Order Through Processing

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: Small Pleasures: What small pleasures did you discover this year? 

Part way through this year I reconnected with some of the archival work I love.  My role as a Researcher/Curator meant that I was spending less time focused on archival practice.  Reconnecting and spending a few days accessioning and physically processing a collection reminded me how much I enjoy archival work.

I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with seeing order brought to a jumble of papers. I find physical processing oddly relaxing, perhaps it’s the organizational side of me rejoicing at the rules of processing and description.  Knowing that the work I do makes material accessible and discoverable online is a huge motivator. It’s rewarding to see archives actively being used and researchers engaging with the material that was previously an unorganized box of papers.

Creating Archival Professional Development Workshops

Over the course of the spring and summer my work is holding weekly events focused on library and archives professional development, training, and themes.  The sessions will be open current staff, university faculty, and local professionals. 


As part of this series a colleague and I are going to be facilitating three sessions focusing on archives.  Our library/archives staff is primarily made up of personnel with significantly more library than archival experience.  We hope our sessions will help library staff, other departments, and community members understand a bit more about archival practice.  Our sessions will focus on the basics of archival organization and preservation, community based heritage projects, and how to establish a successful digitization program. 

So, what makes a good professional development workshop? How do you gear your programing to suit a wide ranging audience who hold a variety of skill sets? What have been some of your best workshop experiences? Some of the aspects I particularly value in workshops include:

  • Hands on learning. In this particular instance incorporating hands on experiences could be done with preservation techniques, numbering files, scanning items, and creating metadata.
  • I also like having resources available after the workshop.  Be that an email with links to projects mentioned, a PowerPoint presentation, or additional resources for participants to look at.
  • Specific examples of successes, failures, and work-arounds.   Theory is all well and good, but at a workshop I prefer to learn about actual best practices and implementation that is in progress.
  • Being able to ask questions throughout the workshop if in an informal setting or having ample time at the end to ask questions about the material.  

What do you think are essential components of archival (or any other) professional development sessions? 

Introducing the Archive: Greeting First Time Visitors

The overwhelming majority of visitors to the archive I work at have never been inside an archive before.  Many of the visitors come from outside academia or are undergraduate and high school students stepping into an archive for the first time.  In addition to being new to archives, many visitors are searching for documents relating to their personal or family history. 

How do you frame the uses and potential research value of an archive to new visitors? 
This is often the ‘elevator pitch’ for the archive and includes a condensed version of services, resources, and archival holdings. We emphasize that staff are available to help new researchers, that material is available online (and we can provide instruction on navigating the site), and that material can be copied for research purposes. 

If the visitor is a student, we often point out potential research topics in their field of study, suggest relevant publications, and encourage them to ask questions.  We also remind students of hours and that we aren’t open weekends.

Additionally, all visitors can take a contact card which has our website, email, and phone information on it.  We also have more in-depth pamphlets for those interested. 

How to you facilitate non-academic research? 
Since the majority of our visitors are not engaged in academic research, our reading room contains material to help people research family history.  We have reproduction photo albums which visitors can flip through, media clip binders (copies of newspaper articles), and copies of frequently used government documents which visitors can flip through at their leisure.

Typically, people researching family histories are able to find necessary material without staff ever having to pull anything from the archive.  This cuts down on staff work and the use of reproductions helps preserve original documents and photographs.

How do you greet new visitors at your organization?

Photo credit: Dublin City Public Libraries

Association of Canadian Archivists Conference: Day One

Today was the first official day of proceedings at the 2011 (ACA) Conference. The day opened with a keynote presentation by Terry Eastwood, entitled Thinking About the Base of Archival Practice: Is there a Firm Foundation or Not? Eastwood presented an intriguing look archives through a lens of interpretive social practice, with an emphasis on dissecting the constructivist theories as they relate to archives. Eastwood’s talk also challenged accepted archival paradigms – with a particular emphasis on the current accepted modes of description. Overall, Terry’s talk seemed like a call to arms for archivists to engage in both theory and practice and to look at the history of archival practice as a means of making progress within the field.

The morning session I attended was a roundtable discussion on Reaching Out to Canadian Society. The panel featured Rob Fisher (LAC), Jonathan Lainey (LAC), Leah Sander (LAC), and Christine Bourolias (Archives of Ontario). The panel framed this discussion of outreach by examining acquisition policies. The speakers emphasized the necessity of using outreach to cultivate the type of acquisitions your institution desires. The discussion portion of the session focused on specific case studies -mainly outreach to ethnic and minority groups. The majority of these examples highlighted the need to build trust relationships within communities and the need for innovate ways of connecting and supporting communities. The session provided a lot of food for thought about ways to engage the general public and the importance of maintaining a strong outreach and acquisition policy.

The afternoon session I attended was entitled Preservation and the Total Archives in the
Age of E-records. The presenters -all trained conservationists -included: Ala Rekrut (Archives of Manitoba), Greg Hill (Canadian Conservation Institute), and Rosaleen Hill (Canadian Council of Archives). Greg Hill’s presentation focused on the evolution of the role of conservators within the archival field. Hill placed conservation and preservation within a wider historical context and provided a good overview of the field in general. Ala Rekrut’s talk was narrower in scope and emphasized the need for collaboration between conservators and archivists. Rekrut discussed the nature of both traditional and digital records and the importance of context and structure in defining the intrinsic value of a record. This session concluded with Rosaleen’s remarks on the changing roles and responsibilities of conservators in the age of digital archives. Rosaleen highlighted how modes of technology have fundamentally altered how material needs to be preserved. She also emphasized the need for increased education among conservators and archivists regarding the proper care of electronic records.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions, including a panel on tangible and intangible heritage.