DVAG Meeting at the Union League – December 18, 2013

Contributed by Valerie-Ann Lutz

During this meeting a decision was made to continue the many helpful conversations on the DVAG Blog. Check back for a follow-up post and participate in the dialogue!

Union League photo
Meeting participants on their tour of the Union League

The final DVAG meeting of 2013 was held in the grand 19th century library of the Union League on South Broad Street.  In what was perhaps the longest and one of the most informative DVAG meetings, attendees participated in a discussion about issues facing archivists, saw original documents from the collections, took a tour of the Union League library and vault, and returned to the library for drinks.

The meeting consisted of various topics circulated to DVAG members prior to the meeting.  These included reference, digitization, deaccessioning, and employment issues.

Questions were raised regarding patrons who do not understand the concepts of closed stacks and restricted materials.   “People think that they can see anything,” one participant pointed out.  She noted that a published official policy is necessary, as some patrons will make official complaints.  This raised the issue of belligerent and disorganized patrons and how one must determine at what point to help or to ask them to leave, and when to bring in security or the police.

Digitization was discussed at length, with issues of copyright versus fair use, whether to allow patrons to use images on social media without charge and without requesting permission to use, and whether to watermark images.  One attendee noted that her institution has recommended rates for rights and reproduction but are usually flexible and usually do not charge for non-profit use.  They also have a member discount and a different pricing structure for high-resolution and low-resolution images.

The “need to balance archivists’ desire for access and justify their jobs and making money for the institution” was mentioned by one attendee.  “We would love to waive feels and not nickel and dime people,” she said, but noted that the organizational reality was that they needed to charge fees.  Another person noted that in her work at a university she felt less pressure to have rights and reproduction be a source of income as she did at a research library.

The question “Can we finally bury the term ‘miscellaneous’” resulted in a lively discussion.  A suggestion from one attendee was that archivists simply “pick three things of what something is—for example correspondence, minutes, and reports.”  The need for “precision rather than accuracy” is important, he emphasized.  While the description won’t be completely accurate, at least there will be a description, and archivists can describe items that do not fully fit these categories by noting them in scope and content notes.

One attendee noted that at her institution, they have been able to create strong series and subseries for most of the collections, but are still thinking about what to do about “miscellaneous” items.  Another attendee said that the term “miscellaneous” is not the worst thing, and that sometimes this is the only term that can be used to describe items, but a third person cautioned that it is not good when it’s used to describe a collection or series, such as “So and So Miscellany.”

Deaccessioning was next on the agenda.  An attendee mentioned that their archives had a record retention policy.   Items commonly deaccessioned were listed: duplicates, reprints, routine correspondence, most financial records, magazines, etc.  Another attendee mentioned that her institution offers materials back to the donors first.

One question posted for discussion was “Do you ever just pull documents off the server?”  One attendee mentioned “Archive-It,” used for powering the Way-Back Machine.  He said that his institution subscribes to the service, which offers a full stack of URLs and crawls sites, and now have about 250 sites of every organization related to their collecting mission.  “Organizing these things will be interesting,” he noted.

The last topic, which perhaps generated the most discussion, was that of employment.  An example was provided of a recent graduate volunteering while looking for employment, doing free labor and not able to find a position because there are others also willing to work for free.  “Some administrators think all can be done with interns and software,” one person noted.  Another pointed out that he has two part-time jobs.

Several people pointed out that even volunteer experience is useful for putting on one’s resume, but that if this is putting people in the position where they are doing archival work without an archival background, this is not good.  Not only does this possibly prevent a trained archivist from getting a position, but it means that untrained people are doing the work and likely not making educated appraisal decisions and not arranging and describing materials according to archival standards.

Following the meeting, DVAG members were treated to an extensive tour by Union League librarian James Mundy, which included a history of the Union League, guided tour of the current exhibit and the new climate-controlled manuscript vault, and seeing several significant items from the Union League collection (including the Tanner Manuscript, an original handwritten manuscript eyewitness testimony to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination).  After the tours, DVAG members returned to the library for a social hour of drinks and conversation.


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