Rehousing is Not Processing

This post has been stewing around since last July, but builds nicely on our Extensible Processing book reviews and Maureen’s post on containers.

In supervising processing projects I’ve come across some wacky decisions made over the years. While I’ve started projects from the beginning, a large portion of projects I’ve supervised have been already in progress, started under someone else (or multiple others).

One reoccurring issue I’ve noticed is how often people say processing when they mean something else or they mean a very small part of processing. Rehousing is a common culprit, but other activities fall into this too. Here’s two examples of “processing projects” that mostly aren’t at all:

1. Collection was processed in the 1970s. A paper finding exists with notes, series descriptions, and a folder (or item) level container list. Materials are in acidic boxes and acidic folders, but labeled. Actions taken during the project: Rehoused all materials into acid-free folders and acid-free boxes, including creating additional, smaller folders. Changed the series arrangement and physically re-arranged materials. Excel container list was created by retyping (retyping!) the content of the paper finding aid  and adding in the newly created folders for conversion to EAD.

So many times I came across similar ongoing processing projects with a justification that the materials needed better housing. Often, other tasks got tacked on such as redoing the series outline (even if there were no additional materials to add and no evidence that the current series outline had issues.)

2. Preliminary inventory in Word exists at the folder level using creator created titles for a large volume of organizational records. Finding aid existed with summary notes and linked out to a PDF of the preliminary inventory. Actions taken during project:

  • Collection was rehoused into acid-free folders, staples removed, some preservation photocopying done, oversize materials removed and rehoused separately (separation sheets completed)
  • Materials were reviewed on an item level and marked as restricted. Some redaction might have happened. Sometimes the restricted materials were removed to a new folder with the same title and marked as restricted (using separation sheets in the original folder). Sometimes the restricted materials were left in place and the whole folder was labeled restricted.
  • Excel container list was created by retyping (retyping!) the exact information on the folder (aka the exact information already in the preliminary Word list) as materials were re-foldered. Largely, the creator titles were kept with some additions. Dates for folders were added or edited. Excel list will be converted to EAD.
  • Folders were physically grouped by letter of alphabet based on the folder title. Ex: All the folders starting with “A” are physically together in “A” boxes, but not in actual alphabetical order yet. (Currently, those folders are being arranged in alphabetical order in acid-free boxes. Look for an update on how long/how expensive just this one phase takes!)

Both of these examples were large projects that occurred over many years (often with pauses due to turn over and lack of resources). Looking back, what value did we add? The collections are in more stable housing than before and in one case we know more about restricted material. But, otherwise, what have we gained for our users that we didn’t already have?

Essentially, these were called processing projects but are really rehousing and restriction review projects. Not projects to create access to materials or bring intellectual or physical order to the materials. After all, they both already had a documented intellectual and physical order that should have been described in our finding aid notes (at whatever level.)

What we should do instead:

  • Put resources towards creating access to materials over rehousing materials.
  • Develop a baseline housing standard that you can live with. It might be that all materials are in acid-free boxes. Or maybe it’s just that your boxes aren’t falling apart.
  • Get over the idea that all collections need to be physically arranged and re-housed during processing (or re-processing). Rehousing a collection into acid-free folders and/or acid-free boxes is not the main goal processing. The task does not create access to collections or describe the materials. It’s housekeeping. It’s not necessary to include in a processing project.
  • Specifically state what rehousing tasks will occur in the processing plan and at what level. Justify spending processing resources on this. Don’t include it just because you’re used to including this task during processing.
  • Prioritize materials, at a repository level, that risk severe damage or information loss due to current housing based on importance. Develop a specific budget/set of resources for this type of work. Tap into the resources of your preservation/conservation department when available.

When facing resistance to not including rehousing in a processing project numbers are your friend. “Do we want to rehouse this collection that’s already pretty stable or do we want to take those resources and create access to more collections?” is often too abstract for people. Attaching actual costs to rehousing work (labor AND supplies) can help to push people resistant or nervous about dropping rehousing to focus on activities that create access. Treating rehousing work as separate from processing can also help to decouple the idea that your intellectual and physical order must always match.

Book Review: Extensible Processing. But What About…

Chapter 9 addresses questions and concerns raised about extensible processing. Dan provides responses based on archival theory, practices, projects, and goals to a wide range of topics, details how extensible processing can actually help solve the issues raised, and calls for more critical analysis (and actual change) of other archival functions. There are gem quotes/talking points in every section (I resisted listing them all!) that show why objections aren’t reasons to not pursue extensible processing. He reiterates the strengths of extensible processing and its flexible nature to accommodate many situations. Dan offers data points to gather to make decisions about additional description work for selected materials, which may also help to address some of the issues raised.

As someone who has worked at two institutions building extensible processing programs, I have heard every single one of the arguments presented in this chapter against changing how we provide access to materials (sometimes all of them in the same meeting!) To me, lots of the arguments against extensible processing techniques really come down to two fundamental experiences or beliefs:

We care about creating access to select collections, want to do it in the same ways as before, and think we can’t really do anything about the backlog without a major influx of resources (which we won’t ever have.) OR We care about creating access to the most amount of collections possible, realize our methods have created a backlog, and are willing to try different approaches to eliminate the backlog.

Why do so many people still fall into the first category? We have it in our power to change our practices to create basic access to all our holdings. Why wouldn’t you get behind that idea?

Because you want control? Because you want your boxes to look pretty? Because you want your folders in a very specific order? Because you’re nervous about changing your daily tasks? Because you’re worried that a step/detail for one collection/series/folder/item won’t get done as it has before? Because you’re scared to make harder decisions and think more broadly?

Dan continually shows in this chapter (and the whole book) that extensible processing offers a way out. Even if you don’t happen to like the details, it gets you much closer to your goal of providing access to all your collections. A good extensible processing program will push for systemic decisions and changes in other areas. It also means being able to talk about our work differently. Consider that a common thread among the objections (regardless of the topic/specifics) is intimately tied to the archivists’ identify and professional status. Dan’s last two paragraphs are so well said:

Rather than damaging the profession, extensible processing practices have the potential to enhance the profession’s standing with researchers, donors, and resource allocators. Gains in intellectual control of collection materials, the rates at which newly donated material is made available, and the removal of barriers to access can all be used to demonstrate the value of extensible processing and of archivists themselves. Archivists should strive to stress these aspects of their work, rather than the traditional housekeeping of physical processing, boxing, and labeling.

If archivists are not refoldering, wedding, arranging, or describing the same way every time, what is left to do? Making difficult decisions and looking at the big picture, including when to stop and move on to the next collection. Looking at complex collections and recognizing the patterns and relationships between and within them. Making the high-level arrangement and appraisal decisions. Responding to users by basing processing priorities and decisions about levels of processing on information about what collections are used the most. Solving problems and being creative in finding ways to provide access to collections. All of these are incredibly valuable, and highly valued, skills for archivists who will lead the way in delivering archival material to users. [1]

I think this chapter is a must read for everyone at institutions with backlogs. It will provide those advocating for extensible processing with additional talking points and evidence. For those who may be resisting extensible processing techniques, chances are that the chapter has covered your concern and could lead to productive conversations and shared understandings with your colleagues.

[1] Santamaria, Daniel A. Extensible Processing for Archives and Special Collections: Reducing Processing Backlogs. Chicago: ALA Neal-Schuman, 2015, 139-140.


Put a strategic plan on it!

People who know me will know I love strategic planning. Or, more accurately, I love good strategic planning and how a strategic plan can assist you in many other activities.

Given that our library’s strategic plan is a few years old and our dean is retiring in the spring, the functional areas of SCUA didn’t want to wait for the whole library process to move forward. Luckily, there’s no rule that says you can’t have a strategic document for levels below the top or division/department.

While we didn’t go through a full blown strategic planning process, we had run many brainstorming, visioning, and planning activities over the last year and a half. Many of the projects in our document were already approved (officially or unofficially) and represented in individual and unit work plans.

Why did we need a plan then? When planning projects or allocating resources we seemed to encounter a few challenges. The biggest (to me) were a lack of understanding about:

  • The difference between work that is strategic to move a program forward v. the prioritization of regular ongoing work/projects
    • ex: processing the so and so papers may be a high priority on the list of collections to process, but this does not necessarily make that specific processing project a strategic priority
  • How the work of different functional areas within SCUA directly relate to one another, supports the work of the entire department, and how each unit/function can participate in meeting shared goals.

We determined three strategic directions across our work:

  1. Optimize the user experience
  2. Increase access to collections
  3. Expand knowledge of our collections to new audiences

Check out the full Strategic Directions for SCUA Functional Areas 2014-2017.

Here’s how I’m hoping to use our strategic directions document:

  • Raising awareness about what we do, why we do it, and its value within SCUA and the Libraries
  • Assist in developing annual work plans, how we spend our time, and evaluating our progress
  • Prioritization of pop up/new projects. Is it really a project that will move us forward? Does it have to happen right now? Can we approach it differently than before? What do we STOP doing from our strategic directions or regular/ongoing work to accommodate it?
  • Use as a tool for updating specific policies, procedures, and workflows highlighting how these changes support the activities and goals outlined in the strategic directions.
  • Advocating for resources at various levels within the library. Our AUL has already said this document will be extremely helpful as the libraries start to discuss priorities for fiscal and human resources for FY16.

Also, a hat tip to UCLA’s Library Special Collections strategic plan! We liked their presentation/formatting, so borrowed that for ours. Don’t reinvent the wheel!


Wrap Up – Women in Archives

We are so thankful for everyone who has read and shared our posts. Thanks to all who commented publicly on the blog, social media platforms, and personal messages. Thanks to those discussing these topics off line with your colleagues, friends, and family.

What have we learned over the past two weeks writing about women in archives?

  • We weren’t the only ones asking trusted colleagues “Has this happened to you?”, “Do I really come across as mean?”, “Did you notice there are no female finalists for this high level or technical position?”
  • There are still enormous differences in how men and women are treated in the workplace at large and in the archives and library professions. We only skimmed the surface of recent studies in a variety of fields highlighting a few of these differences.
  • The personal is political. Our deeply personal experiences intimately connect to a larger social and political structure. Everything we’ve discussed has an impact on how we do our jobs. (We didn’t even get to discussing women and technology, being viewed as experts, etc…)
  • Social networks and sharing are important. As Maureen said in our kick off post, one reason for this blog in the first place was to share our work to help each other. We need to help each other in other ways too. Whether that’s providing advice on how to handle an inappropriate situation in the workplace or encouraging someone to apply to that next step up job we know they would rock (even if they worry they aren’t ready/qualified yet).
  • These issues are hard to write about. (Hence a wrap up post five days later than planned.) We probably should have kept track of the hours it took.
  • There is so much more to talk about. We brainstormed many more potential posts. We bet you have ideas too.

So, what’s next? What do you think? What ways will you be advocating for women in the profession or your institution? How can we continue the conversation?

Bossy, abrasive, and emotional

Here are some real life situations my fellow bloggers and other women we know in the profession discussed recently at SAA:

  • I bought up an ethical objection to a proposed new policy in a public meeting and was told “[name] you’re just being too emotional about this.”
  • When I bring up an issue with a current practice at a staff meeting and offer alternatives I’m told “[name] you’re being too critical.” When a male colleague brings up a similar issue and offers alternatives no one responds to him in this manner. He’s thanked for bringing up the issue/being willing to work on the issue.
  • Two female candidates interviewed for a position; one was better qualified but was very blunt. When the interviews concluded, she was critiqued by the (male) chair of the search committee for being “too aggressive.” The rest of the staff thought she was a breath of fresh air.
  • Being told by a co-worker “You need to ‘play nice’ if you want to change things.” (aka wait until people like you more before doing anything.)
  • In a small group meeting, I was conversing with my male colleague and told him to let me know when his part of the project was ready. I was promptly scolded in front of everyone for not saying “please” by an older female colleague.

While the examples above are verbal (and a small snapshot of experiences), Kieran Snyder released a study last week on how women and men are described in written performance reviews. The results aren’t pretty.

Results showing that women receive more critical and negative feedback then men.

Results showing that women receive more critical and negative feedback then men.

  • 58.9% of reviews of men’s work included critical feedback compared to 87.9% of reviews of women’s work.
  • Negative personality criticism shows up two times out of the 83 (2.4%) critical reviews for men. For women, it’s in 71 of 94 (95.9%) critical reviews. Essentially, “Men are given constructive suggestions. Women are given constructive suggestions — and told to pipe down.”
  • Bossy, abrasive, strident, and aggressive describe women’s behavior when they lead. Emotional and irrational when women object. Each word showed up multiple times in women’s reviews, but only the word aggressive showed up three times in men’s reviews. In two of those instances, it was to encourage men to be more aggressive.

Snyder’s study found that the gender of the manager didn’t seem to make a difference in the reviews (besides that reviews by female managers were about 50% longer.) Yesterday Carrie posted about being an advocate for those you supervise. Let’s add to that list with the charge to think carefully about the words you use to describe your employees. Maybe give yourself more time in your schedule to write performance reviews. Write drafts and let them sit for awhile so you can come back with a fresh eye and ask yourself:

  • Am I describing the person’s work or their perceived personality?
  • If I am critiquing personality traits, how does that affect their performance?
  • Am I providing negative comments when describing work well done?
  • Am I providing constructive feedback so they know what areas need improvement?
  • Is my feedback (positive or negative) providing concrete examples?
  • Would I describe this person differently if they were a different gender? Could someone guess this person’s gender just by reading the review?

Beyond performance reviews, we all need to carefully think about the language we use to describe or react to (written or verbal) all of our employees and colleagues. The words we use matter and can make a huge difference in how someone feels about their work and value, not to mention the future of their professional lives.

Self Promotion

Self promotion is hard. It’s something I struggle with. Maybe you’ve found yourself in similar situations:

Do you ever get one of those library-wide emails celebrating someone’s work that make you wonder why some of the great, valuable things you’ve done aren’t acknowledged in this public way? Or read an article about a project getting lots of praise highlighting work comparable to a project you did three years ago that no one praised?

For me, the answer is likely because I didn’t tell them. Let me repeat; I didn’t tell them. I might have communicated a project was over or a goal met, but I didn’t provide context of it’s importance or significance. Or, I did, but didn’t suggest that this is worth other people knowing about too.

Do you find yourself saying things like “We implemented this new tool/service/policy”, “We shifted our strategy and focused on x”, or “We decreased our backlog by 22 percent last year!” Who is the “we” in this situation? While there will certainly be team based projects that deserve the “we”, often these should be “I” statements. My tendency is to use “we” so it sounds like I’m not bragging or taking all the credit. I even do this in job interviews.

You’ve probably heard this before. Men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. Or, men apply to jobs when they feel they meet 60% of the requirements and women apply when they meet 100%. Many assume that if you do good work and have talent,  it will be recognized and somehow people will just know. It turns out this usually isn’t the case and the thing that can make the greatest impact for women in career advancement or pay increases is self promotion.

Studies show that self promotion can be uncomfortable for women. When women do self promote, they tend to do it in ways that minimizes their contributions. For a while, I didn’t realize that even when I did discuss accomplishments, I did so in a minimizing way. Women are not usually taught to promote ourselves. We live in a social context where modesty norms have discouraged women from promoting themselves. Women who do self promote can encounter a backlash and be cast in a negative light.

So, what can we do?

  • Keep concrete examples of your accomplishments. Bring these to the attention of your supervisors and others in your workplace.
  • Connect your successes with the interests of those in decision-making positions. Show the impact of the work. Discuss your potential for doing more.
  • Communicate with your supervisor that you need their help in highlighting your accomplishments if they don’t already do this for you.
  • Ask for time to write about your work or present at a conference (and block/guard said time on your calendar and then follow through on completing said product)
  • Encourage others to promote their work. This can be a simple “Have you considered sending an email to so and so about this?”
  • Actively promote the work of our colleagues. This can go a long way. It’s been shown that women are more effective at highlighting the accomplishments of others or negotiating for others than themselves.
    • Fun fact: I didn’t tell people at my institution about this blog. Instead, two months after starting a co-worker brought it up at a department staff meeting and encouraged others to read it.
  • Actively promote the work of those you supervise.
  • Nominate people for awards. SAA has them, regional associations have them, your institution likely has them. Most award committees are hurting for more and stronger nominations.

What are some of your experiences in this area? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?

SAA 2014 Sessions of Interest

Here are a few sessions (not comprehensive!) related to the content of this blog at SAA this week:

Wednesday, August 13
3:30pm – 5:00pm

Carrie: Friday, August 15 • 2:45pm – 3:45pm; SESSION 503 – How Are We Doing? Improving Access Through Assessment

Maureen: Friday, August 15 • 2:45pm – 3:45pm; SESSION 501 – Taken for Granted: How Term Positions Affect New Professionals and the Repositories That Employ Them

Meghan: Thursday, August 14 • 3:00pm – 3:30pm and Friday, August 15 • 4:00pm – 4:30pm; P05 PROFESSIONAL POSTER – Mapping Duke History with Historypin

Steve: Thursday, August 14 • 5:30pm – 7:30pm; Graduate Student Poster Presentations: ArchivesSpace and the Opportunity for Institutional Change