More about Management: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections

You can order Management: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections from the Rowman & Littlefield site (and save 20% by using the promotional code 7S14ARCH). The Table of Contents is available there, and you can also read the pre-publication reviews from Michael Kurtz and David Carmichael. 

To help give you a better idea of what’s in the book, here’s an excerpt from the Introduction:

Few archivists have much formal training in management, and yet almost all professionals will rise to some level of management responsibility in their careers. Most archivists and special collections librarians seek to fill this educational gap with a combination of workshops, seminars, conference sessions, and readings in addition to mentorship, discussions with peers, and on-the-job experience. Some embrace this aspect of their job more actively than others. For many, management responsibilities may seem like a necessary evil as they advance through their careers. After all, dealing with senior administrators, attending meetings, managing staff, and fighting for budgets were not the kinds of work that made them seek out a career in archives. However, effective management of an archival program makes possible all the goals for which our collections exist. It is possible for a repository to have wonderful collections without good management—but in the current competitive environment, good management is essential for the future of any repository.

The challenges facing managers today are a mixture of the old and the new: Managing people, facilities, and money are still the primary concerns, but managing technology as well as taking best advantage of it brings new issues to the fore. In addition, many environments make it possible for managers to bring an entrepreneurial eye to bear on their work to a greater extent than in the past. To reflect this, the case studies in this collection include both innovative responses to traditional issues and approaches for responding to new situations that now confront managers.

Management: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections explores how archivists and special collections librarians in organizations of different sizes and types have approached the problems and opportunities they face. These case studies show a range of concerns and strategies, but all were selected because they demonstrate ideas that could be transferred into many other settings. They can serve as models, sources of inspiration, or starting points for new discussions. This volume will be useful to those working in archives and special collections as well as other cultural heritage organizations, and provides ideas ranging from those that require long-term planning and coordination to ones that could be immediately implemented. The chapters also provide students and educators in archives, library, and public history graduate programs a resource for understanding the varieties of issues facing managers in the field and how they can be addressed.

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Although there are many common concerns running through the 13 case studies in this collection, there are four factors that serve as a useful way to discuss them. In these examples, the authors discuss their approaches to managing:

  • Personnel
  • Workflow
  • Knowledge
  • Technology

These factors have a natural overlap, but they also have distinctive aspects that challenge managers in different ways.

Managing people can be one of the most difficult aspects of any manager’s job, and perhaps few days will be more difficult for a manager than the one on which he learns an employee has been stealing from the collections. In his case study, Christopher Anderson provides a detailed account of just such a day, the aftermath that followed, and what steps they took at Drew University to reduce the chances of any future occurrences. In considering the impact of insider theft, Anderson discusses the role trust plays for co-workers in an archives. Amorphous concepts like trust, fear, sadness, and status also play a key role in Fynnette Eaton’s discussion of the importance of effective organizational change management. While Eaton provides an overview of the tangible steps necessary to manage change, she puts particular emphasis on the critical but difficult task of understanding the factors that drive resistance to organizational change. People become emotionally invested in the work that they do, and so dealing with the “human side” of implementing something like new technology or a different organizational structure is essential.

In their case study about proactively leading a merger of separate archives and special collections departments at the University of Louisville, Caroline Daniels, Delinda Stephens Buie, Rachel I. Howard, and Elizabeth E. Reilly demonstrate many of the principles of good organizational change management described by Eaton. A key aspect of their plan was to ensure that the employees of both departments were invested in and supportive of the planned merger. They describe their successful efforts not just to merge administratively and physically but also to create a unified staff. The change at the University of Louisville was not driven by outside pressure, but rather was the result of managers seeing an opportunity to strengthen their separate organizations by changing the way they were aligned. Similarly, Erin Passehl-Stoddart and Jodi Allison-Bunnell took advantage of opportunities presented by grant funding to explore new staffing models for small repositories in the Pacific Northwest. They present the results and lessons learned from two grant-funded models using shared short-term archivists to achieve specific goals for a small group of collections. In their experience, sharing personnel is an effective strategy for bringing people with the right resources to the repositories that need them.

In addition to finding new ways to gain access to people with the right knowledge, good managers also look for ways to develop more knowledgeable staff. In designing a new incarnation of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)–funded Archives Leadership Institute, Rachel Vagts and Sasha Griffin considered what skills professionals need to be successful leaders. Their case study describes how they developed a multipart approach to building leaders, using a short intensive course followed by specific projects, mentorship, and communication with peers. At Concordia College, Lisa Sjoberg faced a similar challenge when she wanted to find a way to build an effective internship program incorporating “high-impact learning.” Sjoberg provides detailed information about the format of the program she created, including assigned readings and a training schedule.

Sjoberg’s findings show she was successful in creating a learning environment that worked for her students, and she succeeded in creating a program that also benefited the archives as well. In so doing, she demonstrates the second factor many of the case studies have in common: They describe strategies for managing process and workflow. Sjoberg shows how she integrated the new internship program into the workflow of the archives, ensuring that interns make meaningful contributions to the overall work of the department. In the same way, Passehl-Stoddart and Allison-Bunnell share how they addressed the challenge of developing processes and workflows for their grant-funded traveling archivists. Managing workflow, as well as information, was essential to the efforts at the University of Maryland to conduct an ambitious collections assessment without the additional resources and support that often make such an undertaking possible. Joanne Archer and Caitlin Wells managed this effort “on a shoestring,” making pragmatic decisions based on available resources and technological support.

All of these case studies describe creating or modifying workflows to take advantage of new or reallocated resources. But managers must also constantly evaluate existing processes to see where they can be improved. Examining existing processes was part of the analysis Kira Dietz conducted at Virginia Tech to gather requirements for new archival management software. In her case study, Dietz describes how she evaluated existing processes to see how new software could support them, and considered how the processes could be improved once a new system was acquired. Critically evaluating existing workflow was an essential aspect in the plan Maija Anderson developed to address the seismic changes that would face her organization with retirement of its longtime archivist. Anderson’s plan for managing knowledge transfer at the Oregon Health & Science University Library called for ambitious changes for how work was carried out and by what staff. In this case, part of sharing knowledge would call for sharing workload and responsibilities, and changing the role of the archivist within the organization.

Rob Fisher’s case study also addresses the changing role of the archivist in his organization, Library and Archives Canada. Fisher describes how a change in policy regarding acquiring materials from nongovernmental organizations changed the relationship between archivists and these donors, as well as on developing viable workflows for precustodial processing. Implementing precustodial processing required a shift in thinking about the role of the archivist in the workflow. Creating the Labs Environment at the National Archives of Australia also required a shift in thinking about archives’ processes for exploring new technologies. Zoё D’Arcy’s account outlines changes in philosophy, process, and oversight for piloting new tools for online public access to the collections. What made the Labs Environment possible was more a commitment to new workflows than changes in resources or technology. The shift that was required was one of management, not of tools.

In addition to managing people and processes, a manager in an archives or special collections library must also manage knowledge, and the capture and transfer of that knowledge. Maija Anderson needed to create and implement a plan for capturing a career’s worth of knowledge, across many areas, residing with the soon-to-be retiring archivist. In their case study, Archer and Wells discuss how they devised processes that would most efficiently document information about collections as part a collections assessment, and how they effectively harnessed the knowledge of the collection’s curators as part of that process. Fisher and the other archivists at Library and Archives Canada had to work with those implementing precustodial processing on collections for donor organizations and ensure that the organizations’ staff  were aware of required standards and had properly captured the organization’s knowledge about the records.

The fourth factor that can be used to talk about the case studies is the implementation of technology to achieve specific management goals. Although most of the case studies in the collection refer to using tools, from social media to databases, there are several that describe the application of a technological solution to a management challenge. Thomas Smith’s narrative of two campaigns using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter demonstrates the potential inherent in such sites for both raising money and for expanding an organization’s base of supporters. In Smith’s case, this use of technology was opportunistic and not tied to critical mission needs. In some ways, this is similar to D’Arcy’s depiction of the function of Labs Environment—a platform for exploring new tools and processes just to see how well they work. However, for the National Archives of Australia this exploration of technology is directly related to their goal of expanding access to collections. In this regard, technology is being used strategically to support the essential mission of the archives, in the same way as the selection of archives management software in Dietz’s case study.

The final case study in the collection includes and transcends all of these four factors. Strategic planning, as discussed in Mark Greene’s case study, requires a manager to harness people’s knowledge about the organization, as well as to stimulate them to think in more global terms than they do on a routine basis. A useful strategic plan takes into consideration how technology is changing workflows and processes and how it can be better deployed to meet an organization’s mission. When properly conducted, as Greene describes, strategic planning creates a document that guides what a manager strives to achieve.

While each case study in this collection describes a specific response to a challenge or opportunity, I think each also reflects a philosophy of experimentation that is perhaps the most critical ingredient necessary for any organization interested in developing its own “innovative” practices. In this regard, I hope this book and the others in the series encourage all readers to consider how their own work could benefit from the exploration of new ideas and tools. Although this series of books can, by definition, include only a small sample of the kinds of approaches being developed by archives and special collections around the world to meet the challenges of staying relevant and adaptable in today’s complex environment, I am sure these case studies will give readers many useful ideas to consider, as well as the inspiration to come up with tomorrow’s innovations.


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