Archivists on the Issues: Intellectual Access to Archives

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from regular writer for I&A’s blog, Lindy Smith, Reference Archivist at Bowling Green State University’s Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives.

In my final post on access and accessibility in archives, I am examining intellectual access. By this, I mean the language, theory, practices, and other non-physical barriers that exist in archives. Once a patron has navigated the obstacles of digital access and physical access that I discussed in my previous posts, they finally make it to our reading rooms either in person or virtually and want to use our collections. What gets in the way of this process?

Description can often get in the way, sometimes through its absence and sometimes through its presence. When description is non-existent or not online or not accessible or too minimal to be useful, it is detrimental to access. This is not news to anyone. But sometimes seemingly great description can also be a barrier to access. Say you have an important, highly used collection and you decide to write a DACs-compliant EAD finding aid at the item level, post it online with excellent SEO and cross list it in all appropriate union catalogs. It is a thing of beauty. It has extensive notes, a detailed inventory, and follows archival standards. It is easy to find. If you know where to look.

But then you have an ESL patron who speaks limited English and cannot read it all. Or a seventh grader working on a History Day project who has a middle school reading level and does not understand some of the terminology. Or a patron who is completely unfamiliar with archival description and does not understand the complicated series structure or how to use the detailed information you have painstakingly input. Based on my experience in various reading rooms, these kinds of casual patrons make up a significant portion of our users.

There’s something to be said for gaining familiarity with the systems in place, but for the patron who only wants to make one visit to see something for personal reasons or the student using it for one class, or the patron who is frustrated by a first visit and never comes back, our systems are exclusionary. We cannot write description for everyone, but it is important to recognize that language, reading level, structure, jargon, and many other factors can hinder access for some users.

Many of these issues can be mitigated with good reference help, but this leads to another question I think about often: how do we determine an appropriate balance of labor between patrons and archivists? How much do we require them to do and how much are we willing to do for them? What is policy mandated and what is grey area? What can we change to improve the patron experience? Obviously, patrons need to take the first step to make contact. They need to provide information about the subject of their interest or the items they’d like to request. They need to adhere to any established policies regarding registration information, payment for reproduction, collection handling, etc. Archivists have to respond to requests, pull requested materials, and explain necessary paperwork and policies.

But between this is a whole world of negotiation, personal preference, and available resources. How much time do (can) we spend with a single patron? Where do we draw the line? I like to think that we should be willing to take more on ourselves as the gatekeepers to make things easier and more pleasant for our patrons, but that is not fair when so many of us are already overloaded with work. On the other hand, it is not fair to put all of the work on our users, especially when it is our policies that are creating extra work for everyone.

Many archives have policies regarding remote research time, but what about patrons who require additional assistance with finding aids or computers or microfilm readers or handling fragile collections or the photocopier? How do we ensure smooth hand offs to other archivists when schedules require that multiple staff members be involved? How do we enforce policies that require official ID cards when we are trying to reach out to user groups that may not possess them? How do we respond to concerns about patron confidentiality when we are storing information about patrons and their research topics? How do we reassure patrons who feel targeted by security policies that require surveillance?

How might we rethink our policies and procedures to make things easier for everyone involved? While it is not a magic bullet or a possibility for everyone, there is something to be said for tapping into aspects of industry or libraries that are already familiar to our patrons. Along these lines, there are some technological solutions to help streamline the reading room experience. The biggest and best known in Aeon, which is a great product, but prohibitively expensive for most of us. Other archives have come up with in-house solutions using existing free products, like Trello or Google Forms.

At my institution, we have been working with our web developer, access services department, and catalogers to come up with a solution that allows us to treat special collections materials like ordinary library materials. Briefly, our web developer came up with a button that is enabled in our catalog on materials that have the Lib[rary] Use Only status that allows users to request items for future use. It generates a form that collects name and contact information as well as the date they would like to use the item(s) that is emailed to the appropriate collection. Patrons can also request items on site without scheduling them ahead of time. We use the emails as pull slips and place the items on our hold shelf. When the patrons arrive, we set up a courtesy card in our ILS (Integrated Library System- we use Sierra) that allows them to use only special collections materials (a proper courtesy card with ordinary borrowing privileges has an associated fee but a special collections card is free). We then check the materials out to their account while they’re using it on site and check it back in once they’ve finished. We explain at the time of checkout that they are not allowed to leave our floor with the items and we have not had any issues with this. The one drawback is that we do not yet have all of our special collections in the catalog, which is where our fabulous catalogers come in to create records. We are also in the process of implementing ArchivesSpace and are hoping that our developer will be able to create a similar request feature for use there. All special collections will eventually be represented in both places.

Obviously, a solution like this is only available to archives with access to an ILS and some developer time. If you are interested, our web developer has made the request button code available on GitHub. But if you think outside the box, you may be able to come up with your won solution with the resources available to you. Libraries have been using similar systems for decades to track use and it is past time for archives to do the same.

My posts here have been much more question-based than answer-filled, but these are important issues with lots of room for discussion. I look forward to continuing that discussion with any of you who are interested and hope you will take the opportunity to use some of these questions to help examine your own work.

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Archivists on the Issues: Archives as Art, Part 2

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from a regular writer for I&A’s blog, Cate Peebles. Cate is the NDSR Art fellow at the Yale Center for British Art, where she works with permanent-collection-related born-digital records. This is the second half of a 2-part essay.

Art critic Hal Foster puts a fine point on the “archival impulse at work internationally in contemporary art” in his much-cited 2004 essay, “An Archival Impulse,” published in the journal October, a publication established by Rosalind Krauss in the early 1980s as a forum to discuss post-structuralism and politically conscious art. In this essay, Foster highlights the work of three international artists: Tacita Dean, Sam Durant, and Thomas Hirchhorn.

Stating at the beginning of his discussion “the examples [of the archival impulse in art] could be multiplied many times,”[6] Foster’s discussion of these artists’ work outlines a shift in the archival mode in art within the last fifteen years and a resurgence of its popularity among artists. He says, “Archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. To this end they elaborate on the found image, object and text, and favor the installation format.”[7] He emphasizes the face-to-face nature of these artworks, as opposed to using electronic means of connection such as the Internet. He also differentiates archival art from the institutional critique, which focuses on the museum, such as Broodthaers’ work. These artists use collected materials to create quasi-archives, such as Hirschhorn’s altars and kiosks and Dean’s collected photographs of “sound mirrors” built in Kent between 1928-30 to act as warning systems in case of air attacks, which were soon replaced by more reliable radar systems. Dean’s photography collects images of outmoded objects and gives them a place in the present moment, in effect removing them from time and place and including them in a catalog of “failed futuristic visions” that can only be recovered via the archive.

Foster asserts that the archival impulse in these artists’ work attempts to “probe a misplaced past, to collate its different signs” and the purpose of their work is to give presence to historical objects in a positive way that “turn[s] excavation sites into construction sites…it suggests a shift away from melancholic culture that views the historical as little more than traumatic.”[8] Foster’s view of the archival trend in contemporary art may not strictly adhere to a traditional definition of “archive” but it expresses the archive’s role of importance as a physical and symbolic entity that is inseparable from our understanding of and interactions with time.

There are many more examples of archival influences in contemporary art, and the complex relationship between artists and archives will continue to serve as muses to one another in new and unexpected ways. Archives are never a single thing; they can be aesthetic, political, personal, fictional, historic, and eternally present. For this reason, they will continue to inspire artistic and cultural works.

 

Further Reading on Archives in/ as Artistic Media
  • Breakell, Sue, “Perspective: Negotiating the Archives,” Tate Papers, Spring 2008: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18316767.pdf
  • Enwezor, Okwui,  Archive Fever—Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (New York: International Center of Photography, 2008)
  • Holzer, Jenny. War Paitnings, (WALTHER KöNIG, KöLN, 2015)
  • Merewether, Charles, ed.. The Archive (Boston: Whitechapel and MIT Press, 2006)
  • Raad, Walid, The Atlas Group Archive (website), accessed http://www.theatlasgroup.org/
  • Raad, Walid, and Eva Respini (ed.), Walid Raad, (New York: MoMA, 2015)
  • Spieker, Sven. The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008)
  • Thompson, Michael,  “The 2014 Whitney Biennial: the Book as Medium in Contemporary American Art,” Bibliographical Society of America, The University of Chicago Press (2015), especially pages 175-181
References

[6] Foster, Hal. “An Archival Impulse,” October, MIT Press, 2004, 3-22

For more international examples see also:  De Jong, Ferdinand and Elizabeth Harney. “Art From the Archive,” African Arts (Summer 2015), vol. 48, no. 2, 1-2; and Jolly, Martyn. “Big Archives and Small Collections: Remarks on the Archival Mode in Contemporary Australian Art,” Public History Review, vol. 21, 2014, 60-85.

[7] Ibid., 4

 

Archivists on the Issues: Archives as Art, Part 1

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from a regular writer for I&A’s blog, Cate Peebles. Cate is the NDSR Art fellow at the Yale Center for British Art, where she works with permanent-collection-related born-digital records. This is part 1 of a 2-part essay.

To conclude my blog series about archives as prominent cultural and artistic influences, I’ll turn to the visual arts, a broad and varied category, to be sure. As an archivist at an art museum, I am highly aware of the importance institutional archives can have within museums as historical records of the museum itself, or as repositories for artists’ archives, but there are also countless examples of archives, archival materials, and archival practices as major forces within an artwork, or the artwork itself.

To consider the archive as an artistic medium in and of itself, it is helpful to begin with James O’Toole’s essay, “The Symbolic Significance of Archives,” an important piece of writing by an archivist on the aesthetic and transformative qualities inherent in the role of some documents. His examination of archives as symbolic entities casts light on a side of the archival profession that had not yet been given much attention by archivists themselves, although many visual artists have been working in “the archival mode” since the early 20th century. Archivists are trained to care for records of enduring value and emphasis is placed on “utilitarian motivations for the making of written records” [1]. O’Toole begins his discussion with an invocation of Frank Burke’s 1981 essay, “The Future Course of Archival Theory in the United States,” in which he provokes archivists to consider archives beyond their practical operations and use, and to ask larger, more philosophical questions of the profession, such as “what is the motivation for the act” of recordkeeping and making.

O’Toole’s very question suggests that there is more to records than their practical uses, however dismissed these uses may have been by the majority of archivists who agreed with Lester Cappon’s conjecture that there is nothing to theorize about; the job of the archivist is to “shuffle the damn papers.”[2] Indeed, the conversation about archival theory that Burke began in the late 20th century seems to have caused some rancor among many archivists who stick firmly to the school of thought that archival records are purely practical. This, O’Toole argues extensively, excludes the role of archives and records as symbolic objects. By examining examples from history, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Domesday Book, O’Toole demonstrates the manner in which a document can change from being a record that is useful in the traditional sense, into a record whose use extends beyond practicality and conveys meaning symbolically. Since the very essence of an archival document lies in its having transitioned from primary to secondary use, it follows that the secondary use is not necessarily always going to be practical in the evidentiary sense.  O’Toole’s discussion concludes, significantly, by affirming that archival records can have both practical and symbolic uses; one side is not more important than the other, and if we value archives and archival materials solely for their practical features, we are missing half the picture.

In the twentieth century, the use of archival materials as artistic media became increasingly popular, particularly with the arrival of conceptual art and structuralism on the scene. In her seminal lecture, A Voyage on the North Sea” Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, art critic and professor of art history at Columbia University, Rosalind Krauss presents a discussion of art that does not belong to classical modes and mediums like painting and sculpture, but incorporates any number of expressive modes.[5]  She describes a break from traditional classifications and a movement toward mixed media, video art, installations, readymades (like those made by Marcel Duchamp), collections, and conceptual art. The latter might even lack physical form; the ideas and contextual performance are the artwork.

Krauss focuses on the work of Belgian poet and artist Marcel Broodthaers, who created a fictitious museum called “The Museum of Modern Art, Eagles Division” around which he built collections of objects, such as an installation of stuffed eagles and other objects pertaining to the eagle, much like one might see presented in a natural history museum. Each object is labeled, not with information about its species, but with the admission (joke?): “This Is Not a Work of Art.” Broodtaears picks up where Duchamp left off, creating an imaginary museum, structured around readymades and antiquated modes of display, poking fun at art world expectations and conventions. Broodthaers’ work is often referred to as “institutional critique,” a form that attempts to call out the inner workings of establishments such as the museum and archive; official spaces that command respect, embody some degree of power (financial, intellectual), and authority.

This shift has made the work of many contemporary artists possible such as the work of Lebanese-American artist, Walid Raad. While Broodthaers re-envisions the colonialist structure that names, categorizes and capitalizes upon fine arts, Raad reimagines the archive as a structure wherein truth is not tied to fact while still relying on archives’ hydra-like power to tell many stories at once.

References

[1] O’Toole, James. “The Symbolic Significance of Archives,” The American Archivist, 1982, 234-255

[2] Ibid., 235

[3] Craig and O’Toole, 98

[4] Ibid., 98

[5] Krauss, Rosalind, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 5

ICYMI: #NoHateALA

Brought to you by Vice Chair Courtney Dean on behalf of the Issues & Advocacy Section Steering Committee

During the 2018 ALA Annual Conference, ALA Council passed an amendment to the Library Bill of Rights that explicitly defended the right of hate groups to use library meeting room spaces. For the full text, see the information on ALA’s site.

This is something the I&A Steering Committee has been following closely. While neither SAA or I&A have made official statements on this issue, the Steering Committee felt it important to provide our membership with a roundup of information, resources, and petitions related to the recent ALA controversy. We searched for links from a variety of perspectives and found the below, listed in alphabetical order by title. Please feel free to leave links to additional readings in the comments.

 

Draft Resolution to Rescind Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, Melissa Cardenas-Dow and other ALA Councilors

Further Response on ALA OIF Hate Group definition response, unsigned

Libraries Can’t Afford to Welcome Hate, Alessandra Seiter

My Bought Sense, or ALA Has Done It Again, April Hathcock

Petition to Revise ALA’s Statement on Hate Speech & Hate Crime, authored by the We Here community

Rethinking “Intellectual Freedom”, Carrie Wade

We Oppose Welcoming Hate into the Library: An Open Letter to ALA, Concerned Archivists Alliance

Archivists on the Issues: Answering the call for inclusivity

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from regular writer Summer Espinoza, her last for the year. Summer is the digital archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills where she is working on a California State University Archives project.

This is my third and final blog post for the Archivists on the Issues series. It would be more scholarly of me to share research, but I hope you (reader) can excuse my personal, introspective and non academic discourse here.

One of the most important attributes I carry in this life is that of a brown-skinned human (insert Library of Congress subject headings as you please). My brown skin has guided my experiences in my academic and personal education. My research interests today are guided by the way external and self identifiers have constructed and shaped my life and career. If you are midway through a sigh right now, I empathize. I sometimes catch myself with this same reaction because, in fact, I sometimes cringe at the fact I am so invested in this identity politic.

My duties as an archivist have guided me towards descriptive cataloging, perhaps by the same token of the fluidity and interpretive nuances of identity politics. Let me relate this conversation to my current work with the California State University System Archives Digitization Project. I have created subject headings for persons of color and I have also made use of the equally dodgy “Caucasians” subject heading. My methodology (if you can call it that) when creating a subject heading for ethnicity (non- “Caucasian”), is to look for published articles, newsletters, or records of events in which a notable person has been commended for work in a community, often by a community with which they identify. I take these cues and with all the best intentions, I apply a Library of Congress or local vocabulary term, and hope for the best. This has not, however, caused me to create particularly accurate or authoritative headings, for example Mexican American, Chicano and/or Latino and Black or African American, Chinese American or Asian American.

The “Caucasians” subject heading has given me extreme pause. I approached the task of descriptive cataloging for photographic prints of European Americans with an apology first: “I’m sorry I am labeling you this way.” Why am I sorry? I am sorry because in the back of my mind is this little kernel of negativity toward the word “Caucasian.” Why am I using this word in the first place?

Up to the point of this project, I had not fully acknowledged the history of this word, and upon further investigation I found the term is rooted in eighteenth century racial classification. How and why am I blindly following the notorious Library of Congress (out)dated subject headings? Not to mention the word as both anachronistic, archaic, and still very much alive in our modern societal vocabularies in human classifications.

Much like my first post, I express these reflective (and yes, negative) experiences to better understand the role of my own history and how it interacts with my professional responsibilities.

In a recent listserv call for panel proposals for a visual arts conference, a cataloger posed some very compelling questions about the ways in which descriptive cataloging of an artist interacts with the cataloging of their artistic works.

This led me to more questions, but primarily this one: why do we as archivists believe that the (best) answers to our initiatives to be inclusive and diverse rest solely in our professional circles? Did we and do we currently believe that we are the best and only source of expertise in the digital environment? Do we not look outward to other disciplines for marketing and development, content expertise, and so forth? Are we the first group of professionals to tackle inclusivity? What do we generally understand about cultural inclusivity on a professional level, and are we trained and educated enough to move beyond initiatives and policies that do not mean much to the everyday archivist?

Let’s not pat ourselves on the back too quickly as we circulate these documents amongst our ranks, let us share our shortcomings for the better.

News Highlights: 2018 June

The I&A News Monitoring Research Team has compiled this list of recent news stories relating to archives, archivists, archival issues, and archival representations. This list was curated by SAA Issues & Advocacy News Monitoring Team, which includes Dana Bronson, Rachel Cohen, Samantha Cross, Shaun Hayes, and Beth Nevarez; it is managed by Steve Duckworth. More links and information are available in this month’s Google doc.

Acquisition, Preservation, & Access

Archival Finds & Stories

Digital Archives, Technology, & the Web

Exhibits & Museums

Human & Civil Rights, Equality, & Health

News Monitoring Team: Indian Schools and Historical Othering

The News Monitoring Research Team works on archives and archivists issues in the news. This post, part of our Research Post series, was written by Steering Committee member and team coordinator Steve Duckworth.

For our last official News Monitoring Team post of the season, I thought I would step out of my role as the Coordinator of the News Team and talk a bit about something from a story that popped up last month. The article, turned up by one of the News Team members, focuses on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, an “Indian” boarding school in Carlisle, PA that operated from 1879 to 1918.

This struck a chord with me as issues around America’s indigenous peoples and archives and cultural artifacts have been on my mind frequently in my career, ever since my first full-time position with the National Park Service in Alaska and lasting through to today as I work in the Pacific Northwest and hear about projects and programs around the historical mistreatment of these communities (not to mention the similar information coming from Canada). But I had also just read Kate Theimer’s recent post on the Carlisle Indian School and the text of her talk, “Archiving Against the Apocalypse,” for the Canadian-American Archives Conference. I also spent a good chunk of my life living in Philadelphia and Allentown, PA, so a confluence of things held this story in my mind.

While curating an exhibit on public health in the early 20th century last year, I stumbled upon the theory of eugenics, which I’ll admit I hadn’t really ever heard of (and I’ve spent a lot of my life in school). Turns out the U.S., during the later parts of the 1800s and early parts of the 1900s, was really into the idea of creating a purer race of people. Sound familiar? Yeah, American eugenics actually inspired Hitler and that whole Nazi race-purifying thing. Doctors, government workers, and regular Joes alike were all into the idea of weeding out “defective” and “undesirable” traits through controlling who got to reproduce through court-ordered sterilization and segregation, and with “child guidance” clinics that remind me of more recent gay conversion institutions. This didn’t end all that long ago; Oregon’s eugenics board lasted until 1983, having carried out its last sterilization in 1981.

Indian schools were a slightly earlier version of population control. White, European-Americans of the 1800s wanted to assimilate indigenous people into their culture. They thought if they removed youths from their families, language, culture, and traditions, and trained and educated them in European style, they could eventually breed out the “savage” aspects of their people. It was a way of exterminating the indigenous people of their new country that was considered more civil and socially acceptable than all out murder or war. Though, as you can see from recent reports, beatings, illness, and death were all common outcomes for these students.

The Carlisle school was America’s first, off-reservation boarding school, but it wasn’t the last. Twenty six boarding schools were established across the country, along with hundreds of private religious schools. Over 10,000 children attended the Carlisle school alone, with estimates of over 100,000 children total throughout the system. Canada’s similar system, the Residential Schools, lasted into the 1970s and had over 150,000 “students.” (Canada’s system was also more heavily documented and the government has been a lot more public about speaking out about it, most likely due to the unprecedented class-action lawsuit survivors brought against the government.)

So, first eugenics got stuck in my mind, and now I keep learning about more and more ways in which atrocious acts have been committed, for this reason or that (have you listened to the Seeing White podcast series?), which all really boil down to othering certain groups to keep the white people on top – assimilation, cleansing, separation, racial purity, etc. And I think, damn, we humans are really horrible (this, itself, is not really a revelation for me, but more of an expansion).

But humans can also manage to do some good here and there. So, and here I relate it back to archives, it’s painful to learn of this history, but it’s refreshing (in a way) to read stories of how archival records and cultural history are being used to return remains, artifacts, memory, and culture to people who have been wronged by our country (and others) – and perhaps even provide some healing to the wronged. These acts of restitution provide some concrete examples that can be used to influence archival ethics and practices today and perhaps encourage people to look up and out from their lives and small worlds, to see far afield and take in the big picture of all of us on this planet and what we’re doing to each other.

My goal here isn’t so much to bring about change through this short post, but more to add another voice to the education on happenings such as this and to help make connections between what we do in our daily work that could potentially have a huge benefit. Also I want to urge people with these types of historical records (or even more contemporary records), to not hide from the past. Face it and work to better the future.

 

Resources and additional information

Listed chronologically, starting with the most recent

 

Steering Share: Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen (for now)

Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This final post comes from committee member Stephanie Bennett, Collections Archivist at Wake Forest University.

I signed up for I&A elections back in 2016 with a cavalier “I probably won’t win.” But I was very excited by I&A’s level of activity and the importance of our work buoying archivists and our work in so many ways: socially and governmentally, our use and language of labor, etc etc. When I managed to win and join the Steering Committee, I was – and have been – thrilled to continue this work and the level of activity that has come to be the norm for the I&A Section.

Over the last two years, I’ve learned more about how the Society of American Archivists works as part of my steering committee work. It’s an imperfect institution (aren’t all institutions?) but it’s populated by us – archivists who are pushing our profession to contribute to society in useful, unique ways, open new avenues of research and theory, move toward equity and justice in our institutional and professional practices. Corporate bodies are best reserved for name authority files, in my view, but I am warmed and spurred on by the individuals who populate and inhabit SAA in order to leave the profession better than they found it.

I look forward to continuing the work, though off this committee. Archivists, whether we pay SAA dues or attend national meetings, whether we work within the section or external to it, are a powerful community of knowledgeable experts. Our daily work, our records expertise, our historical perspectives are all powerful assets and activities. These we can share with one another, with our local non-archivists, with communities that have long been harmed through enforced invisibility and/or mistreatment.

If you have an axe to grind, an archival issue that is not discussed enough in our field, I hope that you find the I&A committee and its tools a welcoming place to share information and build community around that concern. We offer this blog, social media feeds, an annual meeting, and anything else you want to build or make use of in order to education and organize. I am grateful every day for the work of my colleagues around labor, for example. I did not grow up steeped in those concepts or language around work and solidarity, but being an archivist helped me become aware of imbalances and issues. By reading my colleagues’ articles and Twitter musings, and then beginning to join conversations and act, I am able to be a better advocate for the hours of labor we put in to make our corner of the internet rich in information and beautiful (or at least useful) metadata.

Thank you for the space you provide for these discussions, Issues & Advocacy, and thank you for your contributions, archivists and archives workers! I am a proud alumna of this steering committee.

News Highlights: 2018 May

The I&A News Monitoring Research Team has compiled this list of recent news stories relating to archives, archivists, archival issues, and archival representations. This list was curated by SAA Issues & Advocacy News Monitoring Team, which includes Dana Bronson, Rachel Cohen, Samantha Cross, Shaun Hayes, and Beth Nevarez; it is managed by Steve Duckworth. More links and information are available in this month’s Google doc.

 

Acquisition, Preservation, & Access

Archival Finds & Stories

Exhibits & Museums

Human & Civil Rights, Equality, & Health

Security & Privacy

The Profession

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.