Steering Share: The Year in Review

Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This post comes courtesy of committee member Steve Duckworth, University Archivist at Oregon Health & Science University.

For my last Steering Share this year, I’m taking a bit of a look back at the past year or so of my professional life. It’s my first year as a Steering Committee member, but it also marks roughly my first year as a University Archivist and of being actually in charge of stuff. (It also marks the near-end of considering myself a “new professional” even though I still very much feel like a newbie.) I’ve actually been here a year and a half, but the first 6 to 8 months were a muddle of trying to figure out where I was and what I was doing. My experience before coming into this position was all in processing collections and I absolutely loved doing that. But there are some perks to being a more responsible type of archivist, too.

I love the work of processing collections – learning about a person’s life and work, learning in-depth history about an organization, creating order from what often appears to be a sea of mismatched paper documents, crafting well-written findings aids that help people access those collections. And while I do miss being so immersed in that work (and having less overall responsibility in general – and fewer meetings), what I enjoy about this job is still related to that first archival love.

I manage a small team of people that do most of our processing work. I get to choose what collections are next in the processing queue. I meet with donors and learn about their lives, or their parents’ lives. I get to work on improving description and access for collections, and try to standardize the work we’re doing across all of our holdings. Possibly my favorite aspect of this job is training and mentoring library school students. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and though I’m not teaching in an LIS program (anybody need an adjunct?), I am getting to impart my knowledge of how archival processing can work and of how it can be better. I also have the pleasure of learning from those students and having their knowledge and new ideas keep my perspective fresh.

While managing the archives here, I’ve also gotten to implement some major changes in my short time in this position. Since I’ve started, we’ve implemented web archiving with Archive-It, migrated from Archivists’ Toolkit to ArchivesSpace, and sorted out a processing workflow for born digital records with the help of the extraordinary training from a Digital POWRR Institute. I’ve published a peer-reviewed journal article and served as a peer reviewer myself, presented at a regional conference and at two national conferences, and I’m about to present a paper at an international conference. I curated my first exhibit. And I’ve started to learn the limits of my ability to manage multiple projects and committee requirements, while still keeping open the ability to say YES to exciting opportunities that pop up from time to time.

As the next year unfurls, I’m hoping to work more on incorporating teaching from and with the archives at my institution (which has never been much of a focus here), enhancing our digital holdings in a new digital repository structure, wrangling in our large medical artifacts collection, planning out the space of our (potential) new reading room, and helping the employees of the University get a better grasp on records management (even though that is emphatically not my job). So, while it’s been a whirlwind of sorts – moving from Processing Archivist to University Archivist – and I admittedly miss the pleasures of the former roles, there is enjoyment to be found amidst the higher stress level, including the increased ability to help make positive changes at my institution and in the archives profession.

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