New Year’s resolutions are fun to come up with but difficult to execute—am I right, or am I right? Each January, it has become custom for us to start the new year off right by vowing to improve our lives in some way. We may decide to eat healthier, exercise more, keep a cleaner house, read a book series, or something of that nature. Despite the fact that most New Year’s resolutions fail within a matter of weeks, the idea of a fresh start is still a very meaningful concept, not just for our personal lives, but also for our archival lives as well. Early in my graduate school career, Richard Pearce-Moses told me that an archives must have three things in order to thrive: a collection, a place, and a program. The “collection” refers to the archival materials themselves. The “place” is the physical area where the archives are kept. The “program” includes the policies and procedures that drive the archival workflow. As I’ve progressed through graduate school and gained more experience in the archival field, I’ve realized that all three of these aspects can be dynamic. It is up to archivists to not only respond to this dynamism, but also to anticipate it and constantly revisit the way archival work is being done. If we desire our work and our collections to remain relevant, we must regularly question our collection policies, our preservation practices, our technological resources, our description practices, our reference policies, and much more. Now don’t panic … I’m not saying we need to fix things that aren’t broken or randomly disrupt workflows that are working well, but I do think it is important to periodically step back and study the archival workflow of your institution. What is functioning and/or not functioning properly? What can be more efficient? How can we improve current practices? How can we adhere to archival standards better? Each domain of the archival workflow warrants these types of questions; in fact, that is exactly what I plan to do for the Flat Rock Archives—the local community archives where I volunteer. (If you want to know more about the Flat Rock Archives and my involvement with it, see the post I wrote here).
The Flat Rock Archives has a collection (check!), a place (check!), and a program…eh…not so much. The Flat Rock Archives was not established by an archivist or by anyone with archival expertise; hence, a lot of necessary archival policies and procedures were never put in place during its development. According to James O’Toole and Richard Cox, establishing an archives and developing an archival program requires us to ask specific questions about the goals and scope of the archives. Why has the archives been established? What is it intended to accomplish? Where will the archives be placed? What kinds of records will the archives acquire? What subject areas will be represented? Since these kinds of questions were not answered when the Flat Rock Archives was established, it is up to me to backtrack and revisit these questions in the hopes of developing a stronger archival program that serves the needs of users and also protects the collections. Considering the depth and breadth of archival work and how much effort it takes to develop a strong archival institution, I’m a little overwhelmed by the task in front of me at Flat Rock. There’s just so much to be done. However, as we all know, Rome was not built in a day, and neither is an archives. Instead of focusing on everything at once, I’ve decided to highlight a few basic and achievable tasks within the archival endeavor that I think Flat Rock needs to complete by the end of 2016. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- Formal collection policy that supports the Flat Rock Archives mission statement
- Accession record/Deed of Gift documentation for new acquisitions (and retroactive documentation for legacy collections)
- Records inventory spreadsheet
- Intellectual control over collections
- Finding aids!
- Preservation grant
- Preservation consultation
- Condition reports
- Environmental stability
- Housing stability (archival folders, boxes, etc.)
Reference and Access needs:
- Reference policies
- Digitization of select items
- Digital finding aids
- More fundraisers
- Increased relationships with local schools and community groups
So, what do you think of my list? Am I missing something? Do you think I’m being too ambitious for one year? All thoughts are welcome.
Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s make 2016 a great one!
 James M. O’Toole and Richard J. Cox, Understanding Archives & Manuscripts (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006), 115-116.