Category Archives: Year in the Life

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.


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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Year in the Life: Kara Flynn, Pt. 1

Please welcome Kara Flynn, 2018 participant in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position.

Name: Kara Flynn

Position: Special Collections Librarian

Institution: Reese Library Special Collections & Institutional Archives, Augusta University

Years at position: <1

Education: University of Puget Sound (BA-English); University of Pittsburgh (MLIS with a concentration in Archives & Information)


Hello Year in the Life readers! As a long-time follower of this series, I’m excited to be sharing my own early career experiences with you this year. I’m originally from the Pacific North West, but have moved around a lot since finishing college. As I write this, I am almost exactly 6 months into my current position (and first professional position post-MLIS) as the Special Collections Librarian at Reese Library at Augusta University, in Augusta, GA.

I was first introduced to the world of archives and special collections when I took a class called “The History of the English Language” at the University of Puget Sound, and we spent a few hours with the archivist, who helped us analyze the evolution of English through archival materials and rare books. Before this experience, I hadn’t even realized that archives existed, let alone that I had access to them. That early experience sparked an interest in archives that has directed my career path ever since.

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Year in the Life: Adriana Flores, Pt. 12

Adriana Flores is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. This is Adriana’s final post of the series. You can read her previous posts here. If you’d like to contribute to our Year in the Life series, please contact us!

I can’t believe that this is my last post for A Year in the Life!! It seems like yesterday that Lauren Gaylord reached out to me in December to ask if I’d be interested in contributing. I’m so happy I said yes and that I’ve been able to share and reflect on the last year of my professional life with all of you. My life has changed a fair bit over the last year and writing for SNAP has allowed me to document those changes along the way.

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Year in the Life: Elizabeth Shulman, Pt. 8

Elizabeth Shulman is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Elizabeth for a year. You can read her previous posts here.

Earlier this month, I attended a day-and-a-half Local History Librarian conference hosted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The conference was generously sponsored by the North Caroliniana Society which made it free to all attendees. As soon as I learned about the conference through the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center’s partners list-serv, I knew I had to attend. I figured this was at the very least a good way to meet colleagues doing similar work from across the state. The majority of attendees work for public library systems across North Carolina.

The vast majority of the speakers either worked at Wilson Library at UNC or worked for the state government at either the State Library or State Archives. The first two sessions were the type of work being done at Wilson Library and the state agencies. The third was an open forum for participants to discuss their collections and ask questions of other librarians in the room. The question we spent the most time discussing was “How do I get more people to learn about and use my collection?” I ended up talking about my Archival Petting Zoo as well as my efforts to promote the collection on social media. That wrapped up the morning. In the afternoon there were sessions about demographic of users in North Carolina, conservation (which is a struggle for us public librarians), state-level grant applications, and free North Carolina oriented reference resources. The last session was particularly interesting to me as I learned about several digital map resources. I have been getting a lot of map questions lately so it was definitely a helpful resource I’ve passed along to my patrons. The first day of the conference ended with a lovely dinner at the Carolina Inn and a dinner talk about the story food can tell in the archives by the head of the American Studies department at UNC.

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Year in the Life: Adriana Flores, Pt. 11

Adriana Flores is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Adriana for a year. You can read her previous posts here.

As we near the end of the semester, life in the Archives & Special Collections has (thankfully) begun to slow down. Although the students’ schedules are as busy as ever, our office is finally getting a chance to regroup and work on some new projects. With less classes and special events, we’ve been able to focus on preparing for some large projects this spring, revisiting our policies and procedures, and checking in with our students on their projects. Overall, it’s been great to have less events and more unstructured time to work on things that have had to wait on the back burner for a bit.

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Year in the Life: Adriana Flores, Pt. 10

Adriana Flores is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Adriana for a year. You can read her previous posts here.

October has brought colder weather, changing leaves, and a busy college campus! The Archives & Special Collections has been bustling with plenty of classes, new projects, and special events. One of the biggest events we had this month was Homecoming and Family Weekend. The A&SC hosted an open house as part of the weekend’s program and it was wonderful to contribute to the campus festivities as both a staff member and an alumna.

Our office was contacted by the University Relations department in August about participating in Homecoming and Family Weekend. The archives has participated for the last few years in one capacity or another, so I was excited to maintain our department’s involvement. For the open house, we decided to use our reading room and small classroom to display a variety of significant campus records, memorabilia, and rare books. Laura, our Assistant Archivist, and I wanted to make sure to align our displayed materials with the rest of the weekend. This year Homecoming and Family weekend was honoring multiple groups: the Black Student Union’s 50th anniversary, the class of 1967’s football team, and the ‘Green & Gold’ era athletics members. Focusing on these groups allowed us to narrow the scope of our display and really connect with the alums who would be visiting us.

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