It’s hard to believe that this my last post for SNAP’s Year in the Life series. So much can happen in a year. Nowhere perhaps is this more obvious than in the construction of and move into our new building. Over the course of the last year, the building was transformed from an empty warehouse into a bustling archives. One of the most satisfying projects post-move has been decorating our new space with reproductions of art in our collection, giving our rows of gray boxes and shelves some much-needed color and making the building truly feel like home.
The new archives facility under construction
A peek at artwork amongst rows of archival boxes
I’ve been in my position for almost 17 months now. During that time I’ve processed materials from three different productions, housed difficult items such as pastels, large rolled banners, artist notebooks, and paintings, attended professional conferences, embedded images with keyword metadata, and weighed in on the design of a new collection management database. But perhaps my most concrete accomplishment was coordinating the move of our entire collection, a job I didn’t know I would be filling when I first started a year and a half ago. Like many roles in the workplace, the opportunity came swiftly and unexpectedly, thanks to a series of unforeseen circumstances. Being thrown into this role was both challenging and exhilarating. I didn’t read any literature about how to move a collection or horror stories of moves past. I just dove into the work, preparing items to move, mastering our data, and heavily relying on co-workers who had moved our collection many years ago.
While the preparation and execution of the move could be stressful at times, it provided the perfect contrast to my daily processing duties. So much of our work can feel unending, as we eternally chip away at the backlog and create preservation housing for materials, only to rehouse them ten or fifteen years later. The move was the complete opposite—a series of straightforward tasks for a fixed duration with an easily identifiable outcome. Processing doesn’t offer the instant gratification that printing shelf labels and moving boxes to new locations did. It is a complex and ambiguous process, where nothing is definite and (almost) everything is up for discussion. But I’ve realized that at its core, my job is to make things more accessible, even if it’s at the most sloth-like of paces. My role has expanded from traditional processing as I assist in other projects, but everything I do revolves around access. That includes arrangement and description of our production collections, but also providing ideas for new features of our database, adding metadata to digital images to make them easier to find, supervising temps as they update database records for unprocessed boxes, and even moving our collection.
Remembering that my job is about creating access helps to keep me from getting too bogged down in the details. I’m a perfectionist and I could process one collection forever in the hunt to get things exactly right. But that would only marginally improve access to one collection, instead of creating access for multiple collections. Balancing my perfectionist tendencies with the practical understanding of what’s possible and feasible keeps me moving forward instead of looking back.
So what’s next? In the upcoming months, I’ll continue to process original artwork from A Bug’s Life and make it easier to find through our database. We hope to move forward on providing more and more digital access to our materials so that artists can browse our collection (or at least the highlights of it) from their desks. We’re also in the midst of a database redesign, which includes adding additional, in-depth layouts for folders and items and merging our multitude of databases into a more manageable number.
Thank you to the fine folks of SNAP for letting me contribute my half-formed thoughts to the blog this past year. I love that this forum exists to share the student and new archivist experience with our community. Happy Archives Month! Stay incredible.