Barbara D. Aikens 2014-02-11 11:23:24
As with any new workflow, More Product, Less Process (MPLP) has presented challenges. Just as we’ve turned to technology to increase online access to our holdings, we can use technology to better manage and support workflows that will result in increased processing production. Here are automated processing tools in the MPLP/MLP “toolkit” of the Archives of American Art (AAA)1 and a summary of how we use these tools to achieve more effective planning, prioritizing, managing, and reporting of our processing activities. Early MPLP Successes and Failures AAA converted its card catalog to MARC format in the early 1990s, thereby creating collection-level MARC records for all of our holdings. Our catalog records are maintained in the Smithsonian’s bibliographic database and are available via the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center, WorldCat, and ArchiveGrid, and on aaa.si.edu. Because we create or update existing MARC records as part of our accessioning workflow, we do not have a cataloging backlog. Additionally, we have always allowed researcher access to unprocessed collections, believing the benefits of open access to unprocessed collections far outweigh any possible negative fallout. However, about 55 percent of our holdings do not meet one or more of our standards for preservation housing, physical access, and intellectual access. Although that is a large backlog, the tools outlined below have helped us to systematically define our standards, solidify and codify our workflows and procedures, and identify and articulate our processing needs and priorities. The Database (DCD) AAA started building an in-house database around 2004, primarily as a digital content cataloging and management system. The MS-SQL system evolved to support our Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Initiative and is now a robust database that incorporates powerful programming to support and integrate archival processing workflows for EAD finding aids, collections scanned in their entirety, pushing content out to the web, and capable of providing us with a variety of reports. Finding Aid and Digitization Workflows AAA’s highly successful Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Initiative is fully integrated into our archival processing Workflows. The EAD finding aid serves as 1) the only descriptive metadata for fully digitized collections; 2) the online presentation/ navigation format; and 3) the digital file directory. Thus much of our database functionality is designed around EAD. Automated workflows that support large-scale digitization include the initial uploading of the XML EAD finding aid into the database; creation of an internal “stub” site for a collection that will be fully digitized; generation of the digital file directory based on the finding aid container listing; batch processing of the TIFF files to create JPG derivatives; saving and linking digital files to the appropriate folder headings; generation of a PDF version of the finding aid; and finally, deployment to the website. Additional innovative features include versioning support for finding aid edits, staff preview options, automated notifications, and a variety of statistical reporting features. Accessioning Staff and contract collecting specialists enter basic content descriptions of new acquisitions directly into the DCD. Some of our collecting specialists have formal archival training, but others are art historians who struggle to understand archival methodologies and jargon. Rather than trying to train art historians to become archivists, we created a new Accessioning Module. The data entry form “forces” the collecting specialist to describe the contents of the collection via checklists that are prepopulated with typical archival Series titles and formats. The information supports the immediate creation of a MARC catalog record and is nearly sufficient for creating a series-level finding aid. We have not developed an automated mapping workflow that would allow this, but it would be a desirable enhancement. Unique to the accessioning module are automatic notifications that alert the AV archivist if there are audiovisual formats and the digital assets manager if there is born-digital content. If the new accession is an addition to a collection that already has a finding aid online, an alert goes out to immediately update the finding aid. Assessment The assessment module was created for a fully comprehensive backlog survey in 2006–2007, based on the methodology of the “PACSCL Survey Tool” that is also available in The Archivists ToolkitTM. Our assessment module similarly evaluates and rates the physical condition of the collection materials and housing, the levels of physical and intellectual access, and the research value/significance. After completing the backlog survey, we quickly realized the value of assessing all new accessions and upgrading assessment ratings for individual collections as work is completed. Thus our assessment data are not static and continue to provide us with up-to-date reports that inform management decisions and help us to efficiently balance our ever-tightening resources. Most importantly, we have concrete empirical data that we can use to clearly articulate our processing and preservation needs to senior management and potential funders. Audiovisual Assessment Survey Reports from the assessment module provided us with critical data needed to begin to systematically identify and assess audiovisual materials “hidden” within larger archival collections. Prior to 2007, we were not effectively addressing the processing and preservation needs of our audiovisual materials and didn’t really know the full extent of our AV holdings, the majority of which are scattered throughout mixed-format collections. Often AV content was incorrectly or inadequately identified and described in our catalog records and finding aids. Worse, researchers were often either denied access or forced to pay for duplication when no access copies were available. So we created an AV assessment methodology and supporting Access database. Initially, our new AV archivist looked at a few beta AV survey methodologies, but they were either not ready to be shared or were more granular than what we envisioned being able to accomplish. Also, we wanted to take a more “archival” approach because our goal was to integrate audiovisual “processing” into our regular processing and description workflows. Thus the methodology focused on identifying intellectual groupings of AV within collections, which allowed us to cover a lot of collections fairly quickly for top-level information. The AV archivist could then identify formats and count and assess the physical condition of AV items, but describe (in the database) each group of items as one component. The process resulted in identifying 800 archival collections that contain 1,740 groups of AV totaling more than 15,100 AV items. We now know the formats and condition of nearly all of our AV items, and which ones can be safely dubbed in-house and which must be reformatted by conservation labs. We have used these data to write successful grant proposals to fund conservation reformatting of at-risk items and for processing collections that consist primarily of AV. We record and track all AV conservation, cataloging, and additional processing work in the Access database. We also continue to survey new accessions, ensuring there will be no future backlog of hidden films, sound, or video recordings. Automated Tools for Analyzing, Documenting, and Reporting on MPLP Data from the comprehensive assessment were used to strengthen three successful grant proposals to an SI funding source dedicated to collections stewardship projects. These projects afforded us the opportunity to fully identify, test, analyze, and document minimal-level processing tactics, which prompted us to further analyze our entire processing workflow. Because most of our processing work is grant-funded and supports our large-scale digitization initiative, we knew we could not replace full-level with minimal-level processing. Thus any new minimal-level processing workflows and products needed to integrate fully with our existing processing workflows. First, we identified the major primary tasks associated with each level or type of processing—minimal, full, and AV. We then created three corresponding Excel spreadsheets in which processing archivists enter the number of hours spent on each task for each collection processed. The spreadsheets easily calculate the average number of processing hours per linear foot for each type of Processing. We also can determine the number of processing hours associated with individual tasks, which can help us determine where efficiencies might be needed. Most recently we developed a Processing Jobs Module in the DCD. For each collection processed, the archivist selects the collection from the database and completes the data entry form as shown below. Each job can be linked to predefined projects and/or grants. A project can be anything we would like to further analyze and get reports about, such as “accession-level minimal processing” or “intern processing.” Grant projects were added to enable project managers to quickly and easily gather accurate data for progress reports. MPLP has changed the way we approach fundamental archival work in many ways. As we implement new strategies and create new tools to do so, we start to understand that process + product = production. And we can look to modern business practices, such as assessment, statistics, tracking, and workflow and gap analysis, to help us increase production. Notes 1 The Archives of American Art (AAA) is one of fourteen individual manuscript and archival repositories at the Smithsonian Institution. We are a national repository of primary sources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States. Our archival holdings comprise 4,400 individual collections that measure nearly 15,000 linear feet. AAA’s mission is documented and supported by a Collections Plan, a Collections Management Policy, and a living five-year Strategic Plan for 2011?2015.
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