Monday, April 27, 2009

Moving Through The Locks

Through the closets and shelves at the Locks that is. Our project of creating an archive out of the collections at the Ballard Locks is gaining momentum. The wonderful folks over at the community forum posted a call for volunteers for us back on April 9th. The response was fantastic! Within minutes the offers to help started dropping into my inbox.

Unfortunately, right now we only have access to the facilities during the work week. So we have a few folks waiting in the wings to help us out in the evenings and on weekends once we get that worked out. However, we now have a crew of eight (8) volunteers signing up during the week to scan slides and photos. We also have a couple more who might join us shortly. My thanks to all of the volunteers who give of their time to help out with the project!

We've set up a Google Group in order to post messages and updates to all of the volunteers. We're also utilizing a Google Calendar to sign up for our scanning session. (Thank you, Amanda, for setting those up for us!) Basically we've divided up the work week into morning and afternoon work periods. Volunteers sign up for a work period on the calendar. Then they come in anytime during that period and put in as much time as they can spare, usually two to three hours. We might tighten up the schedule as more volunteers join us, but for now it is working out great. We have a talented and motivated group of volunteers with some great ideas. I could never do this project without them.

When it comes to setting up an archive, I will admit to being a rank amateur. I've researched in them, but I've never worked in one. I guess that is what makes this a good internship. I will be taking an online class this summer on Archive Management from Dr. Burg at Shippensburg University this summer. Nevertheless, like anything else I want to do and don't know how, I head for the library or Amazon. Currently, I'm reading "Managing Historical Records Programs" by Bruce Dearstyne. It's not nearly as dry as it might sound. In the first chapter, the author reviews the eight functions that archivists carry out. I thought they would make excellent mission goals for our project, so I'd like to share them with you:

1. Acting as agents of the present and the past for the future. All I can say is that I owe a debt of gratitude to those who saved documents, artifacts, and photos and those who determined that they were worth saving. I hope we can do the same.

2. Partnering in the information field. There is no point in saving the information if it is not in a usable form. That means our work is not complete until we've created finding aids and databases.

3. Organizing and managing coherent, comprehensive programs. Dearstyne says that archivists are not only custodians of important materials, but also program managers. There is no "Lone Arranger" here. This requires a team effort.

4. Deciding which records have enduring value and therefore warrant continuing retention. This is important to keep in mind as we work with Corps of Engineer staff to determine what is "archival." We will not need, or should not, keep everything. A lesson we are already learning with duplicate slides.

5. Asserting control and order. This is straightforward. There currently is no systematic approach to storage and organization.

6. Preserving and protecting. Again, very straightforward. Some artifacts and documents are not being properly stored.

7. Fostering access and use. This is very important in that once the collections are inventoried and organized, we must determine how to make it available to the public.

8. Broadening awareness and support. As this group of volunteers move on with their lives, we need to pass on the responsibility of caring for, and adding to, these collections to an ever changing group of new, motivated volunteers.

And finally I'd leave you with another piece of wisdom from this book. The author quotes an AASLH technical leaflet discussing leadership in an historical records program: "Programs must avoid 'obsolete traditions of elitism and aloofness' and be open to new ideas. While stored at the Hiram Chittenden Locks, and currently worked on by eight volunteers and one or two staff members, the history these collections represent belongs to everyone.

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