History and Politics

I want to step away from ArchivesSpace migration and take a moment to summarize some of the legacy data at Special Collections and University Archives. Carrie did a great job at painting the legacy landscape at Columbia. Our situation is similar in many ways. One of her points couldn’t be more on:

“We HAVE collection data, we just don’t have it stored or structured in a way that can be used or queried particularly effectively, and what we do have is in no way standardized.”

Until 2011, UMD maintained separate departments (and sometimes units within those departments) that were responsible for all the work pertaining to their collections. Curatorial units created and maintained data about their collections in their own ways, sometimes in ways the same or similar to other units, but often not. Collections data lives in paper accession and control files, spreadsheets, word documents, Access and FileMaker databases (for single collections or for similar types of materials), catalog records, finding aids, in someone’s head, etc…. These files live on the server in different locations and generally without consistent file names. I’ll also throw in that since we acquired the AFL-CIO records last fall, this comes with thirty plus years of collection data, including data from an archives management system.

In the summer of 2011 the following departments and units merged into one department:

  • Archives and Manuscripts department
    • Literature unit
    • Historical manuscripts unit
    • University Archives unit
  • Marylandia, Rare Books, and National Trust Library department
    • Marylandia and Rare Books unit
    • National Trust for Historic Preservation Library unit
  • Library of American Broadcasting department
  • National Public Broadcasting Archives department

Along with this move came the creation of “functional areas” that would manage specific common functions consistently across the new department. The Access Group became responsible for managing arrangement and description and associated functions for the entire department. Until I was hired in February 2013 there was not a person solely devoted to planning and managing this work, but multiple people on the access team that had other main responsibilities outside of the team. The creation of my position is enabling SCUA to analyze our technical service operations, update our practices, and manage functions consistently.

Interesting to note, that at least currently, there are three other special collection units in the Libraries (Gordon D. Prange Collection, Special Collections in the Performing Arts, and the International Piano Archives at Maryland) that operate outside of Special Collections and University Archives. SCUA provides some services to some of these units (Beast database) and shares some policies/procedures (ex: processing manual) with some of them.

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