What should archives or archivists stop doing? What should we drop?

That’s my appropriation of a question asked on Twitter by Andy Burkhardt, who asked it about libraries and librarians. His tweet was inspired by this article on Fast Company, “The 5 Questions Every Company Should Ask Itself.”

So, friends, what should archives or archivists stop doing? What should we drop? And feel free to elaborate on why, if you’re inspired and have the time. I expect to get a lot of valuable responses from archivists, but if you’re a historian, scholar, or user of archives, I’d like to hear your ideas too. We all know archives are being asked to do more with less and that’s just not possible. So what can we drop? The floor is yours.

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30 thoughts on “What should archives or archivists stop doing? What should we drop?”

  1. Archivist need to think less about the professional researchers or erudites (because whatever happens, they come) and to think more in the Citizens. The great majority of people don’t know that is an Archive, and that their present/past lives and Rights are there. What do we get? – citations from books (or e-books), and + citations from blogs.

  2. We should be linking data, not copying data. This was the advice from OCLC’s Technology Evangelist Richard Wallis. It sounds vague on the surface, but for an authorities cataloger, it rings clear and makes a pile of sense. As a LOD-curious data jockey, and only novice EAC-CPF user, I take Wallis’ advice to heart, and hopefully soon, to action. More about Richard Wallis: http://www.oclc.org/us/en/news/releases/2012/201225.htm

  3. I love this conversation! I led an RBMS seminar on this topic at the 2010 preconference, and two of the three talks were published here (along with a preamble from me). http://rbm.acrl.org/content/12/2.toc

    The recorded talks are available from the conference website (the title of the session is “Cutting to the Core” http://rbms.info/conferences/preconferences/2010/schedule.shtml

    And on another topic, RBMS has been self recording it’s sessions since 2008 or 2009 (when I badgered them into it). It works!

  4. Stop arranging. Just. Stop.

    There is a tendency to create pigeon holes. It’s human. It’s bringing order to chaos. Let’s stop ordering chaos, lets just document and preserve the chaos and let the researchers explore.

    What?! Shocking.

    But, hey, you’re an archivist. You know about documentation, right?

    You know those piles of paper half-falling over on the top of the desk? Don’t “put” them in a series. You don’t have to. It’s not in a series now. It never was. (It is very especially not in a series called “Miscellaneous.”)

    Those documents are just in a clump. The clump is called “Documents from top of desk” or something similar. Some of them are letters, but they are nothing like a “correspondence series.” Same with the “Binders from top of filing cabinet.” Sure, appraise all you like. Get rid of the month-old coffee-stained newspaper opened to the sudoku page. Get rid of the binder full of grocery coupons, too, unless you think that documents something about the person/agency.

    Now, take a picture of the desk before you box it up. Take a picture of the binders in situ. Put the stuff from the desk into containers to preserve them. Same with the binders. Oh! And really, really same for that hard drive inside the computer on the desk. Image it. Put the disk image somewhere safe.

    Now, if later on you find out that the binders on top of filing cabinet are actually some sort of series–you know, they are all drafts of major writings, or raw data from diabetes clinical trials, or XQZ project reports, go right ahead and give it a specific name. But if they have nothing cohesive about them that you can see, other than that they were binders on top of the filing cabinet, so be it.

    Add that photo you took of the desk to your finding aid. A picture is worth a thousand words. Tell the researcher the box number/numbers where they material from the desk went. Ditto for the binders, even if you removed the stuff from binders for the sake of preservation or storage room. But you’ll let them know which folders have which binder’s stuff, won’t you? Also, give the researcher a “bucket” of electronic files from that hard drive to search through.

    This is not MPLP. If you want to, you can list every last document that was on that desk. You know, “Unopened circular letter from AARP, 2001.” You go ahead and list those binders, too, if you think it’s worth it. Especially if some of them have stuff written on them in big, black Sharpie like “Area 51 autopsy photos, 1948” or “Zombie apocalypse projections, 2014-2015.” Those might be handy. Heck, if you want to, you can throw indexing software at that disk image and a researcher could search through every last word in every last document on that drive.

    What you can’t do, though, is file that AARP letter under “A” in the correspondence series.

  5. First, in reply to Devil’s Advocate. “Somedays they’ll be days like this…” I feel your pain. Yet, my biggest problem with doing this that it hard to argue that your paycheck means much. Who can’t box the office contents? So the archivist is not well paid, but there is always someone cheaper.

    I say ditch much of the fussing about the research room. Visitor logs, call slips, pull sheets, copy orders, gloves, backpacks, handwashing, blah, blah. Steamline, less paper, less evil eye. They are already mad that its not online. At least they still came.

  6. 1) Ditch the EAD finding aid. Go back to simple inventories, box and folder lists. Or just add the minimum of contextual information. Do we really need such formal (EAD) documents anymore in the era of full keyword searching?
    2) Forget Dublin Core and authority control for digital content. Slap an image onto a blog (or Facebook or wherever) and write about it and/or the collection it came from. That provides just as much context, probably more, and is in natural language, which is what researchers (except librarians and archivists) use. Far less time consuming! Plus such venues have the means for viewer comments – which can create buzz, publicity, controversy (always a good thing!), links (heck, even the potential to “go viral”), ask questions to both the archives and the greater user community, and perhaps add information that the archive did not have or know (such as further identification on a photograph, for instance). Many digital portals that I have seen from repositories do not have this functionality OR require a user to search from within a portal, rather than accessing it through the greater World Wide Web (aka Google). Not only that, but venues such as blogs, etc. also allow users to “subscribe” to the content — so then you can create a following for your archives, which will then create more advocates, and more users (in person or virtual) etc. etc. I don’t know if there are any “digital portals” out there that have a subscription/RSS capability.
    3) Both of these proposals above are just some of what I can see as an attempt to apply MPLP to *more* than just physical processing alone. I think applying the MPLP mantra to cataloging, finding aids, and descriptive tools (in whatever format) is something that should be discussed and considered more in the archival community at large.

  7. I’ve stopped arranging new acquisitions in our university archives — the backlog is so massive! Everything gets a box list (created with Excel) using only the provided folder titles, and that box list just gets tacked onto the existing finding aid (uploaded in Archon).

    I don’t really buy into the argument that doing away with arrangement somehow makes the archivist less “professional.” In my career, the focus has always been on access — how can we get stuff into people’s hands? And I don’t see arrangement as tied to that mission. I spend the bulk of my time teaching — educating our students, faculty, staff, and community on the university’s history and teaching them how to find and use more information about this history by effectively utilizing the resources in the archives. Yes, I must make these resources available through description. But does it have to be *perfect* description? Library cataloging is primarily performed by paraprofessional staff. Why not archival processing?

    The problem, of course, with stopping/starting anything is fighting the “but that’s how it’s been done!” mentality. This seems particularly true in libraries and archives when most of your staff have worked in the same repository for their entire professional careers and truly only know (or can only conceive) of that one method.

    NPR’s Morning Edition had a piece about the IKEA effect this morning (http://www.npr.org/2013/02/06/171177695/why-you-love-that-ikea-table-even-if-its-crooked). Essentially, you like your own projects/ideas because they’re yours, and you’ll find a way to argue for them or justify their existence. This quote from the marketing professor interviewed seems particularly apt for most libraries/archives — “If I am sticking to a project and I have been working on it for a year or two, I might think this project really is a good idea,” Mochon said. “So while someone external might look at my project and say, ‘You know, that’s a failed project, I’m not sure you should be spending time on it,’ because it is the fruit of my own labor, because of the Ikea Effect, I might think that it is much better than it really is.”

  8. Stop, stop, STOP using terminology that nobody understands. If I have to explain “Scope and Content” one more blessed time, I shall have a screaming fit. Why can’t we just call it “Contents”? What in the heck is an Alpha-Numeric Designation? We need to cut that out. It’s pompous, it’s irritating, and it’s counterproductive.

    I have had it put to me that “no one will believe we’re a Real Profession unless we have our jargon.” Fine. You know what we have now? We have alienated people who don’t understand what’s in our collections because we’re more interested in fancy talk than in explaining it to them in plain English (or French, or Mandarin, or what-have-you).

  9. I’m probably going to offend and alienate a lot of people with this comment, but I think this needs to be said. And let’s be real, I offend and alienate people all the time. Here goes.

    Over the last decade or so, as I have come up through the archival and heritage professions, I have noticed an increasing appropriation of “biz-speak” not only by management but by my colleagues at the level of the working archivist. You all know what I mean – we tend to spend a great deal of time ‘unpacking’ concepts, or just defer decision-making indefinitely to have ‘broader conversations’. We ‘leverage our core competencies’ to promote more ‘buy-in from our stakeholders’. And as if that weren’t enough we can’t even talk about things anymore; we need to talk ‘around’ them. The list goes on, including many that just aren’t fit to print (I’m thinking of a word that begins with “d” and ends with “eliverable”).

    I’m as guilty as anybody else of using these awful terms from time to time.

    But there are a few points to consider here – even if we leave aside for the moment the fact that these terms emerge from a neoliberal economic environment that many (present company included) regard as inherently hostile to the principles of accountability and transparency that archives ought to be promoting.

    First we might question our motivation. When we use biz-speak it’s for the same reasons politicians (and ultimately businesspeople) do: we wish to appear authoritative, slick, and privy to the lexicon of the elite. In my view, however, all too often when we use these terms we’re actually revealing a profound lack of confidence in their own skills and ability to achieve what we set out to do in the workplace. Come on, folks! Archivists already have our OWN jargon and it’s certainly obtuse and infuriating enough as it is. And in its defense, most of our terms have meanings that at least make sense to us and are useful for precision, if not comprehension.

    Which brings us to the next issue. At some point we probably ought to confront a most uncomfortable – but fairly universally observed – phenomenon: the inverse ratio of a person’s biz-speak usage to their actual competence and/or performance. Put simply, most of these terms don’t actually mean much. They’re what people say when they want to fill space, a conversational placeholder that serves no purpose other than to say “I know I have to be here, but that doesn’t mean I actually have to think about or achieve anything constructive”. They prolong meetings, put off work, waste time, and also cause the blood pressure of people like me to rise through the ceiling.

    Please. Think of my arteries.

    Of course, all of the above and more contribute to the fact that using these terms just makes you sound like an absolutely vacuous, pretentious jerk. As somebody who often sounds like a pretentious jerk but almost never a vacuous one, this irritates me.

    So for heaven’s sake, give it a rest. This isn’t American Psycho. You’re not a bunch of boardroom monkeys and they aren’t people to admire or emulate in any case. Never forget that the people who came up with these terms also spawned the hyper-proliferation of management culture that is now the bane of every single professional I know. You’re archivists and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. So get on with it.

  10. Thanks so much to everyone who has posted so far, this is amazing. Kind of cathartic, really, and now I’m going to take the plunge and admit my secret archival shame:
    Should I be embarrased that I can’t “mark up” a finding aid? I don’t use EAD, or XML, or EAC or MODS or METS or DACS any other technical jargony thing I can think of which I spent a week or two learning about in graduate school. (No need to correct my misuse of any or all of those acronyms, I’m well aware of it. ) All of the collections I work with are analog. For each finding aid I write, I type it up and then post a PDF copy on my work blog with as many tags as I can come up with so people can find it and access it online. Should I be ashamed of that? Am I doing a bad job because I’m not doing things the way they are done at the big research libraries and universities? I don’t think I am, I think I’m practical and making the best use of my resources and time to provide access to the stuff at my institution.
    To put it plainly, *stop pressuring yourself to measure up to some technological status-quo that doesn’t make ANY SENSE for your organization, or the work you’re performing or the collections you work with*.

  11. I concur completely with the “stop using jargon” comments – jargon from inside the field and outside of it. It obscures our work, I think. We work for the Citizens, as Julian calls them (which sounds v Hunger Games, btw) – whoever we see our audience as, we should standardize for the people. Who don’t understand scope and content (me neither, sometimes!)

  12. @Renee: I totally agree with your “just get it online” approach to finding aids–better to make them accessible sooner than to take the time to make them perfect. But there is so much more to archives technology than digital finding aids or metadata standards. What about digitization, or acquiring and preserving born-digital records?

  13. One size fits all discarding of practices won’t work-while having a set of best practices can be beneficial, what archives and special collections chose to continue to do (what system and level of cataloging/metadata creation) or discard depends on the structure of the institution,type of institution, the needs of the patrons, and which methods staff have found that decreases processing times and gives faster access to patrons.

    For example I worked at an institution where scanning went through one department (not ours) and which collections were scanned in depended on researcher/academic interests (largest sub-specialties in departments), where collections fit in the priority scanning roster, and (three levels of) library administrative say-so.There were three large collections that didn’t fit in our department, forcing other high usage collections to be housed in the stacks-request for transfer of the collections to other more relevant libraries on-campus that housed their own archives were denied (learning how to navigate through multiple levels of administrative red tape to implement changes is a key aspect of reform/implementing processing changes, at least for me). Two of those collections were high-use, which took time away from processing high use collections for our department, as well as negatively affecting other libraries (music and fine arts staff would have to make time to run over to our building to perform work with collections, instead of being able to work in their buildings).

    Having worked as a project archivist on several collections in a cubicle where patrons couldn’t see me (or knew I existed) and having worked in a public capacity in outreach and instruction (special collections librarian) I feel that this argument is split between two themes and two types of archivists-those who interact more directly with the public and don’t (or don’t want to) spend time on data entry, those who want to simplify methods entering metadata (cataloging). The overlapping theme is getting information to users faster-but I don’t see cutting corners-just doing a simple Excel spreadsheet, which can be even more time consuming if you work on a large collection (as I did), which to date, has taken four years to process (required someone who could read music).

    Whichever methods we choose, we need to be proactive and showing why we need to make changes to the way we arrange and describe collections and how it will provide faster access to materials.When I asked about the collection which was being entered at item level (and consisted of thousands of individual parts, scores and multiple scores which had been edited by the artist) I was given a timeline of an additional three years to complete . I feel that, concerning the above, the issue is backlog due to lack of funding (lack of staff, adequate software, materials for processing) because those outside the profession believe we just shove things into boxes and researchers and historians do the “real” work.

    Archival and special collections staff have to take the initiative on this part, which means getting out from behind our desk/departments and interfacing with local colleges, high schools and other cultural institutions. As an academic librarian creating internship opportunities with departments that compliment archival holdings (history, political science, French, Spanish, Asian Studies, etc) helped with making a dent in backlog, both in arranging and metadata entry.

    Devils Advocate, EL and Linda-with respect, stopping arranging is a luxury some cannot afford and is “the symptom, not the disesase” of being understaffed, not having the budget for tech that can streamline processing. As someone who researched forensic archives-use of archives in war crimes tribunals, secret police files (Stasi), reconstructing “destroyed” documents (print and digital)- arranging isn’t a luxury that can be discarded, it’s a necessity. “We have too much backlog so we’re going to stop arranging,” isn’t an option in these cases.

    Using platforms like WordPress to show how collections are processed and how emerging technologies assist processing create interest in archives and special collections and lead to a better understanding (see Special Collections 2.0). As some one who had to create an outreach program, explaining how processing and collection development works in archives, tying holdings to current research and explaining possible delays (while highlighting digital materials and online research assistance) helped faculty and students become interested in not only using archives for research, but creating opportunities for students who are interested in hands-on work in archives as a way to enhance their own research methods.

    What should archivist stop doing? Regardless of whether we work as project archivist, rare book and manuscript catalogers, creators of LibGudies/digital materials, handle e-mail/online research questions we need to increase transparency in what we do and how we do it. This means working (in my experience) with subject specialists, lending, ILL, cataloging, collection development, systems, administrative, reference and instruction staff/departments to help patrons gain access to materials faster. Both of the above will help when it comes time to implement much needed changes in arranging and description.

    Tiffany Brand
    “LiTTech #22 Emerging Technologies in Special Collections” http://bit.ly/GEQVF5
    Emerging Tech and Cold War Archives: http://slidesha.re/ywTQev
    Overcoming Barriers to Access: Navigating International Copyright- handout:http://slidesha.re/gxjcHH
    digital poster: http://slidesha.re/X4RSx4

  14. I appreciate the thought and creativity that you all have put into your comments and I hope to see some more suggestions and ideas in this thread. If possible, could we please refrain from criticizing the suggestions made by others? I’m sorry I didn’t make it clear that I hoped this would be more of a “brain storming” post in which, as the facilitator usually says in the beginning, we generate ideas without reflecting on what others have said. And Tiffany has said something that I would have assumed of any archivist reader, that all institutional situations are different and what might work in one place might not work in another. So please, rather than try to share examples of why someone’s idea wouldn’t work for you, let’s stick with just sharing new ideas. In future posts we can talk about why some ideas might be more broadly applicable than others.

  15. I think Archivists need to stop undervaluing their skills and convince people that much like software developers or computer programmers, we have mad skillz! People misunderstand the value of our specialized skills and knowledge. We’re not glorified clerks! i think too often someone with tech skills are paid well even without any degree because “I could never do what they do. Computers are hard.” But with archivists they imagine we are just putting stuff in alphabetical order and that they could “totally do our job. Why does that take graduate school?”

    How do we get there? Good question! Maybe we do change our “lingo” or maybe we need a really good PR campaign. I try to insert myself (where I can and when I have time) into seemingly “unrelated” areas of my institution as an adviser of archives related stuff. Metadata, organizing records, protecting fragile papers, reformatting media, etc. It is hard to get invited to the table, but I keep trying.

    Also in all areas of my life, I tag everything I can find with the term archives! On Facebook, Pinterst, in real life, etc. I am amazed at the amount of archival materials that is passed around on social media with out even the slightest thought about how that 1953 photograph [really, insert any archival item here] survived and made it to the internet. People LOOOOOOVE archives but we need to serve them up in a way that is easy to eat. And to convince the world we got the mad skillz to create a feast!

  16. Hi Kate,
    I didn’t mean to offend or insult anyone-I think we all have thicker skin than that:) My response came from, what I viewed in other comments that didn’t, in my opinion show “that all institutional situations are different and what might work in one place might not work in another. ” I don’t feel I was pointing out the obvious, just gaps that I saw in the conversation.

  17. I agree that semantics is a big problem when addressing non-archivists. I use one set of terms for archives staff, another set for what I’d like to term (the most) archives-adjacent (historians), one for students, and another for the public. I have to do this so I don’t alienate who I’m speaking to and have to take care that I don’t leave them utterly confused or make their eyes glaze over 🙂

    Working with archival staff (online) in other countries is a whole different issue, with the different terms and methods for various practices (I remember one of my professors had a chart-I’d love to get things streamlined so archivists don’t need charts to communicate with each other). We need reform both within and outside the profession-so we don’t end up with CUSTARD on our faces- again.

  18. I agree with most of what was said already. I just want to add that we should ditch things that don’t work for our individual institutions or situations. To that end, think about your constituents and their needs. What is the best way to get the information out to them? If terminology, technology, etc. will not help them in any way, forget about it! Go with what will bring the people to the information.

    One of the things that I’m always trying to convince our undergrads is that archives don’t need to be scary. Their professors want to take them to bigger name archives at big name universities because these archives are more “professional.” It only serves to intimidate them. That’s a good way to scare them away from using valuable primary sources. It is one thing to introduce them to specific collections for a purpose, it is another to teach them that they should only go to “real” archives to do research. Our archive is just as real as the next guy and probably more relevant to the students’ curriculum.

    That being said, those big name places certainly have their place and are a valuable resource for many, however, I think it sometimes makes other institutions look less credible. The younger generation isn’t going to be looking for information the way researchers have in the past. Archivists need to move forward, embrace new technologies and research tools. So ditch the formality and go with the flow!

  19. From my point of view, we need to stop ignoring digital archives and the means to collect, preserve, and share electronic records. It’s all well and good to talk about OAIS and reformatting files to non-proprietary formats, but if we don’t continually insert ourselves into the conversation of the institutions and the people we serve, they will continue to find other methods of organizing and managing their archives. My descriptions of a records retention life cycle are falling on deaf ears since organizations are directing their IT departments to retain all records in a single content management system. With that investment, why bother building a workflow to transfer inactive and scheduled archive records series to a separate, painstakingly designed trustworthy digital repository? It’s time for archivists as a profession to understand and effectively use IT, for lack of a better term, just as well, if not more so, than our well-researched understanding of physical records and preservation efforts.

  20. I think that archives and archivists need to stop being so intimidating. I know researchers who have to really buck up on courage to enter what, to them, can be a rather foreboding archives room that comes with a hawkish guardian of ‘the stuff’. Excessive rules , complicated forms and the feeling that one is interrupting the person at the desk with a question does not make for a positive experience that one would want to repeat. Personally, I gladly step away from what I am doing when someone has a question about our archives because I love the opportunity to show people just how cool it all can be. Explaining our systems and archives language is one of my key roles when someone wants to access our materials, and I want to make researchers feel like there are no ‘dumb’ questions. I want to win this person over to Team Archives and I do that through personal engagement, showing them what we do matters to them as an individual. Obtaining this buy-in gets archives fans, and the simple truth of it all is that we need these fans for our survival in our communities.

  21. Please stop just boxing it all up and giving us a hierarchical, paper-based finding aid of arbitrarily organized, widely disparate contents notes.
    Also, please stop throwing it all in a musty old warehouse/archive/special collection.

    You saved what you saved for whatever reason — make it available for easy perusal online (scan it, OCR it, index it, make a meaningful finding aid around the story contained in the papers, **and provide access to the world, online***.

    Arguably, your collection is worth nothing until it is used — so make it priceless by making it easy and desirable to use and make it widely available.

    Scarcity Is Dead; Long Live Overabundance.
    Also, learn the principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) — it’s not a dirty concept, it’s possibly the lifeblood of your future funding and relevance.

  22. Not phrased to answer what archives should not be doing but merely thoughts on learning and information seeking. Stem from 3 decades in public service at three different federal agencies.

    1. Some archival administrators operate more as free agents than others. Management may face constraints that cannot be shared in public or down through the ranks. Keep operational diversity in mind. Avoid actions that signal lack of situational awareness or efforts to force fit unrealistic solutions. Acknowledge that what is natural or easy to apply in one setting may require customization or tweaking if it is to work elsewhere. Know that one size rarely fits all.

    2. Learn to read between the lines. Easier to do when people don’t over-use biz speak, jargon or managerial robo speak. However, there may be lessons to be learned when they do that. Learn to look at how people engage in terms of metamessage as well as message.

    3. Be sophisticated and tough minded but also humble and brave. Learn to manage expectations. Value honesty. Accept it, to the extent you can. Give it, to the extent you can. You won’t always be able to be honest. Some environments don’t allow it. Recognize why that is and act accordingly. Keep stewardship obligations in mind, first and foremost.

    4. Information seeking and problem solving need not be a zero sum game. Understand the limitations of the crowd while also valuing what it can offer. Recognize that some issues (or some aspects of issues) can be aired out publicly while others cannot. Factor in contingency. Failure may result in skewed data which leads to poor insights and misdirected solutions to archival issues.

    5. You may not be able to be honest with “the crowd” about limitations. But understand that if it can’t help you in everything, due to hidden elements unique to your institution, its members can help you in other areas. Avoid internal and external elitism that shuts people out. Focus on how to engage broadly without rejecting targeted assistance. Partner vertically and horizontally, deeply and broadly, both.

    6. Don’t overlook the value of feedback from institutional colleagues. Don’t compel them to do things that enhance your position at the expense of theirs. If possible, regard them as partners, people you can help and who can help you.

    3. Mistakes happen. Prepare yourself for failure or course correction even in an environment that requires you to highlight your accomplishments and provides few public forums for pure problem solving.

    5. Learn what your users seek but don’t be afraid of educating them. Again, one size won’t fit all. It makes a difference whether you acquire random items saved by individuals or take in materials via statutory records management. How a collection or series in a record group was handled by the creator or his or her aides can teach users about how they worked as much as the content of individual records. Organizational culture and bureaucratic requirements may represent learning opportunities for historians, political scientists, sociologists. As you consider access options, consider if clues to their existence in the original handling of records contributes to knowledge or not. .

    6. Recognize differences among users and strive to serve as diverse needs as possible, without becoming mired in past practices or fetishizing new processes. Avoid calcification. Keep a truly open mind and never fear continual learning.

    7. Listen, listen, listen.

  23. PS My comments are somewhat crytic and seemingly random (and yes, somewhat randomly numbered, but that not deliberately). Some points are intended for parts of the one audience, some for others. Pick and choose, mix and match.

    Thanks for putting up the question, Kate.

  24. Being a volunteer archivist for a poor rural county I find much of what is being discussed way over my head even though I am a librarian. It is our purpose here to preserve records the best way we can and make them available to the public with very limited resources. We have no on line presence at this time and may never. Our state archives microfilms our records and makes them available at the state level. We are very basic but we have some of the most interesting and vital records for our state and county. We may not do it “right” but we do it.

  25. I totally agree with Caroline. The best thing that an archivist can do for the profession is to get “archives fans.” I think that we all do a lot as archivists. I think that what we do is important. I think that we need to do a lot more and need more support to do it. We need to get buy-in from our communities. We need to show young people that what we do is awesome. We need to get young professionals to want to help as, either by becoming archivists or using their skills to help archivists. In addition to processing, digitization, etc. etc. we need to brush up on our public relations skills. We need to do more outreach and teaching. We can use others who specialize in these areas (people with MBAs etc.) to help us. We need to reach out to other professions that are similar to ours that may do a better job at certain things than we do. Cultural heritage professionals should help each other. Librarians, museum professionals, and archivists should share notes and expertise. While valuing our own skills is important and certification is lovely, I think we need to spend more time learning about the world beyond archives and adapting our work to collaborate with others to make our profession truly 21st century ready. What should archivists stop doing? I agree with most of the posts here. People want information to be accessible, easy to use and understandable. We should work harder to give them that and look beyond our own institutions to achieve that. Rather than closing up the profession and demanding certain skills, we should broaden our profession and appreciate skills that other professionals can bring to our work.

  26. Hi,
    I agree with Caroline and Melissa on opening up the archives and promoting the growth of ‘archive fans’. As a graduate student, friends and family are constnatly asking what exactly is an archivist and what do they do. We need to improve the visibility of our profession and our role within society through increased and authentic public relations (which most likely would be more successful on a grassroots one-on-one level rather than some sort of professional association’s campaign).

    While questions of “what we should stop doing” are valid, perhaps it would be more productive to ask “what is a priority and what can be placed on the backburner” (I think some of my professors would die if arrangment ended completely).

    My two cents: More brainstorming sessions and collaboration between archivists is important. Completely new to the profession, I might be wrong but I think the archival world needs to take inspiration from museums with their 15min colloquium and showcases. Yesterday, I attended the ROM’s Research Colloquium where employees gave quick, concise 15min sessions about their research (ranging from rocks, to cultures, to social media). The Museums Showoff TO is a biweekly, informal, public event held by the Museum of Inuit Art where museum professionals can discuss any museum related topic for nine minutes plus time permitted for discussion. The short time frame permits little commitment from the audience to attend and also may reduce intimidation that only those knowledgeable in the field can attend. Perhaps archives should start hosting events like these as an advocacy (read: PR) tool and as a forum to share idea and promote collaboration within the profession.

  27. Very much to Tiffany’s point about the lack of universality of archival best pactices, as a corporate archivist, I find myself on the opposite side regarding much of what has been said so far about what archivists should and shouldn’t do. This is not criticism – just reality. While the overriding goal of all archives is to preserve records, how they do so can vary considerably. In the case of institutional archives, our primary goal is something the National Archives doesn’t have to worry about – survival. We answer to different masters, have different missions, have different priorities, and as a result have to modify our practices accordingly to fit our organizational needs. To wit, here are just a few ways that we differ from the majority of archives.

    Institutional archivists are usually the biggest users of their own collections, as we perform the majority of the reference research for our firms … when your function is not mission critical to your organization, this is one of the ways you add value and justifiy your existence.

    So our approach to arrangement and description reflects this reality and emphasizes granularity whenever possible – MPLP doesn’t work when your organization prizes instant turnaround on information requests. Having micro control not just of our documents, but the content in those documents, and their linkages to other parts of the collection, generates significant value for our organization in terms of speed, accuracy, and depth of knowledge. And it also greatly enhances the perception of the Archives as subject matter experts, which benefits our reputation and further justifies our existence.

    And business speak? Well, we need to be able to converse with our clients in their language. They don’t care about archives terminology or processes – all they care about is getting the information that meets their needs. And while I know that businesses get hammered by the Public for the jargon they use, let me just point ut that every profession has jargon. And that this jargon serves as a kind of professional shorthand that speeds intra-professional conversations. Just as a sociologist would know that a term like organizational mnemonics refers to a range of behaviors and practices, so too those of us in the business world know the meanings of phrases like finalizing the plan to leverage our synergies around core competencies to drive efficiencies into constituent-facing experiences. 🙂

    So let me suggest that archivists should broaden their definition of what constitutes appropriate archival practices, and increase their tolerance for those of us who don’t strictly adhere to traditional archives models.

  28. Heh, just noticed it publishes my Google pic. So much for anonymous, if anyone knows the pic….

    @Paul Lasewicz: True, every profession has its jargon. Some of it may be useful. Some of it… not so much. In my work with the public and especially my work teaching (largely volunteers), I find it doesn’t speed anything up. It gets in the way and slows things down. Even among professionals, it doesn’t seem to make things go faster.

    Something like conservation vs. preservation, even if it’s not the way the general public might tend to use the terms, has an obvious place. Arrangement has its specific archival meaning, and that’s fine. “Custodial history,” okay, that makes sense. But a lot of RAD-speak (I’m picking on RAD a bit because it’s an easy target and because it’s what I’m directly working with at the moment), but it’s far from the only source) just doesn’t make anything easier or faster. In fact, a lot of the professional archivists I work and have worked with avoid using that terminology because it’s 1) clunky, 2) not any clearer even when you know what it means, 3) confusing to the public, and 4) often confusing even to other archivists. There’s a big difference between terminology that can be useful and terminology that’s just getting in everyone’s way – ours as well as the public’s.

    All this to say, yes, some of this terminology has a place. But I feel that some of it may not be properly leveraged to create optimal user buy-in and improve those all-important constituent-facing experiences 😀

    Now, if only I could convince people to stop attempting conservation treatments when they don’t know what they’re doing….

  29. @Tiffany: +1. Bulk obscures content. Arrangement cuts bulk.

    @Devil’s: Arrangement without description is vain; description without arrangement is blind.

    @person not writing in DACS: it’s not a metadata standard. You don’t have to learn anything computery to do it. And it’s built on the bones of AACR2 and APPM, so even if you don’t know DACS, DACS knows you.

    What should we drop? Fretting about our public image.

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