Archive for May, 2011

The student poster session allowed six students a chance to showcase projects they had done.  Alexis Logsdon won for her poster titled “Preservation at Quatrefoil.”  The other posters were created by Kaitlin Dunn (Voices of the Ironworkers: collecting oral histories and creating outreach opportunities for public folklore projects); Elizabeth Haeuptle (Capstone Project: Mound Science and Energy Museum); Noel Rihm (Community Outreach: Public History Educational Programs); Eric Schoenbaechler (The Julian C. Wyche Collection: Issues in Researching and Developing a Digital Exhibit); and Sara Stambaugh (A Case Study: More Product Less Process for Access, PDF/A and the Walter F. Mondale Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society).

Congratulations to all participants for doing such a great job!

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The morning session on the final day of 2011 MAC offered an interesting look at the practical application of the concept of “good enough” in arrangement and description. Jennifer Graham (Wisconsin Historical Society), Michelle Ganz (Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum), and Dennis Meissner (Minnesota Historical Society) described their institutional experiences with a eye toward reasonable expectations rather than perfection.

Through her work at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Jennifer Graham encountered a difficult dilemma with over 4,600 cubic feet of unaccessioned materials. The WHS storage is currently full, and an offsite facility is being built, requiring the preparation of those materials shipped offsite. The “good enough” arrangement description allows for efficient retrieval for offsite materials. This process required description at the folder level, and limiting it to abstracts and short scope/content notes. All of the finding aids were developed with EAD, allowing for searching of the online findings aids by keyword (a key element).

Graham discussed several factors to consider:

  • Types of collection will often determine the original organization of the collections
  • Formats as descriptions will vary based on format
  • Various levels of difficulties with each collection
  • The current level of access to unprocessed collections

Additionally, there are several constraints, including staff, space, time, knowledge, and money. She also noted the importance for good project management, most importantly, a central place to store records. Her development of a task worksheet allowed her to quickly/easily instruct volunteers, interns, and paraprofessionals on the needs for each collection. The WHS project resulted in over 4,600 cubic feet being cleaned up or described in 535 EAB lists in 0.5 to 2.0 cu. ft. per hour. This was possible by switching focus from arrangement to description for access.

Michelle Ganz explored the concept of “good enough” through her experiences at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum. As a professional who wears many different hats, in combination with budgetary strains, Ganz stressed “good enough” is not a luxury, but necessary to functionality. She stated, simple solutions can be the most elegant and often the easiest and most cost effective. Ganz reflected on if she could ever achieve perfection. Recognizing perfection was unobtainable, allowed her to focus her attention on what is possible, rather than what is perfect (although she did note that sometimes good enough is not enough).

Ganz achieves the good enough principles through breaking big projects into little, achievable steps and applying real world solutions. Most importantly, she advocates the motto: recycle, reuse, and reduce. For example, she very rarely throws out a used folder. Ganz also notes the importance of creative thinking, such as her bartering with another department (in this case she traded a volunteer for a month for custom boxes). Another example described the application of good enough to cataloging the archival collections, of which only 10% were cataloged when she started (it now sits at 90%). Finally, she stressed it is all about advocacy and persistence combined with knowing when to walk away.

As the final presenter, Dennis Meissner expanded on the application of the more product, less process (MPLP) model to special collections. Several problems exist with current practice: the processing bench marks and practice are inappropriate; it focuses on the ideal and not what is needed; it is fixated on item-level tasks; preservation anxiety trumps user needs; and we achieve only a fraction of our productivity potential. Meissner proposed a solution through switching from an old model to a new model. Whereas the old model was process driven, the new model would be audience driven. The old model was resource intensive, and the new would be resource sensitive. Rather than focusing on artisan quality, the new model uses good enough, or production quality. The switch would result in lower unit costs, rapid turnarounds, and the ability to deal with uncertainty of future resources. Overall, the new model focuses on making use the preeminent objective.

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The three presenters on the Faculty-Archivist Collaborations: Promoting Archival Use panel demonstrated ways in which they successfully collaborated with faculty on mutually beneficial projects. One of the chief accomplishments was getting students into the archives early in their academic career, informing them of what an archives is and what role it serves. Of particular value, a professor in the English Department (Dr. Kim Crowley) also presented the faculty view of these collaborations.

Curt Hanson highlighted work with faculty that went well beyond the history classes which are a logical fit with many archives. Hanson has worked with History of Higher Education instructors and with Records and Information Management courses for IT students, showing them record series and providing real world context for theoretical discussion. Graphic design classes have used archival holdings to compare a Gutenberg Bible replica and the White Bull manuscript. Hanson also highlighted collaborative digitization projects with faculty, such as the University of North Dakota Pottery Collection and Elwyn B. Robinson Collection. Overall, Hanson stressed the value of the “snowball effect” where one project can lead to others, that planning and discussion can be informal, having a good relationship with the library director, and providing a consistent, constant message to faculty.

Lisa Sjoberg stressed the value that the primary sources that can be found in the archives can be of great benefit to a variety of classes. By collaborating with faculty, archivists can introduce students to the archives early in their academic career, and make the archives an indispensable part of the curriculum. Primary sources can foster critical thinking skills, form a connection with the community, reduce plagiarism, and increase awareness of information possibilities. In Sjoberg’s most successful collaboration, first year writing students read the historical fiction novel March while using a collection of civil war letters as the starting point for research papers. These and other projects helped build support for the archives, increased usage, and opened the door to other collaborations; however, they also create challenges in time commitment, finding enough archival resources for an entire class, and requiring significant advance planning. Ultimately, these collaborations were a balancing act where the rewards outweighed the challenges for both archivist and faculty.

Dr. Kim Crowley is a member of the English Department who worked with Lisa Sjoberg on many of the projects she discussed, and provided a welcome perspective from the other side on collaboration. Crowley discussed the value in using primary sources to study historical fiction as a way to get students to start talking about facts and conducting research. Overall, Crowley found the archives useful for fostering critical thinking skills, avoiding plagiarism, and teaching students how to dig for resources beyond electronic search engines. In general, students felt more engaged with their projects, thought about sources differently, and a small but significant fraction (Crowley estimated three out of twenty-two students per class for four classes) had their interest in the archives piqued, and told her they continued to use it for projects in other classes.

All of these presenters demonstrated that the archives hold materials which can be useful to a wide variety of classes, not just for direct historical research. By getting students in as freshman or during their introductory courses, the archives can be demystified and made accessible, creating a resource the students will be aware of for the rest of their academic career. The wide range of successful projects show the versatility of archival holdings, and the value of collaboration for both archivist and faculty.

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