Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Archival stewardship

One of the things I'm thinking about right now is how we're going to appraise and accession new materials for the archive. Based on the literature I'm reading right now, and the population we're serving, and the constraints on my time, it seems like the traditional archivist-driven models aren't going to work very well here. So instead I'm working on the idea of participatory/crowdsourcing archives, creating flexible delivery options, and providing a metric ton of education to help enable our community to create its own historical record. It's some of the most exciting work I've ever done in archives. Honestly, I'm so excited to get to work every day, because I know that I can build something here that I wouldn't be allowed to build in other places (due to local practice/tradition/inertia/what-have-you).
I was remarking to my boss that I've seen a lot of proposed projects (in the literature) that never got off the ground. In our case, though, it HAS to get off the ground, because there is no plan B. Plan A is the only plan--the old models of an archivist going around telling everyone what's historically useful is simply not going to work here, and won't give us the kind of the archives that I know we need. Since this university's archive will be for the community, and used by the community, we need to build something that comes from the community as well. We need to overlap groups, get the materials from places that information would not normally come from, and because of space considerations, we need the materials to be high-information sources. We cannot afford to take in just anything. Which, again, leads to a vital need for education--our potential donors need to know what the archives can use, and what it cannot use. And then they need to be able to tell us what they're giving us and why they believe it's important.
I know that this project, this idea, is a long-term goal, like 10 years or more in the building. But if we can create a community that has some stake in the success of the archives, and we can position the archivist and archives in a position of stewardship, rather than gatekeeping, I think that it would go a long way towards creating a really useful historical perspective on this place.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More bad poetry

This is the second haiku I've written about cataloging/metadata, but it was for a report, so I feel like I get a free pass. I apologize in advance.

"A haiku about interdepartmental collaboration", by Me

Building best practice
is communicating well
with cataloging

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Creating the historical record?

There's an interesting truth about my work: I am literally deciding right now what people will believe about this university in the future. There are two distinct stories that could be told: one is that this is the lesser institution to the greater parent university. The one that is not as rigorous, not as prestigious, not as important (and that's not an untrue story, if you measure success in the usual way). The other story is that this is an institution that educates the students who aren't welcome elsewhere. The night student, the minority, the single parent, the non-cis. This second story is a difficult one to flesh out, because it necessitates a shift in thinking about what an important institution is, what achievement is, and what student success looks like. To keep a history that celebrates the non-conformers who make their own way within traditional structures...this is hard. It's worth it, but it's hard. Just finding the historical record for supporting such a narrative is hard enough. Then we must also PROVE its authenticity, because it will never be simply *given* legitimacy. 
I think this is the kind of work that I will find most meaningful as I continue this job. Finding those varied stories and making sure they are preserved. Showing that success can be different than the norm, and still be considered success. I'm not sure that archivists think of themselves as creating institutional identities by their choices, but in this case I think that it's inevitable, whether I were to consciously choose it or not.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Retrofit metadata

Part of my challenge here is to create an archives that will be easy for our students to use and access. Ok, that's actually the entirety of my challenge here. I know that our archives will not be a research archives in the sense of a Harvard or University of Texas. It's simply never going to be that; there are not enough resources and this institution is not focused on prestige acquisitions or on getting off-campus researchers through the doors.

So, my goal is to create an archives that is accessible to the community here, for whatever their needs are. This is a very traditional scope of an archives--be available to your core community--but it's often not achieved or considered unachievable/undesirable by so many institutions that it almost seems simplistic.

Our student body, by and large, consumes its information through the Internet. Most of our circulation is in digital objects (articles, ebooks, etc). So that must be where this archives resides--in amongst the digital resources already being used. In the beginning, I was hopeful that I could get something together like ArchiveSpace or some fancy pants archival management system like that, but now I think I see that it's not really going to be used or useful if I silo our archives in any way.

I told my supervisor that I think the only way to know for sure that our archives will be used in the future is to plan now for keeping our metadata as fluid and format-independent as possible. So when the library changes its systems (and of course it will change its systems at some point!), we are not unprepared for major metadata-revisions. Since our discovery portal does not support EAD (and EAD is its own version of format-dependent), this could mean txt file master finding aids that I can push into MARC or pdf or EAD or whatever I ultimately need. For a small place that does not have a lot of material, maybe it's the best solution I could create. I'm still circling these ideas in my head because there seems to be no good solution, but hopefully the circles are getting smaller and smaller and eventually I'll arrive at the single point.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.