Steve Ammidown is one of our participants in the Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position for a year. You can read his previous posts here.
Where do you even start?
Fair warning: this post involves more questions than answers, so please don’t go looking for a prescription here, because I haven’t got one!
One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in this position is the overwhelming quantity of barely-organized material. The archives here was founded by a former secretary to the headmaster, who had an astonishing amount of material, but organized in her own system. Subsequent decades saw the archives pass through the hands of our development and then library departments, staffed by a number of volunteers, parents, or staff with other responsibilities. Only in the past few years have there been professional staff in the archives, though I’m the only one who had previously worked with archives.
This turnover and constant flux inevitably lead to a number of half-attempts to organize and gain intellectual control over the materials. I can point to a number of small boxes (think recipe box size) of index cards as well as Past Perfect and CatDV backup files as evidence. Physical items- records, publications, memorabilia- have been put together, though not particularly organized.
The level of disorganization bothered me when I first arrived, without a doubt. But in the almost a year since, this is the first point in time I’ve really had to go back and consider it. I now totally get why there have been so many partial attempts at getting it all under control. There’s just no time. And as a one person shop, my time is far better spent learning the collections inside and out, in the state they’re in right now, so that I can quickly respond to all the various projects and emergencies that pop up during the course of a year. It’s an exhausting way to work, but it’s functional.
Of course, I’m an archivist, so that state of affairs just isn’t good enough. But I struggle with where to even start the process. I’ve decided that it will be best to start from scratch, using Archivesspace as my management system. I’m currently reading Dan Santamaria’s excellent “Extensible Processing for Archives and Special Collections”, which is giving me some focus on how to approach this whole mess. I nearly have a plan, of sorts.
But of course my next big event looms large at the end of April. And my boss wants to address our electronic records policies (as in, there are none). If I’ve learned nothing else in nearly a year in this position, it’s that this lone arranger gig is a real balancing act!