I usually get pretty surprised reactions when I tell colleagues, friends, and potential future students that I assign readings. Part of the reason for this is due to a gap I saw personally when I decided to dedicate myself to this field.
When I went to graduate school for my masters in library science, I had four years of hands-on, practical experience from two different organizations to draw from. I had wonderful supervisors at both locations. For some reason, though, I did not grasp the sheer amount of professional literature that existed. (This was one of the reasons why I enjoyed going to a school that had a more “theoretical” approach)
The students I work with have variety of experiences, backgrounds, and could be at various times in their education. Making sure everyone reads these documents sets a baseline. Because we discuss all the readings after the student completes them, I feel it also opens up dialogue that will set the stage for the entire time the student is working with me.
The following readings are organized in the order I like them to be read:
1. Internship Overview Document
On this document, I lay out a number of items to encompass the entire semester. I began including this document after reading Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students by Jeanette A. Bastian and Donna Webber, published in 2008. I read this as soon as it came out, which just so happened to be when I began my first professional archivist position. This document allows the intern to know what to expect from me, what I expect from them, and what they will learn during our time together. I touch on this document throughout the semester and do not go over the entire thing on the first day, or even the first week sometimes.
Apart from the first day orientation, hours, etc… sort of material, I include points on the importance of knowing how a repository acquires, processes, preserves and provides access to material even if the student’s individual project does not include all these aspects. The document continues into an internship overview; the mission of the organization; and the creation of an inventory and work plan when a specific archival collection has been assigned. This document ends with a basic summation of the processing, arrangement and description of the collection.
2. Mark Greene, “The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and Value in the Post-Modern Age,” Society of American Archivist’s Presidential Address, August 2008
I have always enjoyed this address because I think it stretches the minds of these students who will very soon be in the field. While many of those that I supervise are new to the field, I’m sure they have been asked the question, “What is an archivist?” I discuss with the students a few highlights from the list of ten ‘core values.’ Including:
Preservation: “Use should almost always trump preservation, particularly now when we have so many options for providing use with minimal preservation risk… What is the point of ‘preserving’ collections that we will not let researchers use because we are preserving them?”
The reading and subsequent discussion with students about this reading allows me to tell them I am here to make things available. I do not see the point in having a collection if it will never be made available – this is when the archives become a glorified storage shed. That does not interest me. I tell the intern that yes, the collections they process will be fragile and brittle due to a number of factors, but we will do everything we possibly can to stabilize the material so that it is available for use. We will interact with the public, and not sit by ourselves at our desk never to interact with anyone else.
3. Chapter 1: “The Archival Calling” from Richard Cox, Archival Anxiety and the Vocational Calling, 2011
This semester [Fall 2013] was the first time I assigned this reading as I had just completed the book myself. There were so many aspects of this book and specifically this chapter that engrossed me, and actually it is because of my personal response to this chapter that caused me to want to start my own professional blog again in the first place.
At the very least, I think it will make the student think back on their own reasons for joining this field. Perhaps they don’t feel like they answered a calling just yet, but in the future they will realize that is exactly what they were doing. That was the case with me and why I think I have had success in this field. In particular, I realized how much this statement on page 14 applies to me now, which is a quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
“…finding a job should never be just a matter of finding a source of income. The organization you work for will shape your entire identity. It will either enable you to grow or stunt you; it will either energize you or drain you; it will strengthen your values or make you cynical.”
I studied under Dr. Cox while attending the University of Pittsburgh for my MLIS, and I will never forget what he said on the first day of our Archives and Records Management class: “I have forgotten more than you will ever know [about archives].” Well, it is nice to meet you too! Cox quotes Benjamin Barber on page 18 of Archival Anxiety, and I finally understand the method to his unmistakable style: “With good teaching, as with good art, someone is always offended: the point is precisely to provoke, offend, and spur to critical thinking.” Stay tuned to a subsequent blog for my full thoughts on this chapter!
4. “Preface” and “Statement of Principles” from DACS – Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Oh DACS, no one could forget about you. As many of the students I work with haven’t been in the field that long or acquired much experience yet, I always think it is beneficial for them to read part of DACS. They may have worked with or had a hand in the creation of finding aids, but do they know why they organized the information the way they did? Usually, they do not.
The Preface to DACS is a bit of history on the standard and how it relates to other standards they will come in contact with. The Statement of Principles is the foundation for the entire standard and will help the student understand when I say they need more information on the creator, or why they need to take their description to this level. Lastly, whenever someone mentions DACS, the student will understand what that is.
5. Chapter 4: “The Practice of Arrangement and Description,” from Kathleen Roe, Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts, 2005
A basic manual that all students of archives need to read, but a surprising amount never come in contact with! At least in New York City graduate schools, very few read this manual (or maybe they did and it just didn’t make an impact on their memory). I feel like this book, along with the others in the Society of American Archivists fundamentals series, should be read early on in their graduate schooling. This chapter, along with the next reading from Keeping Archives really drives home the idea of arrangement and description.
I assign chapter 4, but state that the student should really read this entire thing.
6. Chapter 5: “Arrangement and Description,” by Paul Brunton and Tim Robinson, from Keeping Archives, edited by Ann Pederson, Australian Society of Archivists, 1987
This reading, while similar to Roe’s chapter, is useful because of the number of case studies featured. Something I specifically highlight involves setting priorities for arrangement and description. It says:
The keys questions to be answered in setting priorities are:
This section corresponds nicely with the fact that I am on a grant-funded project which has a built-in time limit. I also do not have a subject specialty related to this material. Again I am setting the stage for my thought process, why I will be assigning the collections I do, my expectations for the time they will spend on each collection, etc…
7. Library Preservation at Harvard University, “Conservation Guidelines: Transfer of Library Materials to the Harvard Depository”
I’ve been using this since 2008. I like how it, in a very basic and easy to understand manner, lays out some ways to physically take care of the items that need it. When it comes time for the student to actually do this, I of course show them my technique, but they always appreciate having the reminder in the form of this document.
[Note: Harvard updated their website, so I can no longer find online the document I use specifically. For their general website on Preservation, see this link.]
The following readings are also new to the repertoire as of Fall 2013. It began after the 2013 Society of American Archivists annual meeting in New Orleans. I did not attend, but I was following along on Twitter. When President Jackie Dooley gave her address, I watched/read the slow changeover from, “Yay they are talking about new professionals and students!” to “Wait a minute, established professionals are still missing the point.”
I was intrigued and over the next few days, read the various blog entries that popped up in response. I now provide the text of the Presidential Address which was posted on the SAA website on August 17, 2013; three response blog posts; and information from two other sources on internships. I think this shows the student that I am open to discussing anything they want to, even potentially uncomfortable subjects. I cannot offer paid internships where I work, but I do my utmost to be the best supervisor I can be while teaching them as much as I can.
The readings are:
a. Jackie Dooley’s 2013 SAA Presidential Address, “Feeding Our Young.”
b. Blog Entry: “Professional Privilege: A Response to the 2013 SAA Presidential Address,” from Archivasaurus
c. Blog Entry: “Professional Privilege: Get Uncomfortable,” by Rebecca Goldman, from You Ought to Be Ashamed
d. Blog Entry: “Internships, Privilege, and SAA: A Council Member Responds,” by Michelle Light, posted on Off the Record.
e. United States Division of Labor, Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act
f. Best Practices in Public History, Public History Internships, May 2008
9. Processing Manual, Columbia University/Burke Library
Required reading before being able to touch a collection! Head of Archives Processing at Columbia, Carrie Hintz, updated the CUL Processing Manual and it is very useful and informative, while being practical. The other archivist at the Burke Library, Ruth Tonkiss Cameron, and I edited and added to this document because we do things a little differently at the Burke compared to the rest of the CUL system. I assign this to be read last because it will be the freshest in the student’s mind.
This ends the required reading for students before they can work on their assigned collections. After they read the items, we spend a few hours one-on-one discussing the readings.
Another reading I give later in the semester, depending on what the student has read in the past and also what collection I assign, is Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner’s “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing.”
Potential Future Readings
One of my students had never worked with archives, and was not doing an archives-focused masters. I used the following readings along with the previously mentioned ones, and I may add them in depending on the student’s experience.
“Who Controls the Past,” by Helen Willa Samuels
“The Documentation Strategy and Archival Appraisal Principles: A Different Perspective,” by Richard J. Cox
“On the Idea of Uniqueness,” by James M. O’Toole
“The Power of the Principle of Provenance,” by David A. Bearman and Richard H. Lytle
“On the Idea of Permanence,” by James M. O’Toole