New England Archivists Spring 2010 Meeting

Last week I attended the New England Archivists (NEA) Spring 2010 Meeting at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  I’m a brand new member of NEA and this was my first Meeting (and only my second professional conference after the 2007 ALA Annual Conference).

I drove out on Saturday morning (later than intended due to a faulty alarm clock) and arrived during the keynote address by Jackie Dooley of OCLC Research and the RLG Partnership.  Despite sitting at a table in the front of the auditorium I had trouble understanding what Dooley was saying for which I blame poor amplification.

The sessions were much better.

I attended:

SESSION #2: Maximal Processing

In response to the popular adaptation of the More Product, Less Process (MPLP) in archives, Rob Cox of U-Mass, Amherst counters with a Maximal Processing model.  The MPLP model originated with a 2005 American Archivist article by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner which suggested limiting the amount of time archivists spent on processing new collections to prevent backlogs and allow researchers to have more immediate access.  While on the surface a good idea, MPLP means there’s less description of archival collections which leads to less discovery and thus less use.  Cox’s Maximal Processing model aspires to maximum processing archivists can do within the confines of the resources available.

Speakers at this session included Cox himself, Lucy Barber of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and Jim Gerencser of Dickinson College with Nanci Young of Smith College as session chair.  It’s interesting that MPLP and Maximal Processing are not as diametrically opposed as they may appear.  The main problem with MPLP is that some archives are applying minimal processing to the extreme which results in costs passed on to researchers, less application of our special knowledge as archivists, and degradation of the archives’ public image.  Cox’s idea is to process and describe collections as much as possible and then continually and strategically revisit collections and revise descriptions.  As Gerencser noted a finding aid is a living document not the final word.

Maximal Processing as Cox and his colleagues described appeals to me greatly.  I like that we as archival professionals should aim high and avoid basing practices on something called “minimal.”  I also like that it is an ongoing continuum, do as much as you can and keep working on it.  It means a lot more to be an archivist and have that kind of input and relationship with the public.  I also liked that Cox’s slide show was almost entirely photos of cats, especially since they had nothing to do with the subject at hand.

SESSION #5: Repurposing Metadata

Anything with metadata in the title usually causes my head to spin – and this was no exception – but it was an interesting session nonetheless.  I like to think that frequent exposure to things I don’t understand will help things to click, eventually. Sibyl Schaefer of the University of Vermont served as session chair for this discussion of creative ways in which metadata can be repurposed.  Mike Rush of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University spoke about using XSLT style sheets to create outputs from their EAD finding aids.  I was particularly impressed by how it automatically generated box labels since I spend a lot of time typing those things up, but Rush spoke many other “crosswalks” that allow metadata to cross among standards.  Anne Sauer of Tufts University talked about the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” approach by entering metadata into a central database and exporting it for many other purposes.  Finally Mark Matienzo of Yale University’s Manuscripts and Archives introduced me to the concept of linked data which has to do with the Semantic Web and I didn’t quite grasp but basically is a way to link better. DBPedia is an example as it is the linked data version of Wikipedia.  Matzienzo spoke of using linked data as another was of furthering archival description and outreach.

SESSION #8: Archivists as Web 2.0 Consumer

The final session was more my speed as I already make use of a lot of Web 2.0 tools in a professional context.  Kate Theimer of ArchivesNext told us her personal story of creating one of the top blogs in the profession and how that’s benefited her career as well as sharing some of her favorite social networking tools.  Heather Soyka of the University of Pittsburgh gave a presentation entitled “RSS: Feeding the Starving Archivist” including a link to her Bloglines feeds which might make even a frequent rss user like myself overstuffed.  Rachel Donahue from the University of Maryland talked about the advantages of using Twitter and other social networking tools to maximize conference attendance (ironically, the U-Mass wifi network was not public access so I just put my laptop in the car at lunch time, but apparently other people were tweeting away on mobile devices).  Session chair Christie Peterson of Bates College also spoke about building an online personal space for professional networking.  This included making lists to increase privacy on Facebook and best professional practice for Twitter.

Outside the sessions I felt surprised to see lots of people I know or sort of know.  Colleagues from my library and Harvard naturally, but also teachers and students from Simmons and a great number of people I’m following on Twitter and blogs.  The archives community in New England is small.  I can’t say I’m a great networker but I did chat with some nice people and the food was good.  It was also a beautiful Spring day so I’m glad I was able to slip out at lunch for some sunshine.  I look forward to future activities with NEA.