Susan Mumford, CA, Utah State Archives 2015-11-23 13:41:04
Those of us who work at the Utah State Archives collect information as part of our jobs. The cubicles and offices we inhabit are bristling with piles and shelves full of useful information. It has been ten years since the Archives holdings and staff moved from a drafty records storage warehouse with temporary offices to a new, modern building. During that time there has been a proliferation, scattering, and hoarding of useful information. The problem is how to put the resources together and make sense of the collection. If these stacks and piles of information were government records, we would put them in acid-free file folders, arrange them in boxes, make a finding aid for them, and accession them to the archives. But these publications and other copyrighted materials are not records. This information has been accumulated to help us do our work. The Archives Building has a large temperature and humidity-controlled central core for the storage of permanent records. The core is capable of housing 50,000 cubic feet of records—in acid-free boxes retrievable by a robotic system. Specified boxes can be delivered to the History Research Room for use within a few minutes. The Department of History and the Archives share the responsibility of staffing the research room and serving patrons. The Archives’ oldest records are on paper, some dating back to Utah’s territorial days when Brigham Young was both territorial governor and leader of the LDS (Mormon) Church. The administrative offices, staff offices, and meeting rooms of the building are built around the central storage core. A main function of both the staff and the building is to preserve records of enduring value. This is done by physically securing the records and by a systematic migration, microfilming, and digitization program. In a valley surrounded by the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountain ranges with a fault line second only to the San Andreas, earthquake proofing is essential. The building is designed to survive a big one with the records intact. (Dis)Array of Resources There are books on how to manage people in an organization: The Carrot Principle, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Information Nation, as well as another manual from 1995 called 440 Ways to Get More Out of Your Employees. There are materials about how to have better meetings, how to run a successful volunteer program, how to manage personal finances, prepare for retirement, enroll in health care, improve health, lose weight, travel on a budget. There is a large gray box full of journal and newspaper articles our director distributed for staff members to read. There are training materials to train trainers in how to train and training materials created by staff members to train records officers across the state in records management. There are agendas and schedules for conferences that have been sponsored by the Archives or held at the Archives. There are books and articles on Utah history and technical pamphlets about preserving records in various formats. Again, while these are not government records, they are useful only if staff members know they exist. The problem was how to bring the resources together and create a library that staff from the various sections of the Archives would find useful and even compelling. Initially, a bank of available shelves was located. It was being used as temporary storage and staging for boxes of records waiting to be processed. Moving all the books and magazines from various locations to the area, I left it at that. There would be time to catalog and create a finding aid later, I hoped. As Volunteer Coordinator for the Archives, I had built a vigorous program that recruited volunteers as “history detectives” on a United Way volunteer website. I had cultivated relationships with history and library science programs at local and online universities. The program provided highly motivated volunteers and interns who were eager to learn the principles and practices of archiving. At first, staff members were reluctant to take time from their own projects to teach and mentor volunteers. However, for several years now, at an annual awards event in December, we have presented our director with a symbolic check of more than $100,000 in the equivalent value of volunteer hours. The benefits of working with volunteers is evident. Staff members are willing to make the effort to mentor interns and instruct volunteers for the rewards of the experience and the extra help they provide. Tackling the Assignment Nova Dubovik came to the Archives as an intern working on an MLS degree from San Jose State University. She and her family had lived in various places around the world on military assignments. She had worked at the air force base library in Aviano, Italy, after her retirement from the service. Retired as a Senior Master Structural Aircraft Craftsman after 23 years, she was ready for a new career. For many of us, a library science degree is the start of a new career after a successful career in another field. I claimed Dubovik for the library project as soon as I met her. Although at first staff members had been reluctant to take on volunteers because of the time they perceived it would take to teach and supervise them, the situation had reversed itself. There now are projects waiting and staff members eager to have volunteers. To accomplish her internship, Dubovik went to work using online tools available through OCLC.org, WorldCat, the Utah State Library, Internet Archive Digital Library, and the Library of Congress. The first task was to assign Dewey Decimal equivalents for LC or ISBN numbers. She soon had inventoried and cataloged the several hundred bound volumes, pamphlets, magazines, and reference works. She created an Excel spreadsheet with tabs for each of the Dewey categories. It was searchable by author, subject, or Dewey category. Additional columns for “location” and “format” provided useful information. A staff member could enter books located in his or her own work area or interesting articles from any online source and make them available to other staff members. One staff member offered the books purchased for his master’s degree in digital asset management to be part of the resource. The format column was a place for links to electronic or eBook versions if they were available. The concentrated power of our collected information and resources in one place could have a potent and unifying effect for the Archives staff. Providing Access I called a gathering of staff members—several have library degrees—to brainstorm a way to provide access and to track the usage of our collection. This was the core of a committee that had insured the success of interns and volunteers. It would be essential that staff members shared the ownership of the library and could add to as well as use the resource. Dubovik had researched free and low-cost tools for libraries to use. As we listed these, Gina Strack came to the group a little late from a doctor’s appointment. As she tuned in to the subject of our discussion, she brightened. “We have one already!” she exclaimed. “It is LibraryThing. If I can remember the password or retrieve it, we can begin using it immediately.” A lifetime subscription had been purchased for the Archives and Strack had used it briefly then set it aside for other, more urgent tasks. With the Excel spreadsheet complete, the current holdings listed, cataloged, and linked to digital equivalents, it could be transferred to LibraryThing. Books and articles can be checked out and tracked so that holdings are not lost when they are being used. A staff member needing information on a certain subject can query the Archives’ own LibraryThing and get a list of articles and books available on the subject. If a staff member is designing training or a presentation, prior presentations and training sessions are available to them as patterns. The ability to share interesting articles gives staff members the opportunity to contribute to the collection. All in the Family A breakthrough with staff members came when Gina Strack recruited her father, Don Strack, a railroad enthusiast, to process a specialized series of Utah Department of Transportation railroad maps. His interest and enthusiasm were convincing evidence of how much more could be accomplished with volunteer help. An avid railroad historian, he has a website dedicated to his research: http://utahrails.net. A Useful Staff Library The Archives library is up and running. Books, pamphlets, and binders of information are cataloged and separated into Dewey subject groups. Staff members and volunteers are able to access professional materials on information and records management, archival standards, digital formatting, software instruction manuals, and material to prepare for professional certifications. Our collection includes books on Utah history and binders of information on topics related to the mission of the Archives. Periodicals to which staff members subscribe are accessible to all.
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