SAA 2015: Session 504, Doing More by Doing Less: Stopping Programs Without Regret

In advance of the 2015 Annual Meeting, we invited SNAP members to contribute summaries of panels, roundtable and section meetings, forums, and pop-up sessions. Summaries represent the opinions of their individual authors; they are not necessarily endorsed by SNAP, members of the SNAP Steering Committee, or SAA.

Guest Author: Michael Barera, Archivist at Texas A&M University-Commerce

This session consisted of Merrilee Proffitt (the moderator and chair) as well as Sarah Dorpinghaus, Rebecca Goldman, Matt Francis, and Mary Jo Fairchild.

Proffitt began the session with an introduction, noting that so much in archives is about what we should do “more” of, or “’better”; but, sometimes you have to work with less or even do less to do what we need to you. She predicts increasing numbers of merges between archives and other university units, among other changes: “change is on the menu, and we have to think about how to deal with it”. Today, we need to have a conversation about “change management”, in terms of both individual stories and general themes, which this session attempts to address. She then encourages the audience to share what they learn in this session, but to do it respectfully, noting that there would be no recording of this session and that Twitter users must be cautious about tweeting certain information contained in the slides [author’s note: for this reason, I have omitted the “flagged” details from this summary]. Before turning over the microphone, Proffitt described her four colleagues for this session as “the best group ever”.

The first presentation was “Reeling to the End: The conclusion of microfilm services at the University of Kentucky Libraries”, by Sarah Dorpinghaus. Dorpinghaus began with a display of various newspapers from Kentucky, which are part of the UK Libraries microfilm collection. There was a whole microfilm department with seven full time staff in the early 2000s; eventually, it came to be replaced by digitization. In 2012, UK decided to completely end its microfilm services; preservation microfilming ended in 2010, although it still had numerous access requests for microfilm content. Why was the decision made to end microfilm support? Because it is both expensive and inefficient; to the latter point, for instance, two requests for the same newspaper page would require two separate captures. In contrast to this, she argues that digitization is efficient and has both potential and growth. So, what took so long? In short, the move away from microfilm and to digitization came because of an opportunity for change (Dorpinghaus was hired in 2012; before she came in no one was assessing workflows and efficiencies), a receptive administration, and a strong digitization program. She then described “how we did it” in terms of two points of emphasis: the first was reassurance, which related to the staff as well as patrons; as soon as she started, she started crosstraining for microfilm librarians on the digitization equipment. Still, they were really worried that they would lose their jobs. For patrons, there was really only a note on the website informing them of the change, but a lot of people didn’t see that note; thus, the librarians were still explaining the change to patrons, especially over the phone, over a year later. The second was customer service; according to Dorpinghaus, “we kind of became IT support for our patrons, too”. Now, over two years later, patrons have pretty much adapted, and have embraced the advantages, like shorter turn around times. She concluded with presenting a screenshot of the Kentucky Digital Newspaper Project webpage.

The second presentation was “Archivists killed the video star: supporting institutional archives through library reorganization”, by Rebecca Goldman of LaSalle University. She began with a rhetorical question: “How can you add a third department to the two you already manage, without additional staff?” (In Goldman’s opinion, “you can’t”.) She then outlines the organizational development of the Media Services department over the past decade; before 2008, it was independent as “Media Services”, while from 2008-11 it became “Media/Digital Services”, and by 2012 (after the library started working more closely with the university’s archives) it became “Media/Digital Services and Archives”. In essence, Goldman went from managing one department to managing three, while only adding one 0.5 FTE position. Over the course of the transition, digital projects and archives work were taking up more of her department’s time, while AV circulation was decreasing, but running the department just simply took up more time. From here, she outlined the problems with having a separate AV department, which included limited hours, not enough coverage, and not being equipped for all circulation functions. In her words, adding the AV responsibilities to the archives “was a really hard sell to my librarian colleagues”. At this point, Goldman noted that LaSalle has essentially three options for refocusing their AV function: as a 1) Blockbuster-style video hub, 2) a makerspace-style space, or 3) focus on archives and digital projects (they decided to go with the third option). She then noted that they made incremental changes, such as browseable shelves withing the AV department. Furthermore, she referred to her colleagues whenever possible in the process. The end result: by moving the videos near the front of the library, circulation has been up by 50-60%. She concluded by displaying organizational diagrams of her old department in comparison to her current department, the latter of which has archivists and a digitization assistant under a department head [Goldman]. She concluded with a rhetorical question: “If archives and special collections are expected to do more, can our colleagues in other library department help us do less?”

The third presentation was “The Great Processing Freeze of 2014”, by Matt Francis of Penn State University. It began with the rationale for the processing freeze, which was due to a Special Collections Library reorganization as well as to free up resources for other projects: ArchivesSpace (Penn State was migrating from Archivists’ Toolkit), collections data auditing and review, and collection assessment work. Francis also noted, however, that there were two exceptions to the freeze: a fixed-term processing position that continued working on a single time-sensitive collection and the continued inventorying of university records. He then described what he termed the “early frost” of August and September 2014, which consisted of four “parts”: 1) building a new team, 2) collection assessment, 3) collection management system migration (from Archivists’ Toolkit to ArchivesSpace), and 4) a variety of other projects, including ongoing accessioning, the creation of EAD records from MARC records for small collections, as well as catalogs and serials. After this, a “slow thaw” occurred in stages: in February 2015 limited processing work began, while April 2015 saw a return to the “normal” processing load. In conclusion, Francis noted a large number of positives: a (mostly) successful migration, data improvements (including metadata) that allowed better support of Aeon implementation, collection assessment, no angry donors, and a team that “came together”. There were also a number of things “that didn’t work quite as well as hoped”: there was not a clean relaunch into processing work, the opening up of ArchivesSpace to non-Collection Management staff was too slow, and despite metadata improvements, they were “still not where we need it to be”. In conclusion, however, Francis stated that “despite my set of regrets, I believe that we made the right decision.”

The fourth and final presentation was “Creating a Resource Sharing Partnership: Relocation of the South Carolina Historical Society Archives to the College of Charleston” by Mary Jo Fairchild. Fairchild began by outlining the background details, which concerned a major relocation of materials at the South Carolina Historical Society Archives to the College of Charleston over the past few years. The presentation was largely is about the collaboration between these two institutions, a private non-profit and a public academic institution. According to Fairchild, the “seeds of the collaboration” go back to the late 19th century, although the modern partnership began in 2009 when the Historical Society abandoned its ILS and transferred this responsibility to the College of Charleston. Later, the Historical Society considered three different options for relocation, but ultimately settled on the College of Charleston as their solution, which was both the most cost effective and the closest (spatially) to their location. Throughout the process, however, there were a number of hard choices that had to be made. The first concerned project management and personnel delegation, which Fairchild illustrated with a Dilbert cartoon about doing more with less. The punchline: “No. We’ll need more meetings to do more with less.” The second was minimizing competition for resources; she noted that “discussion and planning got a little territorial”. The third was maintaining unique institutional identities; “using words such as ‘merge’ or ‘takeover’ were taboo”. Finally, there was the issue of users’ and public perception; part of this was addressed by holding a collaborative exhibit between the two organizations, although a number of long-time Historical Society patrons were disappointed by the move, but the staff stepped up and did a good job of “hand-holding” to bring them onboard. In conclusion, Fairchild stated that “I think we have overall done a great job…we are now stronger together than we were separate.”

Questions from the audience elucidated the following responses from the presenters:

  • The backlog at Penn State did grow during the “processing freeze”, but it didn’t grow substantially, perhaps because they were upfront with everyone they worked with about their “freeze”. (“There was probably a lot of luck for why there were no angry donors.”)
  • At Penn State, there are five people in the archives, and four other staff, of whom one deals with accessioning and locations management while the other three are primarily focused on processing although they have other secondary responsibilities.
  • Were you able to translate the things you did into actual budget savings? At LaSalle, “people budgets are not the same as materials budgets”; at UK, transition was a bit more messy, but there was good progress in getting materials online; and at the SCHSA, both space rental and energy savings were realized.
  • Did any of you try to get more staff to handle the new responsibilities, or not? At LaSalle, there was no change in the number of people but one paraprofessional position was upgraded to a professional position, thus representing a gain of 0.5 FTE. At UK, while building the digitization program they were “encouraged to apply for grant funding for new positions”. At PSU, the archives feel lucky about staffing levels but are unsatisfied about the compensation levels and classifications of a few positions, two in particular.

Which came first, the staff reorganization or the “shuffling about” changes? At SCHSA, there were still “fluid staff roles” after the relocation took place; at LaSalle, “for six months, my whole department was gone, and it wasn’t clear that I would get those positions back”.

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