness as it increases in size. It may even be possible in the future to combine these databases for more efficient searching.

The eventual success of the ARGOS project is a direct result of the combined efforts of the member librarians. They were able to reach a consensus on the format and characteristics of the final product, and they were able to produce the necessary records in a timely manner. Through cooperative agreements from the member libraries, ARGOS can now provide access to scholars who want to research their subjects online through these libraries in Greece. Each member library has subject strengths in different areas, and scholars will be able to search all 14 libraries collectively. This is an important aspect of ARGOS because of the increasing interest in interdisciplinary studies, for example, combining art and social sciences from several areas.

ARGOS and the American School of Classical Studies
The Blegen Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens was the first of the foreign libraries to participate in the project. The initial scanning of its catalog cards was funded by the J. Paul Getty Trust, but included only those cards written in the Latin alphabet. Difficulties delayed even this simple conversion, since the first company that had been hired dissolved and was reconstituted under different leadership. Although we feared that the scanned records would be lost, they were eventually retrieved, and they formed the core of the Blegen Library catalog.

Around 12,000 Greek records from the Blegen Library cards were entered manually from the start when all of the Greek records were produced. There are now some 70,000 records in Greek from the 14 member libraries. In addition, books acquired by the Blegen Library since the scanning, which was finished in 1997, have been entered manually; this includes an additional 6,000 titles. Amazingly, all of these records have been produced by the Blegen Library's small staff of three, while they were still providing their usual services to the archaeological community.

Look Up "Argos" in ARGOS
Argos (the place) is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Greece, home of a famous temple to the goddess Hera and an important panhellenic sanctuary since the Bronze Age of the second millennium B.C.

But ARGOS (the system—all caps) is now one of the newest of archaeological projects for the third millennium of our era. Although ARGOS is at present the online catalog for only some of the 14 archaeological libraries in the project, it will eventually encompass much more. Today, the system has the following databases on the host Hermes server of the Greek National Documentation Centre:

The databases that are most useful for archaeological research are the Serials Union Catalogue and the two ARGOS databases. Right now, the Greek-language database must be searched separately, in part because of the difficulty of programming searches across multiple character sets. But it can easily be searched with English-language words, for example "Athens" or "Athena."

The databases listed above are available through the Web pages of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens: A separate catalog for just Blegen Library records, which is based on records from the ARGOS database, will also be produced in the near future. In addition, a direct link from the Blegen Library to the Hermes server may provide faster service, as Internet access in Greece is still rather expensive and not as fast as required for such large and complex databases. Still, the fact that the ARGOS databases are now available to everyone is a great accomplishment, worthy of celebration.


1. "The Blegen Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens was founded in 1888 with a single reading room. The collection currently has 70,000 volumes including more than 500 periodical titles (current and defunct), forming a major research library on prehistoric and classical archaeology of the Mediterranean region, and Classical languages, history, and culture. Over 850 readers of all nationalities use the library. The library is non-circulating, and all books must be consulted on the premises." From the Blegen Library Web pages at

2. From the Blegen Library Web pages at

Further Reading

Helmer, John. F., ed. "Special Issue: Library Consortia around the World," Information Technology and Libraries, 19:1-2 (2000).

Priftis, Athanasios, and Charles Oppenheim, "Development of a National Information Policy in Greece," Information Development, 15:1 (March 1999), pp. 32-43.

Sitas, Anestis, Anastasia Elissaiou, and Kalliopi Sioki, "The Technological Education Institutes (TEI) in Greece and their Libraries," Libri, 49:1, 1999, pp. 51-58.

Vourou, Stella, "Information Support for Scientists and Researchers in Greece," Library Hi-Tech (Special Issue on Library Automation in Europe), 14:4 (1996), pp. 18-23.

Keller, Dean H., ed., Academic Libraries in Greece. The Present Situation and Future Prospects, New York: Haworth Press, 1993.

Pisani, Assunta, ed., Euro-Librarianship: Shared Resources, Shared Responsibilities, New York: Haworth Press, 1992.

Huston, Mary M., and Maureen Pastine, eds., In the Spirit of 1992: Access to Western European Libraries and Literature, New York: Haworth Press, 1992.

Skourlas, C., "National Documentation Centre: Software Development for Public Database Management," in Online Information 88, 12th International Online Information Meeting, London, 6-8 December, 1988, Proceedings, vol. 2 (Oxford, England and Medford, NJ: Learned Information, 1988): 791-802.

Miller, Stephen G., ed., The Contribution of the American School of Classical Studies to Athens, Cultural Capital of Europe, 1985, Athens: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1985.

Krikelas, James, "Education for Librarianship in Greece," Library Quarterly, 52 (July 1982): 227-239.

Dr. Linda Jones Roccos is head of acquisitions and coordinator of electronic access at the College of Staten Island Library, City University of New York, in New York City. Before this she was information specialist at Alexander Library of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where she worked on an international encyclopedia for classical mythology, the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae. She has a B.A. from Washington Square College, New York University, in New York City; an M.A. from Hunter College, City University of New York; an M.L.S. from Rutgers University's School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, in New Brunswick, New Jersey; and a Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She regularly publishes her research on Greek and Roman sculptures in archaeological journals. Her e-mail addresses are and

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