Since we were in hot and steamy Texas for the SAA conference, I thought I would have a Western theme to this post. Enjoy!
The Good: “Bringing it Together” Part of my excitement in attending the conference was to see if I could make connections from my time as a student to a professional. Some of the sessions did not disappoint. My favorite session, for this reason, was session 104 on archives and web 2.0 (see the SAA facebook page for videos of session 104 and more, nice job SAA!). Even though this really was not the most applicable session to my professional position, it was great in that it addressed how the profession can handle a topic that I was first introduced to in grad-school. Every professor I had, at one point or another, stated that archives had to do a better job being transparent. If I may go all postmodern on you for a second, transparency was identified as a way to address the notion that all human endeavor is biased in some way or another. If we cannot remove bias, we can at least be transparent in our decisions so future generations know where we were coming from. The first presenter in session 104, Angela McClendon Ossar, identified web 2.0 technology as a way to bring transparency to archival appraisal and processing. By blogging and tweeting, the archive can shed light on the black box. I thought this was a wonderful practical solution to a theoretical problem posed in the classroom. Awesome job!
There was also a surprising amount of good archive talk at the social activities I attended. While I guess it could be considered shoptalk, it was great to hear from working archivists. Whether it was a discussion of the meaning of records with some classmates fellow alums over $2 Lone Stars, or discussing how to appraise records based on documentation strategy over a sassy pinot grigio, I saw that every time a group of archivists gather it is another opportunity to learn something about the field. Note: all booze was consumed after the workday and not in excess, in case any people who could fire me, hire me, or are married to me, are reading this post.
Overall, I was very impressed how generous archivists are with their time and how willing they are to discuss things with someone new to the field. I am very excited to be in a profession where people are so clearly passionate about what they do and willing to lend a helping hand to others.
The Bad: “Why Are We Not Past This Yet?” While some of the sessions were great and really taught me a lot, some of them made me wonder why we were still talking about certain things as a profession. My example for this is session 501, whose official title was “More Product, Less Process Revisited: Choosing the Right Processing Strategy for Your Repository and Collections.” That sounds interesting, right? Well, in my opinion, the actual content of this session probably did little to help people choose a processing strategy, but rather “revisited” the type of debate that must have occurred when Greene and Meissner first published their article in 2005. Two members of the panel stated concerns regarding MPLP, including fears that widespread misuse of minimal processing will lead to the alienation our users, will make archivists irrelevant, and cause the McDonald’s-ization (yes, I just made up that word) of the profession. Update: OK, so apparently I did not make up McDonaldization. I guess I will have to Google words that I think I made up before I publicly claim that I made them up. HT to Angela McClendon Ossar.Image courtesy of Flickr member sparktography / CC-BY-NC
Now, this type of misuse of minimal process would be very disconcerting if it were not for the fact that, as far as I could tell, the evidence of misuse lies in anecdotal stories related during conferences and that SAA offers a workshop on MPLP. Um… really? It seems to me that we should have moved past a debate discussing the theoretical (and not to mention false) choice between “complete processing” and “minimal processing.” Is it not the reality that most archivists are adapting several different types of processing to accommodate the wide ranging and wonderful diversity among our archival institutions? I am not saying that there is not a place for a reasoned and rational debate on MPLP, or any archival issue for that matter. I am saying we should have that debate with facts in hand, and be a bit more aware of what is going on in the archival-streets (yes, I just made up that phrase).
In addition to MPLP, I feel there are other topics that we need to move beyond the acceptance phase. These topics range from user involvement, digital record management, and digital preservation. These are no longer new or radical concepts, and we should be talking about how to harness them, not engage in unhelpful hyperbolic claims that they are scary, unwanted, or cataclysmic to the profession.
Update: There seems to be a very interesting and relevant discussion brewing on the A&A, started by Kate Cruikshank of Indiana University, focusing on examples of how archivists are implementing minimal processing in their institutions, and a very informative post on ArchivesNext by Kate Theimer and Dan Santamaria. Nice work! There will also be a section dealing with MPLP in an upcoming issue of American Archivist, let’s hope this adds to the discussion.
The Ugly: “I am Freakin’ Tired” Archives is a second profession for me, my former profession being in the culinary field. I would come home from being in a kitchen all day bone-tired. While at the end of the day at SAA I did not smell of burnt grease, I was as tired as I was in any day in the kitchen. Not that I thought it would be all giggles and cupcakes (yep, made that one up too), but since I was out of my cubicle and pretty much on my own, I thought there would be a certain relaxation factor. Yeah, not so much. It is hard being “on” for that long of a time. I think my condition at the end of the week was similar to the condition of my name badge at the end of the week: worn out, misshapen, and mildly inappropriate…
Final Verdict: I will see you at SAA 2010, baby!!