Year in the Life: Rachel Fellman, part 1

In this month’s post, newly minted museum archivist Rachel Fellman looks at processing through the lens of tabletop roleplaying games.

As student archivists, I think we are all a little haunted by Greene and Meissner’s classic article “More Product, Less Process.” Underneath its hectoring and realpolitick, underneath its debatable assumption that process in itself isn’t important, there’s a sharp little question: what is the best way to use our time? Given a profession where we’ll always have more work than person-hours available, what’s the best way to make our materials findable and keep them preserved? There’s no real answer to that, only a long wrestling session that goes on until we retire. And the purpose of Greene and Meissner’s essay is to teach us to wrestle.

After we’ve learned that, though, we get a professional job. And we realize it’s not as simple as “processing: minimal or old-school?” Take me, for example. I work at a small museum dedicated to a single artist’s work. Almost every item in the archives is a potential exhibit, and it’s paramount that the curator be able to use the catalogue to design exhibits. As such, we process at the item level, and we scan everything. At the same time, since we have a limited staff and our collections are largely for internal use, we don’t write many finding aids, and we prioritize cataloguing over physically organizing our materials. Also, although we do most standard preservation work, we don’t remove paperclips or staples – we have good climate control, but more to the point, we like things to stay in their original, display-ready condition. We have a lot of photo albums and stapled-together items, and much of that still looks as it did when it arrived.

So what kind of processing is that? It has some aspects of minimal processing – the limited writing, the metal that stays in. But we also do a ton of item-level processing, which is anathema to the minimal philosophy. “Don’t process at the item level” is Greene and Meissner’s real point. All the stuff about paperclips and sleeves is just icing.

I would submit that the moment we take a job with “Archivist” in the title is also the moment we stop doing minimal processing – or maximal processing, or any other kind. Instead, we’re doing what tabletop roleplayers call “min-maxing,” which means optimizing your character’s stats. When you have a limited number of points to dole out to various traits, and you’re creating – say – a wizard, you might take points from their dexterity and add them to their intelligence, leaving them brilliant but clumsy. Which is fine, because a wizard doesn’t need to be an escape artist or a master thief. They’re here to cast Fireball and heal the barbarian.

Minimal processing itself is a form of min-maxing, of course. But it’s not the only form, and I think we can all take a lesson from the tabletop community: a university archives is not a corporate archives or a museum archives, just as a warrior is not a cleric or a rogue. Each one has different needs and uses, and it’s up to the archivist’s judgment to assign their stats and equipment so that they bring the right things to the party. This is common sense, but in my case, I really had to move on from my student job before I could internalize that one archivist’s waste of time is another archivist’s valuable daily labor — whether that’s item-level description, unclipping paperclips, or scanning artwork.


controlaccess: Relevant Subjects in Archives and Related Fields 2018-03-18

SAA News

Read the March/April Issue of Archival Outlook!

Archives and Archivists in the News

A startup is pitching a mind-uploading service that is “100 percent fatal” by Antonio Regalado [content warning: non-gory photo of human brain]

I don’t take this one tremendously seriously; I’ll get that observation out of the way. But as an archivist, I’m fascinated by the fantasy of brain-uploading and the ways that it fails to account for the realities of archiving: aging data storage systems, climate control that can’t keep up with environmental changes, budget failures, faulty metadata, processing backlogs. Imagine being uploaded into your post-life home and realizing you’re the equivalent of a pre-Word-2011 .doc file. I’m anticipating San Junipero as eagerly as the next person, but the preservation challenges will be immense.

‘National Geographic’ Looks At Its Archives To Reflect On Coverage Of Race by Karen Grigsby Bates

This piece barely touches on archival matters — however, I think the National Geographic conversation is interesting because it emphasizes the value of archives in self-examination and growth. To know who we are, we need to know what we were, and we can’t always rely on our human memories for the latter. I’m sure that a trawl through the National Geo archives revealed a magazine that tried and failed and tried again in a lot of complex ways.

controlaccess: Relevant Subjects in Archives and Related Fields 2018-03-11

SAA News

SNAP is looking for a Blog Coordinator! 

Reserve your hotel room now for SAA 2018 in Washington, D.C.! 

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SNAP Section Blog Coordinator

I’m reposting SNAP’s announcement of our search for a new Blog Coordinator. If you have someone to nominate, you can use the form here!


The Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable is seeking nominations for the appointed ex-officio position of Blog Coordinator (see description below). Ex-officio positions are open to all SNAP members.

The term for the office is for the 2018 calendar year, beginning immediately upon appointment and ending on December 31, 2018. A second year may optionally be considered after the end of the first year. If you wish to nominate yourself or someone else, please complete the following form. The ballot will remain open until a Blog Coordinator is selected by the SNAP Steering Committee, at which time the ballot will close. If you are nominated by someone else, you will have an opportunity before the ballot goes live to write your own candidate statement.


The SNAP Section steering committee will review all nominations. All candidates will be notified of appointment decisions within one week of ballot closing. Results will be announced on the SNAP listserv, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and blog after the appointment has been made.


Blog Coordinator (1 year position)

The blog coordinator facilitates the work of the full blog team (coordinator + new professional editor + student editor), schedules or coordinates content, publishes posts on behalf of the SNAP RT steering committee (including official announcements and messages from the chair), updates steering committee bios, and generally solicits guest authors for features and series.


controlaccess: Relevant Subjects in Archives and Related Fields 2018-03-04

This is the weekly roundup of headlines in and around archives, including some library, museum, digital humanities, and information science things as well. If you see something we’ve missed, please email us!

SAA News

Ask the Candidates: 2018 SAA Election

Archives and Archivists in the News

The Breakup Museum: Archiving the Way We Were by Leslie Jamison. This made the rounds a couple of weeks ago, but if you didn’t see it, it’s a great archival read. The  Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb is the kind of witty citizen archiving that I wish more people would do. (Also, if you’ve ever read An Archive of Feelings, there’s powerful resonance with Ann Cvetkovich’s ideas about collecting emotionally resonant objects, not just data-containing ones.)

Protecting Your Game Collection: 4 Threats and How to Avoid Them by Kurt Refling. Continuing my accidental citizen archiving theme, here’s an article about preservation for board game collectors. Unlike most things that people collect, board games see routine and active use, and the community has developed some interesting strategies for keeping their cards and boards pristine through many rounds of shuffling.

Year in the Life: Kara Flynn, Part 2

In this February installment of Year in the Life, archivist Kara Flynn levels up at project management by using Trello to create a digital hive mind.

As a new archival professional coming into my first professional position, there were a lot of new changes and challenges to adjust to, and one that has stood out for me so far has been project/people management.

Yes, I had worked in various Special Collections and Archives settings before starting my current position, but in all of those positions, I had someone else in the driver’s seat. As the Special Collections Librarian at Reese library, I’ve now largely taken over that driver’s seat.

One of the things that drew me to my position initially was the independence I would have to determine and manage my own projects—the department needed a lot of work, and as with most archival entities, we had an impressive backlog of unprocessed materials, so I knew that whatever projects I started would be a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty organized person, and I’ve always been able to manage projects and work pretty independently, but determining, managing, assigning, and overseeing projects not only for myself, but for my two coworkers in Special Collections was a challenge that I hadn’t completely foreseen.

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controlaccess: Relevant Subjects in Archives and Related Fields 2018-02-25

SAA News

Urge Your Representative to Join the Congressional History Caucus!

Call for nominations: Philip M. Hamer and Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award – deadline February 28th

Student Scholarships & Travel Awards – deadline February 28th

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