Friday, October 12, 2012

New perspectives can translate to new opportunities

I’m the Digital Collections Archivist at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. Kennesaw State is the third largest public university in the University System of Georgia, with a current enrollment of 23,103 for the Spring 2012 semester. Founded in 2004, the Archives consists of one full-time Archivist (me), a part-time Archivist, who also works half-time in the Bentley Rare Book Gallery, and an Associate Director. From 2004 to 2008, when I was hired, the Archives was staffed solely by the Associate Director. For the 2011 Day of Digital Archives, I created a photo essay to illustrate the different roles and responsibilities in my position. It was appropriate for the time, because our department was growing and expanding. We merged with the art and history museums on campus to form a super-department: Museums, Archives & Rare Books. This year, though, feels like one of retrenchment. We lost a long-time member of staff at the beginning of the year. The redistribution of her workload among the remaining staff brought fresh eyes and energy to some long-standing issues. We were able to use it as an opportunity to make significant progress on projects that had been stalled. In light of the difficult economy and constant budget cuts, I think similar organizations will find our actions of interest.

Writing it down 

At the beginning of the year, we hired a Records Manager, the first in the history of the university. She’s been working to understand and document the workflow of records creation and disposition across departments in the university. We don’t have an enterprise document management solution, so it’s been quite an undertaking. As part of her duties, the Records Manager has also inventoried records at our off-site storage vendor, identifying and transferring materials with historical significance to the Archives. Although the mission of the Archives is to collect and maintain university records that document its activities and history, we found that we had no recognized authority to transfer records without the consent of the department or division head. Trying to find someone who was willing to accept responsibility or to grant permission was an exercise in futility. After trying to track down one division head over the summer, it was decided that we needed to seek the authority to transfer records deemed to fall within our collecting policies. The problem was we had few written policies.

The department formed a policy committee with representatives from the museums, Rare Book Gallery, and the Archives to develop unified collection management policy. We found that we were able to use the same language and concepts, adding specific examples or language for situations unique to each unit. After several iterations, the committee was able to create a collections management policy over the summer. It’s currently awaiting final approval by the Chief Information Officer before being implemented. Once this is in place, we are ready to submit the transfer authorization proposal to the President’s Committee for approval. The completion of the collection management policy spurred interest and development in additional policies and procedures, including reproduction, access and use, and registration, as well as related forms. We’re currently working on creating copyright policies. My particular focus is developing guidelines to help users to understand copyright restrictions and to make responsible reproduction decisions.

Clearing it out

Looking at ongoing problems with storage space, both physical and digital, we created an ad hoc committee to review materials and make decisions regarding disposition. One of the first problems that we identified was a large amount of supplies and resources that had been amassed “just in case.” These included outdated or broken equipment, unnecessary or unusable supplies, and donations that did not meet our collecting areas or interests. The process of clearing out the space allowed us to reorganize supplies, to order new equipment, and to relish the sense of accomplishment. We used this momentum to tackle the shared drives and digital repository, both of which had become dumping grounds. The same committee developed policies to govern the shared drive, as well as file naming conventions. Using these new documents, we began a clean-up of the shared drive, which amounted to removing approximately 60 MB of duplicate or unnecessary files. The process turned out to be so easy that the committee offered the services to one of the museums. We were also able to incorporate elements into an outreach session on email best practices and plan to offer the service to other departments on campus.

Building it up 

The university is coming up on its 50th anniversary in 2013 and the Archives was approached to digitize historic images and to make them available for users. Currently, we rely on Archon to provide public access to our records and small files, such as oral history transcripts and low-resolution images. It was decided that it is inadequate to provide access to the high-resolution images required for the anniversary. I was tasked with comparing systems and making a recommendation. After much research, I determined that DSpace would best meet our requirements. We’re currently working with campus IT to implement a DSpace instance. As part of the DSpace project, I mapped the workflows of the Archives and identified current and future technology needs. This plan can now be used to ensure that we make strategic decisions based on demonstrated needs.

In addition to implementing new systems, we’re also focused on improving our current products and services. Archon was originally populated by importing data from our old CMS. It contains many records with minimum information. As part of the general commitment to bring consistency to our records, I’ve initiated a project to enhance the catalog on a record-by-record basis. This also allows me to check new accessions and add them to existing collections when appropriate, as well as to verify location and beef up the MARC record in the library’s OPAC. The project has already revealed some MARC mistakes and location errors.

By mapping the Archives’ core functions and relating them to technology needs, we are able to offer products and services of higher quality and with greater efficiency. We were also able to use our clean-up as a template for new services. While retrenchment may not seem as exciting as rapid expansion, it can still be an opportunity for growth and improvement. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to ask any questions or follow up. You can reach me at agraha31 (at) kennesaw (dot) edu.

Many thanks to Gretchen for providing the opportunity and forum!


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