Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The answer to life, the archives, and everything

So, here's a story problem that I never faced while a fledgling archivist at the iSchool:

You have been tasked with creating an archive for a university of 14,000 students, 700 faculty, and a forty-year history. When you arrive on the job, you are given 10 large boxes' worth of material which has been "donated" over the years. There are no donors noted: everything has been put into boxes cheek-by-jowl. You know the rough layout of this University and its organizational flow, but many projects and publications are joint efforts by multiple offices within the University. How do you organize those ten boxes into a cohesive grouping of materials while maintaining the integrity of the archival system and also setting up the archives for future scalability and storage of new materials?

Answer: Um....42?

Honestly, I am floundering a bit here. Intellectually I know that at this point, with so little material relative to the grand scheme of things, I can do whatever I want and rearrange things in the future if needed. But I really want to create some order, and I want that order to work long-term with relatively little re-walking of the same paths. And more things are of course coming in all the time, which just leads me to even more uncertainty as holes are filled in and new holes are discovered. "I don't know what I don't know" seems to be quite a common problem for me these days. My gut tells me to create some broad umbrella super-series or record groups and make everything fit under those umbrellas, but that comes with its own risks and weaknesses.

I have a terrible gut sometimes. But I can't get paralyzed by indecision, either; I have shelving being put up, which will force me to impose some kind of system on these things whether I am ready or not.

As my advisor used to say, "Into the breach!"
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.