One of the things I’m not sure we spend enough time thinking or talking about is what happens when we leave a position- whether it’s our first or our fiftieth. I suspect that it’s due to a burning desire to get onto the next thing and not let the door hit us on the way out.
Why is this particular subject on my mind, you ask? Well, it’s a situation near and dear to me at the moment as I’m preparing to move on myself. As of July 1, I’ll become the Manuscript and Outreach Archivist at the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University. While my nearly year and a half here at Gilman School has been great and rewarding, I’m really excited for this next chapter. But there are things to tend to first…
My goal over my last few weeks has been to enforce the first tenet of camping- try to leave your site better than you found it. Dan Savage fans will know this as “The Campsite Rule”. Though an archives isn’t a campsite or a relationship (Or is it? A topic for another day.), I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make this place better, and that should include what I pass on to my successor.
Much of what I’ve focused on is just tidying up. One of the truisms I’ve discovered about being a Lone Arranger is that you develop lots of bad habits, including not filing things properly because “Oh, I know just where in this pile it is.” I’ve tried to address that.
Once I’ve sort of found a place for everything (more on this in a second), my next step was to start a sort of “guidebook”- the document I wished I’d had when I started. I made it as a Google Doc so that it could be a collaborative effort, and one that could be extended for everyone’s sake. The categories I started with were:
-Prep school archives are a unique beast, so I wanted to address some helpful written resources and advice (“take every written story with a grain of salt”).
-A quick look at the state of the physical and digital organization of the materials housed here.
-When I asked around, this was the item everyone wished they had on day one- a list of the important contacts and allies within the organization and why they’re important. I also included a list of the other prep school archivists in the area, which has been part of my effort to create some kind of community of practice.
-A list and detailed description of the ongoing projects and recurring events that my successor would need to know about right away. An important part of this was to be as frank as I could- if a contact needed occasional nudging, or if a project seemed quixotic, I wanted to be honest about it.
-Projects I Never Got To
-In part a vanity list of things I always wanted to do, and in part a list of things that really need to be addressed. Again, frankness was my guiding principle.
-I included a list of links to our digitized yearbooks, as well as access information for social media and other accounts.
Once I got this list down, I needed to admit something to myself. I was going to leave a “huh?” box or two behind. These are the boxes where a departing archivist stuffs the things they never got to address before they left, causing their successor to exclaim “huh?”. The boxes left behind by my predecessors had been a constant source of irritation for me, mainly because they were scattered everywhere. I determined that if I was going to leave “huh?” materials behind, I would at least consolidate them with the others and put them in one place. In my departing document, I noted that “I speak for myself and your other predecessors when I say ‘sorry about that’.”
I also volunteered to be available, at least by email, if the new archivist or anyone else was stumped and had nowhere else to turn. I know everyone says they’ll do this and forgets, but I’m hoping I can stick by it.
I know I’m going to forget stuff and that things I’ve done will frustrate those who come after me. But at least I’ve done what I can to mitigate any major disasters, and hopefully ease the transition.
What I’ve found is that going through this level of analysis has not only eased any anxiety over leaving, it’s made it easier to start to think about my new adventures and the many opportunities I’ve now got coming in the near future. But more on that next month!