In the archive, avoid to-do “which” lists that include any list of chores, errands, or projects that cannot be processed by real human beings. In the archive, and its companion library system, any number of misfortune, pitfall, or researcher led ghost-chase jeopardizes archivists who cannot work collaboratively to solve problems. Simply — in the university archive — too many projects risk disaster without clear staff communication.
The lonely call of the shoestring budget; ever-dreaded project pushback hype (don’t believe it); monsoon season water leakage across your beloved collections’ corners; lost processing time and unforeseen side-projects; low, absent, even nonexistent staff morale across the institution: such mechanisms limit human health and conducive productivity (forget project production) and further risks academically fabricated curmudgeons of the house repository variety.
The worst-of-all list includes poorly communicated objectives and a lack of basic operational instructions. Avoid neglectful guidance practices for work-study employees, ambiguous internship tasks and goals, and generalized absences of diversified staff character and the project engagements important to the archive. Does your university archive TO-DO list extend well into the future? Of course it does! We are archivists.
In the archive, today’s professionals debate, negotiate, and press forward to define what archival and collection management practices mean and, likewise, how the community responds. Does your archive suffer unreasonably from a staffing, funding, or identity slump — ask yourself: how does the community support or hinder the workflow whereby the archive hopes to collect and organize itself.
Do your archive holdings generate a local or regional memory, perhaps a single geographic area, cultural perspective or favorite folklore inquiry such as Billy the Kid? Who currently uses the archive, and why should researchers and patrons be interested in the collection of materials behind your research room walls?
These questions, and more, depend on the archivist’s message and methodologies shown through good policy, and met with staff driven information about the resources and materials available for research room display. What holdings draw-on and share historic value for the community?
How can the archive relate to the present day, and whose story does the archive tell, and why, where, what, when, and who described these stories? If these questions are not obvious: hire a library and archives public relations contractor immediately.
What more! Where does the archive display itself: the front room, the first floor library display case, the swap-meet or versatile yet cumbersome pop-up storyboard-on-tour? Francis Blouin reminds us that “historians usually come to the archive intending to tell a story or substantiate an interpretation.” Like it or not, the present day archive belongs to the user seeking information about the contents of a collection believed to be relevant. That said, like the library, there are policies which archive users must follow in order to heighten their own respectful research experience.
Does your archive provide a clear message and accessible points of reference which help researchers to this outcome of success? If the answer is no, your archive has problems.
territory of the Summer archives
In the archive — of my perspective — the need for processing of accessioned material thrives when balanced between human labor, work-time, and the community’s desire to use research rooms vigorously, numerously, and responsibly.
The New Mexico State University Archives, located at Branson Library, holds the Rio Grande Historical Collection (RGHC) with public access on the 4th floor at the Caroline E. Stras Research Room, open Monday through Friday 9 AM – 4 PM during regular Fall and Spring semester.
A July 2017 article in the Las Cruces Bulletin details NMSU Archives department head Dennis Daily’s outreach and collaboration with “10 other historical repositories … to highlight the work they do to preserve local history and culture.” NMSU Archives houses local memory through the Amador Family papers, the New Mexico Irrigation information, and New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, to name only a few.
The RGHC Information File features annotated description of these holdings while the RGHC Subject Index provides alphabetical listing of collection content. The NMSU Library Digital Collections allow students and community patrons online access to past university activities, historical photographs and publications, in addition to helpful library guides which present sometimes distinctive, sometimes interconnected, histories of NMSU status as a Land Grant University.
The opportunity of the archives internship helped form many new projects, and further serves to codify much of my past archival experience. For example, collaboration with university staff during collection workflow and applied box and folder level processing techniques — digital management of audio recorded material especially — which, in turn, drives my fascination for collecting and describing the objects and intellectual property of the past and present.
My intention is to work with archivists within the field, and to make oral history collections, curations, and well preserved born-digital sound narratives.
This effort includes Public History and patron awareness of the archive as a place much more than a repository of papers, historical media formats, and ancestral community objects. I believe explicitly that the function of the university archive should be to provide physical and digital open-access, well preserved records and papers, and Special Collection displays representative of NMSU students, staff, and alumni, and especially the widely diverse Las Cruces and southern New Mexico communities.
processing + accessioning
This summer’s internship projects combined traditional categories of archival processing with slightly more modern enterprises of audio-tape to digital-conversion of oral history interviews. The accessioned Aubrey L. Dunn Papers seek folder level description. The Herman B. Weisner Papers comprise, in part, oral histories recorded on reel-to-reel tape, converted to audio tape, and now carefully converted a final time to WAV file format.
Dunn Papers processing will result in a finding aid in Rocky Mountain Online Archive (RMOA). My primary task includes a short review of each box, and a ten-to-twenty word description of each folder. This information is then entered into an old fashioned (hopefully soon retired) Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to await further review. Data is then edited into what Archives Space calls, rather than a Finding Aid, a Resource Record.
A guidebook to my work, the Beinecke Processing Manual chaperones all levels of the archival process. Likewise, Archives Space is soon capable of uploading a newer RMOA website, a promising development to bring collaborative, problem solving joy to librarians and archivists once NMSU Library user database migrate early in 2018. An Archives Space webinar calls the process a “model in transition,” which quests to deliver higher patron access, and student engagement with NMSU libraries, archives, and special collections.
With a sure foot in both worlds, NMSU Library Specialist Jennifer Chavez introduced Archives Space, a web application for archives Information Management Systems (IMS) which seeks to categorize collection holdings. As RMOA updates its online presence, Archives Space fills the gap between the physical past and digital present. Its origins with the Archivists Toolkit, and container (box) management philosophy supported through Lyrasis, Archives Space holds the current title of preferred software for the next generation of archivists. An obvious reason for this clear support: attention to Describing Archives Content Standard (DACS) and the claim of capable content migration from classic format standards such as EAD, EAC, MARCXML, MODS, and Dublin Core.
By offering to provide a macro appraisal of NMSU holdings, Jennifer works with Archives Space to migrate already existing collection data into Primo, the NMSU Library’s new user database. These tools and collaborations, and more, are sure to be a part of my student employee position this fall semester in the archive.
into the future archives
Present technologies do not remove the work (our energy-consumed human labor) necessary to provide physical access to the items available in the collection. A noticeable difference between Dunn and Weisner collections ― because the Dunn Papers are currently accessioned without a linkable finding aid, the Weisner Papers present a good example of the future Archives Space resource record.
The purpose of a finding aid, according to the Society for American Archivists, is to create a records’ description for best practice activities and to promote “physical and intellectual control over the materials [and] assist users to gain access to and understand the materials.” Without a finding aid or resource record, how will your patrons discover the archive collection?
Since NMSU archives seek to maintain a digitized workflow for analog cassette tapes to the digital WAV format, the opportunity exists to learn more about processes which rescue sound materials from technical obsolescence, the audio slave’s dreaded result of outdated media losing the ability to be recovered due to damage, missing status, or a lack of technological means for digitization to take place. For instance, without a workable reel-to-reel player, audio holdings risk oblivion should they not be attended to by archives’ staff or, alternatively, outsourced to expensive private vendors.
A helpful guide to understanding this process, The Digitization of Audio Tapes – Technical Bulletin No. 30 (link now broken) detailed numerous potential by which analog and digital incompatibility complicated recovery of antiquated recordings. Here at NMSU archives, and with help from campus Instructional Media Services (IMS – a local campus acronym), Herman Weisner reel-to-reel tapes may soon be available thanks to the initiative to develop workflow conversion methods and future practice.
My 2017-2018 internship works with archive materials through the above established traditional methods i.e. box processing and audio file preservation, yet also in a closely knit schedule (Thursday recordings) of oral history throughout New Mexico.
Especially important to me, a Las Cruces community project to identify and record the people and organizations who advocate for those experiencing poverty, homelessness, and hunger in New Mexico.
Now a full year of writing, researching, and preparing to voice the project to the community, Fall & Spring presents the opportunity to begin the initial recordings of narrator Historias and Narratives of New Mexico.
As I conclude my Summer Internship, and continue my experience as a part-time employee, a few questions about NMSU archival practice remain; namely, available documentation of current processing guidelines, such as More Product, Less Processing (MPLP), and archives’ staff interest to survey itself about institutional practices and university archives policy.
In light of changing technology, another important insight to research further: archives recommendations to accession born-digital audio recordings into the collection. For instance, should oral historians solicit NMSU archives to house digital files, what criteria need occur for a successful project to unfold?
From earlier this Summer at a NMSU archives sponsored workshop: does the archive plan to implement WESTPAS, a disaster recovery network of archivists and library professionals who seek to limit the disaster and recovery impacts of natural and manmade damage to archival materials? Perhaps establishing a communication network of “first to call” documents, or even a helpful Lib Guide, could help to prevent future threat to the physical integrity of NMSU and Branson library collections.
These ideas, and many more in mind, Fall semester guarantees processing engagement, archival scholarship, and — in the archive — the welcomed pace of Las Cruces