Open Offices and Dedicated Project Time

Book and clock near candleI’ve worked in an open office setup for the bulk of my professional career.  This has typically meant sharing an office space with multiple co-workers and students.  It has also meant working in a space that is open to the public.  In 2015 there was around six or eight months where I had an office to myself, though I tended to have an open door policy.

Recently, after some internal discussions the space that I work in is no longer open to the public every single hour that I’m there. The new public hours have only been in operation for a bit over a week – but is essentially means half my time is spent with an open door and the other half the office door is shut.  This week has got me thinking a lot about the value of closed doors, dedicated processing time, and carving out time for specific projects.  I had forgotten how much value there is in having a door that can be closed.

I like the flexibility of being able to help people when they drop in.  But I’m also really valuing the time I have carved out each day to work on longer term projects, processing that can’t be done in a public space, and the ability to have phone calls without worrying if someone is going to walk in.

When you are front line facing it can often become challenging to dedicate time to non immediate needs – the needs of patrons, rightly, come first.  Having staff you can rotate off with or a dedicated space away from patrons can be a huge boon in terms of finding time to do all the other tasks associated with archives aside from research requests and public programming.

I’d be interested in hearing how others balance front line facing roles with other aspects of archival practice. I think is particularly a challenge in small shops where one person does almost everything – from accessioning to reference – and that individual needs to set their own schedule and boundaries.

Documenting Archival Process

Unprocessed archival donation.

Unprocessed archival donation.

One of the things I’ve been experimenting with adding into my workflow recently is documenting donations as the arrive at the archive.  Normally the contextual information, dates, extent etc are captured in a donor form and this information is further expanded on when the material is accessioned.  This is fairly standard.

What I’ve been trying to document is what donations physically look like when they arrive at the archive.  This partially came from a desire to promote new donations on social media and from an archival instruction perspective.  When I provide introduction to archives sessions I always try to include information on the role archivists play in appraisal and the challenges of arrangement.  Having photographs of what collections look like when they arrive helps provide a visual example of what unprocessed material looks like and what archivists do to get collections ready for public access.

A lot of the work archivists do happens behind the scenes and there’s a general lack of awareness around the amount of work that goes into making archival material accessible.  As a profession advocacy and raising awareness of our role is something we could definitely do a better job of.  For me one of the ways to do this is to talk about how materials come to us and outline to students the archival process and steps required to get fonds into those neat little labeled boxes.

How do you explain all the work that happens before an archival donation is made accessible to the public?