Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More Product, Less Process


I recently attended the Metro workshop, Archival Processing: Implementing New and Efficient Strategies, presented by Dan Santamaria, Assistant University Archivist at Princeton’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.

A 2005 American Archivist article, “More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th-Century Collections,” by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, took the archival world by storm the moment it was published.

The authors found that the rate of processing 20th century collections cannot keep up with the growth of collections, resulting in inaccessible backlogs. Processing practices, developed primarily for 19th century collections, are not sufficient to deal with the size and scope of modern collections. Archivists tend to process at an ideal level, rather than focusing on a “golden minimal” of processing necessary to make collections available. The least amount of work should be done to adequately meet user needs. Arrangement, description, and preservation work should all be done at the same level, which is usually the series level. In other words, accessibility triumphs all.

Some choice quotes from the article:

"Truly, much of what passes for arrangement in processing work is really just overzealous housekeeping, writ large. Our professional fastidiousness, our reluctance to be perceived as sloppy or uncaring by users and others has encouraged a widespread fixation on tasks that do not need to be performed."

"A competent processing archivist ought to be able to arrange and describe large twentieth-century archival materials at an average rate of 4 hours per cubic foot."

"Unprocessed collections should be presumed open to researchers. Period."

"We must get beyond our absurd over-cautiousness that unprocessed collections might harbor embarrassing material not accounted for in deeds of gift, and we must stop fretting over what users might think about us if given a dirty, disorganized collection."

The second half of the workshop was devoted to Princeton case studies where Greene-Meissner was applied.

In my own personal experience, discovering Greene-Meissner early in my archival career was a blessing. I knew that I couldn't be the only one who thought some archival rituals were too time-consuming and took away from easy access. I was able to decrease of a three-year backlog of 50 feet of documents and 10,000 digital photos, prints, and slides in one year applying Greene-Meissner!

Read "More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th-Century Collections"

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