Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Big Project -- SAA Archivists to the Rescue!

Since We Last Met...

I've been a bit busy. Back in November 2017, I sketched out the skeleton of a plan that I originally called Lone Arrangers to the Rescue! The title later became SAA Archivists to the Rescue Pilot Project, and the project itself became The Big Project (see Geof Huth and Karen Trivette's excellent series of podcasts, An Archivist's Tale, Episode 13, for more on that name: More on that project in this post.

During the Spring 2018 semester, I also took on a very interesting, part-time contract job at the College of Staten Island, processing the records of the Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC). It's a fairly large collection, which started at approximately 200 record cartons and is now approximately 150 cartons and document cases (smaller containers that folks typically think of as archival boxes). The collection required (and still needs) a significant amount of trimming, which is an enormously satisfying task. Some might think that archivists save everything. That is not the case. There are portions of collections that don't fall into the collecting policy of an organization, so they are deaccessioned (often donated to other organizations that do collect those materials due to geographical location or subject matter). In this case, we did a lot of disposal.

Before you panic, approximately 90% of the information in those materials was duplicated or available elsewhere. Importantly, I worked with the donor on the decision making, checking and re-checking that the scientific results we were removing were not of any use to researchers (she is a scientist and the Executive Director of IEC). In some cases, there were graphs and charts that were unlabled, undated, and could not be connected to any other materials. In others, the information had been examined, summarized, and contextualized by the creators of the materials, elsewhere in the collection. Finally, there were bays of shelves of published materials that were not in the collecting area of the College. In that instance, the donor contacted many other people who might have an interest in the materials, but there were few takers. We often find that if materials can be obtained elsewhere (other state archives, for example), and there is not enough space, they are not kept.

When I wrapped up my contract, the processing portion of the job still had yet to be completed. I left the remaining portion to be processed by a college assistant whom I taught the basics of preservation and processing. I've been asked to return to complete the project next year, which means whatever processing remains, plus the arrangement, and description. I am especially looking forward to describing this important collection that documents the array of water and air testing of the areas feeding the waters in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The Big Project

This coming week, I'll be talking about it as the incoming Chair of the SAA Lone Arrangers Section (LAS), as well as a very brief presenter at the SAA Reference, Access, and Outreach Section. I put together a talk that can bring everyone up to speed, and have already emailed a version of it to the Lone Arrangers earlier this month. I called it "the great American novel of an email." Here is the version I'm going to present on Wednesday (LAS):

So, what is this project? This is the summary I’ve been using to talk about it:

The SAA Archivists to the Rescue! Project strives to bring local, very-low- and no-cost, basic archival training workshops to non-professional archivists and cultural heritage professionals and volunteers who cannot afford typical professional development courses and/or the transportation costs required to travel outside of their areas for similar workshops. By bringing these hands-on, in-person workshops to individuals with little or no archival background or skills, we will help to preserve and make accessible the collective knowledge and archival record of the participating communities, increase the awareness of the profession and the SAA, and promote a more inclusive profession. An additional benefit to those seeking to recertify as Certified Archivists comes in the form of an opportunity to lead half and full-day workshops in the field.

With the guidance of an Advisory Board outfitted with SAA Fellows and one particularly noteworthy librarian, volunteer members of the SAA Lone Arrangers; Reference, Access and Outreach; and Issues and Advocacy Sections have developed a pilot program comprising a series of workshops covering the essentials of preservation, archival processing, arrangement, description, digital archives, and identifying and caring for photographs. We are partnering with local cultural heritage organizations, public libraries, and the Center for the Conservation of Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) to roll out the pilot to religious archives and small historical organizations in New Jersey.

The desired outcome of the pilot portion of this project is a group of standardized and vetted workshops, handouts, and other supporting materials that can be easily downloadable by Lone Arrangers, other SAA members, and other professional archivists who wish to deliver the same kinds of workshops to their local communities. The intent is to create workshop materials that can be customized to fit local organizational needs. They will be available for download from the SAA Lone Arrangers microsite, and we will work to have other areas on the SAA web site link to the page holding the workshops.

Professional archivists from around the country submitted materials for consideration in our project – we received great presentations from so many people that it was difficult to choose the most useful and practical materials for our workshops. For this, we also had help from Dyani Feige of the CCAHA, on the preservation materials. In the end, we unanimously selected materials from the following individuals:

1. Me (Archival Preservation for Beginners)
2. Steve Duckworth (Archival Processing and Arrangement for Beginners and Archival Description for Beginners)
3. Elizabeth Skene (Archival Digitization for Beginners).

As a bonus, workshop attendees will receive a special Photograph Preservation and Identification for Beginners workshop by the ever-awesome Gary Saretzky.

We also developed a set of measures of success – specifically, Ashley and Michelle developed interview questions for participants and feedback forms for pre- and post- workshops for both participants and workshop presenters. During the workshop breaks and other opportune times, presenters will take short video interviews of our participants to provide yet another way of communicating the value of the workshops, as well as ways we could improve them.

Six months after the workshops, we'll also follow up with our participant cohorts to see how they're doing and using what they know. We use Google tools like Sheets, Docs, Forms, and Drive, as well as Survey Monkey to keep all our work transparent and easily edited and shared by the team. And, I have to say that it has been an overwhelmingly lively and collegial experience working with this fine group of archivists and librarians who have volunteered a great deal of time to this effort.

Because the project is in the pilot stage, we limited the locations of the workshops to N.J. because that's where I live and could line up sites, presenters, and attendees. There are 5 locations (two sites for Trenton, though, due to air conditioning issues at the Trenton Free Public Library, but they'll be fixed by the later workshops at that site). Each city will have all 5 workshops presented. For the pilot, we're not charging participants any fees.

SAA's Nancy Beaumont asked University Projects to co-sponsor the workshops in the form of donated archival supplies for the participants at each site, and Trenton and Plainfield have already received their materials! These items will truly enhance the hands-on experience because the participants each will bring 1 box of materials to work with during the workshop series. The locations selected and their timings are:

1. New Jersey State Library, Trenton, NJ (Aug.-Sept.)
2. Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield, NJ (co-sponsored with the Historical Society of Plainfield) (Aug. – Sept.)
3. Atlantic City Free Public Library, Atlantic City, NJ (Sept.)
4. Chester Library, Chester, NJ (Chester Library also providing all the pencils for the workshops.) (Oct.)
5. Dana Library, Rutgers Newark, NJ (Nov.)

The following people will be presenting the workshops):
1. Me
2. Gary Saretzky
3. Tara Maharjan
4. Heather Perez
5. Ashley Levine
6. Annamarie Klose-Hrubes
7. Alexandra (Alex) Plante
8. Russ Gasero
9. Annie Tummino
10. Paul Martinez

I developed the Train the Trainers workshop, which was held at Chester Library on Aug. 10. The trainers received a very full packet (which also will be distributed with the workshops at the end of the pilot, via the Lone Arrangers microsite). The packet has everything they'll need to present their workshops. At the Train the Trainers workshop, they had the opportunity to give significant feedback on the workshop themselves. It was fun and there were snacks. They said they found it to be very useful, and some of the presenters contributed additional handout materials to further clarify information and to provide templates for work such as description.

As part of the Communications plan, I began the outreach to prospective attendees in late July and continued through early August. I received recommendations from all over the state and did some of my own research to locate potential attendees. As of last week, we have 9 of the maximum 10 seats filled for Plainfield (we declared it filled), 9 for Trenton (we declared it filled), 6 for Atlantic City, 10 for Chester, and 7 for Newark.

Before leaving for SAA, I communicated with all of the attendees of Plainfield and Trenton because those workshops begin on Monday, as well as the presenters of those workshops, and the site contacts. There are a lot of moving pieces on this project, to be sure, but I’m working to ensure as much clear communication as possible. Examples of the emails also have been added to the Google Drive folder on the topic.

Most of the attendees are representing small historical societies, but we also have a handful of religious archives, public libraries, and museums. Notably, the Morris County Park Commission is sending a group to Chester (different people will be taking the different workshops). Other than that group, nearly all of the attendees have agreed to attend the full series of 5 workshops at the site where they signed up.

Notably, I’ve had to turn away 8 individuals because they already had paid archives professionals. or they only wanted to take one of the workshops. Because we have such a limited number of spaces, I couldn’t keep another organization willing to take the whole slate from signing up in favor of someone who wanted just the one workshop. There also were people who were very interested, but the schedule didn’t work for them. In all of the cases of turnaways, I pointed them to alternatives and web-based information that could help them to get off the ground, namely Steven’s LibGuides, which we used for our Processing and Arrangement, and Description Workshops.

I put together packets for workshop presenters and participants, based on forms developed by Ashley and Michele, as well as some general and site-specific instructions. These are sent to the participants at least two weeks in advance. There also is a good amount of communication via email with the sites and the presenters three weeks out from the workshops regarding logistics.

Last, but certainly not least, as a fundraiser for the project, I've been selling Archivist pins designed by the Los Angeles Archivists Collective. All of the profits go to paying transportation costs for workshop presenters (some will be traveling quite a distance to present for free). I'll be selling them at a table at Registration for $15 each at SAA. No, they're not available for sale online (yet – hopefully, at some point).

They look like this:
  Archivist pin in the shape of an acid-free folder.
Whenever I wear mine, I feel like a superhero.