Peter Drucker said that “the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” He uses a similar maxim, quoted by former pupil William A. Cohen, to the effect that good marketing makes sales unnecessary. In the first case, he is discussing knowing the customer well enough to know his need, and then apply innovation and find a way to meet that need. In the second he is speaking of knowing the customer well enough to understand whether or not one’s product or service meets his need, and if so, the product is displayed in a way that is attractive to the customer.

In neither case does Drucker advocate trying to persuade someone that they need something that they do not, or even something they may need but are unaware they need. To Drucker, the goal is simply two-way communication. The provider seeks what is needed by the customer and makes it available in a manner of which the customer is aware. It then is up to the customer to take advantage or not, and if the product is good enough and the communication about it good enough, no persuasion will be necessary.

Too many times I have gone to a repository where the archivist or reference person failed to discover my needs. Too many times they have tried to persuade me that I wanted something other than I really wanted. Too many times the staff never really attempted to meet my research needs because they didn’t explore what they really were. As professionals, they were in the position of authority and saw no need to “market” their product by determining what I needed and let me know what they had. And too many times I, being fairly intelligent, found other sources for my information and returned to the repositories either only as a last resort or never.

I cannot count on my two hands the number of these places that have had major staff reductions and lack the resources to do their jobs well. I know of several that have been transferred to the control of other institutions. They remind me of the folks I know at churches that stick to their guns as the ship sinks for lack of anyone who cares. They are not standing on great principles. They are obstinately refusing to even consider that they do not know best and ask others what might be best. They refuse communication because they are not interested in it. In the end, I expect they are afraid of loss of control. In the end, I suspect they will change or lose more than control.

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[The following is a re-posting of a blog post I made on another blog some time ago. I have promised an update to answer questions sent to me by e-mail, but would rather see some comments that could give points of view of readers. As you will.]

 

When you’re low man on the totem pole in a large organization, you don’t have to worry about whether the decisions made several levels up make sense in light of your training and experience. You don’t have the choice. But when you are low man of only two full-time professionals, and the only one of the two who is specifically trained in the profession, you often have more difficulties. This is the situation I find myself in. But it is not just that my boss is not an archivist, it is that he (I am using general pronoun, not wishing to identify the gender as I am incognito here) is a historian. This means he is familiar with archives from a user’s perspective. In other words, he knows enough to be dangerous.

I have read many posts by people who are frustrated by having to work for bosses that have no experience with archives but refuse to accept the advice of their professional underlings. It gets worse if the person has experience in a related field, but not from the archives perspective, such as when the director is a librarian who insists on arranging everything by subject rather than original order. My experience is with a boss who has studied in archives and worked as a volunteer for years at a library and archives. He has been exposed to things he does not understand, but thinks he does. he readily admits that he is not an archivist, and does frequently ask my opinion as a certified archivist, but he will just as quickly override my decisions based upon his understanding of things.

An example was when he told a student processor to discard original material that was acidic and keep just copies because that has been done with newspaper clippings at the place he volunteered. In this case, the acidic material was original notes by the creator of the collection. He also insists on structuring finding aids based upon what he considers the easiest way to find the information, regardless of standard formats or language usage of the profession. (I give him leeway her as I am a user advocate, of course.) There are many examples of his frustration with the stupidity, as he sees it, of archival best practices.

This is not a gripe session. This is actually a consolidation/reposting of some comments I made in the past in response to cries of frustration from colleagues. I cannot advise, but can tell you whaat I do:

  • I pick my battles. Often the issue is one where there is no consensus in the archival community, although there may be an “official” stance or a majority opinion. Although not standard, there are many practices that might be acceptable just the same.
  • That being said, also go with “First, do no harm.”
  • I voice my opinion when asked, but remind myself that he is the boss. There are reasons from the institutions point of view as to why this is so. I have no moral, legal, or ethical authority to assume the role of advocate for the records beyond what I do.
  • I look for chances to subtly point out advantages to doing things “the archives way.”
  • I remember that my successor will likely disagree with many of the decisions I make as much as I disagree with the boss’s.
  • I try to explain why archivists do what they do, drawing on my background as a researcher (my degrees are also in history) to show that I can see both points of view. I respect the view of the researcher and think that we, as a profession, often fail to give enough credence to those views.
  • I look for chances to do things the way I would if the decision were mine and do them when I can. Often I find that, although he may not be happy with my methods, he will leave things as I have done them.
  • I always try to be respectful to his opinion. I explain to other staff members that work for me the way I would do it, but always try to present this as an alternative rather than a “better” way. I try not to undermine authority. I try not to let personality issues affect my decisions.
  • I am always ready to refuse to do something if I find it unethical and I can find no way out short of refusal. I understand that this may mean looking for employment.
  • I recognize that compromise, although not always desirable, accomplishes much. I have a line (see above) which I will not cross and it is firm. Fortunately, we have never approached it.

 

There are serious communication and personality issues involved in the way the repository runs, but this could easily be the case regardless of the professions involved. I am in a personnel management position as well as that of a collections manager, so I have to treat those issues as I would in any profession. Fortunately I have a fair amount of management experience apart from my work as an archivist. It is often difficult to separate the two, archives v. non-archives and general office issues. Yet doing so is part of my key to survival. I know that there are often ways to get done what needs to be done, even if there are communication roadblocks or inconsistent policies, with patience and time. I hope that I will have the opportunity to help break some of the roadblocks and inconsistencies. I suspect the dichotomy of professions will always be there, though. You see, it exists inside me as well as in the interactions of personnel at the repository. Such is life.

 

The Heretic

I have been bombarded with “Call to Action!” e-mail messages from various associations to which I belong. They all use exactly, and I mean exactly, the language of 1 of 2 versions of the same basic message, and there isn’t much difference between the 2 versions.

The amendment proposed by Sen Coburn to bill S.510 will cut off funding to an approved program, History Day. One version makes it clear that the earmarks that the amendment seeks to end are the ONLY source of the $500,000 in question. The message has gone viral, with the exception of the fact that the verbatim messages have come to me written in the first person from more officials than I can count on my fingers and toes. I find it very unlikely that more than 27 people (so far) in official government, nonprofit, and “professional” organizations (quote makes used because of the comparisons drawn in this blog between professions and professionals) should at different times hear of the same amendment, and have the same reaction, using exactly the same words.

Because none of these people ever include the wording of the bill or the amendment, and the link that is provided in one version does not link to the bill but to its place on the calendar, others just encourage that you contact every senator you can and link to the Senate’s page. I have seen no evidence that the amendment has even been read. I do read the comments on the blogs that post these same words and surmise that many of the comments are by people who either have not read it, are ignoring it, or do not understand it. Huffington post, for example, claims the amendment would “kill all congressionally directed spending for three years.”

Please note that I have problems with the bill. With the whole bill, not just the amendment. Yes, the amendment bans earmarks. It also defines just what it means by earmarks, which doesn’t coincide with what some of these messages and posts claim.

“The term ‘earmark’ means a provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Senator or Member of the House of Representatives providing, authorizing, or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process.”

Note: nowhere does it say that funds cannot be given to projects such as History Day. It just says they must be given through a normal budgetary process and not just because a specific Senator or House Member puts them there. Agreed, it would be unpleasant to go through a grant-writing type process for the funds, or have an individual bill passed that funded History Day on a regular basis without the earmark process (that would really be a bummer, having the money in statute where it couldn’t be easily touched,) or even, heaven forbid, find a private donor as do many universities, arts institutions, museums, etc. If History Day had an endowment, where would be the tragedy? No relying on the whims of Congress. These are a few ideas that pop into my head in the wee hours of the morning.

Support or don’t support the amendment or the whole bill as you wish, but do whatever you do with integrity, please. The problem I have with all this isn’t the amendment. It is the method and the propaganda used in the name of “professional advocacy.” The reason that I refer to this post in the title as a preview of a later installment, is that part of my paper on professionalism v. profession deals with integrity.

  • The initial and most frequent version of the e-mails I read and the posts I saw stated that earmarks were the only method that there was of obtaining the money for History Day.  This is just not the case. No alternatives were suggested or asked for. What was asked for was that thousands of thinking people jump into instant action of a political nature without any attempt to view the problem and try to think of a way to solve it. Only support for a specific political position would do. So get to it!
  • The politicization of this issue can be in posts and comments. The evil, politicians, Republicans-or-Democrats, moonbats, whatever, must be stopped because they are harming our children. No evidence, such as the language of the amendment and no discussion of possible results or alternatives, just quotes from the calls to action that may have been well meaning, but have now turned History Day and the students who participate into weapons to be used against “the enemy.”
  • Members of the archives, history and related professions passed on the messages in such a way that suggests that many, if not all had failed, to take the time to read they amendment (and bill) in question. In many cases they took the previous sender’s name off and added their own. When I was in school plagiarism was cause for dismissal, but I suspect this is not considered the case in the “real” world any more. I am particularly sad that 3 people that I sent links to the bill, which is, as one expects, long and boring, (the amendment is short, though,) e-mailed me back saying words to the effect that they did not have time or need to read the bill. I have always thought of these people as men and woman of integrity, but they were sending me the messages under the umbrella of “advocacy.”

Integrity is part of professionalism. (This is part of the paper I have begun to post here in part, so there will be more on this to come.) Advocacy is such a strong word in the professions that many have departments, committees, sections or round tables to promote it. Advocate for advocacy; I like that. But a professional advocates with integrity. He promotes his causes with truth, seeks to persuade, and if unsuccessful, tries to find another way. A member of a profession may maneuver, lie, tell half-truths, justify, etc. to advocate for what he believes; the ends justify the means. But this is not integrity, nor is it the mark of a true professional.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

The Heretic

The Heretic is the nom du plume of a historian and archivist who works with the public and in religious institutions. He has been accused by others in his professional world of “heresy” as a historian, archivist and Christian (not formally, of course.) He does not zealously guard his identity, but on occasion voices opinions that he feels might embarrass others. It is out of respect for those persons that he uses the pseudonym. When he is convinced that it no longer serves a purpose, he will discard it. It is really just in fun, anyway. Most people who know him recognize the source of his words, or so he believes.

[I am putting the finishing touches on a paper I am writing for a seminar with a non-archives-related organization. As I started working on it, I realized that many parts of the work applied to the archives profession, at least applied to the point that they bear discussing. They also apply to the world of practicing professions or tasks in a religious environment, though the terminology might need to be changed. The subject is “Profession v. Professionalism.”  It is opinion based on experience and research. I will introduce parts of it here over time in hope of getting comments and discussion. I would prefer that folks comment online, even if you know my personal e-mail address or are attending the conference, but that is, of course, your option.]

I maintain that a person may be a member of a profession by meeting specific criteria. There may be differing opinions as to the criteria. For example, one might claim that a certain amount of education or a certification is required to be an archivist, while others might feel that any who fill the position of archivist and attempt to perform the tasks that come with that position in the best possible manner qualify as professionals. I have heard history professors make it very clear that academics are in a higher classification than a mere “profession,” (also claiming that a Ph.D. is required to be a historian and anyone who has done decades of scholarly work does not qualify as a historian without those letters at the end of his name, regardless of the quality of work,) while neurosurgeons readily refer to their “profession.” Regardless of the requirements or honor associated with the term, there are specific qualifications that a person must have or things one must have accomplished to be recognized as a professional by most people.

Professionalism, on the other hand, is an attitude, an approach. It may be equated with or include ethics, morals, etiquette, or a code of honor, or simply be expressed as attitude. It is a more intangible thing than a profession, and is judged by people by less objective qualifications. A professional code of ethics may add some objectivity to whether one is viewed as having professionalism, and violation of such a code usually can be said to qualify as unprofessional behavior, but one can still be unprofessional while technically remaining within the code. This is basically because such codes do not cover all possible areas of professional behavior, nor do they cover the motivation of the “professional.” If one does not believe that such an attitude is noticeable or that it affects a professional’s competency, one might as well forget about seeking professionalism and be satisfied with having a job.

I mentioned the attitude I have found among some academic historians. This is not the only profession where I have found this attitude, of course, nor is it universal among those of that profession, er, discipline. Two of my mentors, history professors both, encouraged me to become a public historian, one particularly emphasizing the field of archives management. He did so because I had spent many years doing research in institutions where I often encountered archivists who showed me no respect and exhibited egos that I felt far outweighed their abilities or common sense. That may have been arrogance on my part, but there were enough people out there among non-archivists that didn’t treat me like an idiot to make me feel that it was not. I just found that many of the people I met in the archives profession when I did research did not behave in what I felt to be a professional manner.

You see, one of the requirements of professionalism is respect. A professional, if he has any sense at all, acknowledges that if he is exceptional in his field, others may be exceptional in theirs as well. Unless he believes that there is a universal hierarchy where history professors outrank archivists who outrank mere researchers (including those who write the papers the professors use to teach and collect the papers the archivists eventually manage,) he must accept that his profession does not make him better than others. Yet I have had many a person who had no idea what I was researching decide how I should best pursue my work, or had a presentation criticized under the assumption I had not read the same material as the critic, and even had people who had never met me address me by my first name while requiring me to address them by some title.

My favorite instance of this was when a Certified Archivist was advising a patron and insisted on being addressed as “Ms.” while calling the patron John, as she had heard me do. She then proceeded to lecture him on the best book he needed to do his research, never once realizing that he held two PhDs and was the author of the work she was praising. She did not believe me when I told her. He just smiled, thanked her, and proceeded to do his work like the professional he was. If I had been as professional as he, I never would have told her of here faux pas. I yielded to temptation, however, and told her. I did mean it to give her the opportunity to discover that one can’t always make assumptions, particularly when those assumptions start with ones about one’s own importance, but her response was aggressive to say the least.

Respect in a profession can illustrated by the way a seaman treats an officer. When I was in the service a few generations ago, I was walking with a Chief Petty Officer one morning. A Lieutenant Junior Grade approached and the Chief and I snapped off salutes. The JG gave us a nod. A few minutes later, a Lieutenant Commander came by and as we saluted, I noticed the Chief was a bit snappier and he smartly said, “Good morning, Mr. Evans!” Commander Evans slowed, exchanged pleasantries, and asked to be introduced to me, a lowly seaman. Then we all went on our ways. I asked the Chief about it and he explained. “Lt. Barker is by the grace of God and Congress an officer and a gentleman. It is his job. You have to respect the job and the rank. Maybe one day he will do something as a man to earn my respect. Mr. Evans? He is a natural officer and a seaman. I don’t just mean he is skilled at seamanship. I mean he has the attitude of a seaman. Respect. Barker has a nice job. Evans is a professional.” [Note: obviously after many years this is not and exact quote, but the gist is there.]

Part of my conclusion: One can expect or even demand respectful actions when one is a member of a profession. A professional offers and earns respect by behavior and attitude. No respect? No professionalism. This, by the way, extends to employers, employees, colleagues and patrons.

[There is an absence of some context in this opinion piece. It might help the reader know that this is near the beginning of the second section of the paper and precedes a section on the importance of people in professional behavior.]

More to Come.

The Heretic

I recently had the opportunity to judge a history contest where students in different of age groups presented their research in a variety of formats. Some of the middle school and high school presentations were superior to some of the college work I graded in my days as a teaching assistant. These students were particularly adept at using images and audio to make documentaries. They very much understood the value of sight and sound in conveying historical research and conclusions. They had more trouble with the written work. They did not understand the need for using primary source material in the basic research as well as they did for using it in the presentations themselves. And they certainly did not understand why they should bother going to an actual repository if they could get copies of what they needed off the Internet.

Although I was saddened by the lack of writing and research skills among the contestants, in some cases, to the apparent shock of my colleagues, I agreed with the students. The points that they wished to convey often required no additional primary research. Why travel all over the state visiting collections when you know the information you need is available a few clicks away? And, for that matter, even when there was a need for such research, why not take advantage of the available access to multiple collections without leaving home? My archival colleagues among the judges felt that missed the point and that any historical project should require on-site, original document research. That’s why archives exist, after all, not to punctuate secondary research or make things easy for young students. Didn’t I know how important that was to both research and to supporting archives?

Yes, I know about context, finding things through serendipity, etc. I also know about reconstructing context by reassembling information from a single creator, but that has been sent to the four winds for one reason or another. I know about the things that can often be discovered through the rapid, efficient search techniques available online, including through the social/professional on-line networks that students develop, or can tap into, that were not available a few short years ago. Serendipity exists in the virtual world, and people who are used to searching there are more likely to stumble upon what they need there than they are in a physical archives that they know not. They certainly will know better how to understand context in the world in which they operate on a regular basis than in one with which they are unfamiliar. And it is just as well, because the way we operate in our world often makes it near impossible to find the materials a researcher needs.

Case in point. Archivists understand the concept of deaccessioning. Many have trouble with it in practice, (“What do you mean we can’t keep everything!”) but we understand it just the same. Yet we tend to accept, no, we tend to actively pursue items that we have little or no chance of making available for research, or that would better serve researchers at some other repository. In my role as archivist of a religious collection, I have had to travel to another state and argue with a somewhat under-informed archive technician about my right to review records clearly stamped as belonging to our organization. According to accounts in other papers, the records were kept at a university until such time as a permanent archive could be built. According to the archivist of that institution, when the university decided years later to divest itself of its religious holdings, the current holder requested the records. There was no entity that had the legal authority to transfer those records to their current resting place, but that is where they are. I use the term “resting place” deliberately, because, although the records were sent there 70 years or more ago, the collection has yet to be fully processed. After the intervention of a better informed archivist, I was allowed to view the records.

My question is, “why do they have them in the first place?” Don’t get me wrong, I am glad the records exist and because of an absence of a good repository in our neck of the woods they probably would not be there today without the assistance of our sister organization some several hundred miles from here. But why did they want them? They have not fully processed them. They kept them because the records had, or might one day have, value, but value to whom? They were transferred to the organization at a time when the repository in question was trying to build a reputation as a great research institution, but few people have ever seen those records. The people who are most likely to value them are in a different state than are the records! Or, to put it another way, all the people who are most likely to use them are in a different state than are the records. There is most certainly a connection between use and their value as perceived by researchers, if not as perceived by archivists.

Like the historical societies and towns who work to save one too many house museum than there are resources to support, the archives in question was interested in having control over a component of history that the staff felt important for its own purposes. The desire to utilize the available resources in a way that would help the researcher was simply not there. The fact that these components, in this case records, would not be available for use of researchers was not an issue. This was about the collectors, as I feel justified in calling the archives, not the users.

Collector, another “C-word,” sends shivers down our spines as we think of people who acquire and sell records and manuscripts for personal profit, but we do not think it applies to us if we acquire and control the dissemination of documents and information for our own purposes. There really is no difference, though. In each case the entity is taking charge of the component of history and using it to make the entity’s own situation better. It matters not a bit that the entity believes its purpose to be noble, such as increasing its own control over history for the benefit of others. The purpose is still for the benefit of the entity, not potential users of the historical items. If it were, all reasonable attempts possible would be made to increase access to potential users. In fact, just as museum folk have learned to to promote use of their sites and collections by examining and supplying the needs of their visitors, archivists would actively advocate to help find ways that the items could be used. In the case of the collection I mentioned above, if these components not being available for use of researchers was not an issue, the fact that they were unavailable for presenters was not even on the radar.

This brings us back to the students that used primary sources more in the actual presentation than research portion of their projects. Yes, we want students to learn the importance of primary source research and evaluating sources. But this is not the only use for our materials. If a person has developed a view of history based on secondary sources that he then wishes to communicate top others, why should the use of primary materials, such as images or audio clips, or even images of documents, be used to illustrate this view? Not only does this provide a use for the items, it exposes others to them. Like many a historian backtracking footnotes to original documents, people who see the presentations may backtrack the materials to their origial sources. We should encourage the use of our materials in any legitimate way, (meaning legal and ethical, not ways we personally judge to be legitimate,) and not give a priority to “real research.”

If archives are going to survive as institutions and as a profession, I truly believe we must learn to think of “use” as a, if not the, primary component for the determination of value of documents and items in our care. I think that we must determine what our researchers need, determine if and how we can meet those needs, and then proceed to do so. We must make it about them, not us and our collections. I assure you that they do not lie awake at night trying to think of ways to keep us around. If we do not collaborate with users and each other, we will go the way of the old, abandoned, house museum that many thought was important, but not important enough to give the support it needed. That means we do not dictate the use, but supply the need.

The Heretic

The old tradition exists to the effect that, in olden days, when a monarch received bad news via messenger, he would have the bearer of the news executed. We have a saying today that one should not kill the messenger, meaning don’t criticize the bearer of bad news because one doesn’t care for that news, particularly if it is true. (In the public debate this often comes in the form of ad hominem attacks on the messenger so that others will not believe the unwanted or ill-timed news.)

People who know me or have read this blog know that a constant theme of conversation or debate in my world is that “technology” seems to have become an entity that is under attack by those with whom I associate. But it usually isn’t the technology itself that is under attack, but what it represents or what it is helping to bring about. Most people I know who don’t understand certain technologies ignore them, at least until they find the majority of the people around them using the technology and speaking its language, at which point they feel a bit lost, a bit old, a bit out of touch, and go about their business. The ones who attack it fear the loss of control or coming change. At best, (from an ethical point of view,) they feel that they will no longer have the desired control over their own world, at worst, they fear that they will no longer be able to control others. Either way, technology is just the messenger that brings the change, while freedom of information and the ability of others to control things they have not been able to in the past is the cause.

I recently was at a lecture session for librarians where the lecturer made clear her belief that the way libraries are structured and how they will be used in the future will be radically different than the way most in the room wished. She recommended that librarians just accept this fact, that because of advances in technology, “that train had left the station” and folks should make the most of it. She stopped short of suggesting that they embrace it, or look at the changes as having positive aspects, something I found odd as this was actually a stress management session and one would think that, although there are often things that are stressful that we can do little better than accept, many of the advances in technology are not among them. These advances bring about change, yes, but as I have argued elsewhere, the change often precedes rather than follows the advances. They are the messengers of change, in some cases, rather than the causes.

These were librarians, generally a more accepting lot when it comes to technology, (a pretty wide term that allows the user to cast many things in the mold of a demon since the criteria for inclusion in this category varies from person to person,) yet there was a lot of grumbling about how our world, meaning professional world, was at risk because of that technology. And besides, there was so much false information out there! We were the ones who must filter it!

Of course, this was nothing like the attitude of the archivists I know. We archivists are not even that open to the change. We have finally begun to recognize, in some formal settings anyway, that the world of “Web 2.0,” including collaborative and social communication through electronic media, provides opportunities for outreach, and in some cases we acknowledge that there is a change in the way we will have to do “business” (if I may be excused for using such a commercial term,) but rarely do I find archives folks who recognize the changes for what they are, not to mention embrace them. They fear the evil “technology” and I have actually heard a member of the profession wish out loud that we could find a way to “drive a stake through its heart!” Technology is bringing about change, change that threatens us, or at least as profession as we practice it. In reality it isn’t the technology itself, but the way people behave because of it. Still, technology is the messenger. Kill it!

The problem here is that we misunderstand the relationship between human beings and technology. Technology, whether it is simple machines from ancient times, such as a wedge or lever, or modern microcircuits, is designed by humans to meet human needs. While it is true that modern technology is very complex and designed by people with specialized skills, they still do so to meet what they perceive as the needs of individuals or society. The fact that the technology, once it is accepted by a large enough or powerful enough cadre, then tends to become the only practical way to accomplish a task and therefore draws more people to it, makes it appear that the technology is ruling the human beings. In the archives world, where we work a lot with very low tech (by today’s standards) items such as handwritten records in old bound volumes, the encroaching desire for the use of more advanced technology is something that is being thrust upon us and technology is often viewed as the enemy.

In reality, particularly in the “2.0” world that so rapidly came upon us, much of the technology is being designed specifically in response to the real (not just perceived) needs and desires of, or even by, the end users, in response to demand made amply apparent in a variety of ways. They, rather than just a small group of inventive folk, are the ones in charge. More than ever in the digital age, a tech savvy user base is calling the shots. Technology is evolving to meet their needs. Technology is the messenger of the change in the way people think and the the priorities they choose. The process begins with them.

There have been many examples in history of change in communication styles and technologies being criticized as dangerous to things near and dear to the hearts of mankind. The telegraph was thought by many to be a detriment to the world as the landscape was strewn with poles and wires for a dubious purpose. There was a strong belief that the telephone would destroy the practice of writing letters, though it did not. (Of course, e-mail has all but done that, if you do not call e-mail letters.) Yet the new uses of the Internet seem to more closely resemble the advent of the vernacular Bible, the printing press, and the broadside. These media and content were attacked because they were seen as threats. The reality is that they were not the threats, but the ideas they conveyed were the threats. The Bible in one’s own language allowed the individual reader to read and discuss, unfiltered through the priests, the scriptures. The reader was then free to think, to question and express his opinions. The printing press and the broadside made it possible to rapidly disseminate opinions and thoughts. These media were roundly condemned by the powers of the day, religious and secular. What these powers feared was the loss of control that came when men had decided they wanted their own control of information, a desire that led to the technology in the first place. (If the inventors had not seen a need, they would not have invented. In those days there were not the resources for such work just for the fun of it.) What the powers blamed was the technology itself. They attacked the messenger.

In today’s world various media, politicians, practitioners of arts, and those who are used to controlling and disseminating information, (teachers, librarians, historians, writers, musicians, journalists, political commentators, archivists, etc.) rail against the excessive access to information through new technologies. There is too much “wrong” information. Any one can put anything they want out there! No one controls the context. Think of all we will loose if we change the way we do things!

Of course, as the lady said the other day, that train has left the station. The fact is, people have already demanded and received more access to unfiltered information than they had before, and likewise have demanded and received the ability to express their own opinions as they see fit. We can argue all we want about whether they have good information, use it in a beneficial (to whom?) manner, or whether we will loose something because things have changed. The truth, I believe, is that the change first occurred in the thoughts and hearts of the people. Although facilitated by technology, it was not caused by technology. Much of the technology was inspired by the change, and its subsequent use inspired further change. Technology is the vehicle, the messenger. It is useless to rail against the messenger, just as, in the bygone days, killing the messenger didn’t change the bad news.

I am a professional historian. I am also a professional archivist. Certified in the field. Masters in History. Years of research experience. Over two years of electronic and computer engineering education, trained as a recording engineer and served as an electronic technician. I work in the history/archives/library field and have special experience and expertise in oral history, “customer” service, social networks, and evaluation and reporting. I use some of these skills that come from my gifts and training in both a small, non-profit network I have developed and as an unpaid archivist and historian for religious institutions. In this last capacity I have run up against what, Pete, God rest his soul (cancer took him last year,) referred to as “The Board.” (Emphasis included.)

Pete LaPaglia was a great guy. He not only ran a consulting and exhibit fabrication firm out of Murfreesboro, TN, he made it a point to hire students to give them practical experience in the field. He had told me to call him if I wanted to try using my experience in consulting, but I never did. I did, however, get to ask him what advice he would give me should I ever work as a consultant. He said he had 2 pieces of advice for me to apply as a pubic historian (aside from trying to do what I love,) and they were to read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People at least once a year, and be ready to deal with “The Board.”

The first, about the good read, Pete had told us when he visited our museum studies class a few years earlier. We always asked history professionals visiting our classes about the most important literature we should be reading. Depending on the class and the professional, they would reply with a professional journal, book, author or hot topic. Pete named Carnegie and said he always read it at least once a year. I am trying to follow suit.

The second part of Pete’s advice was about “The Board.” Let’s be clear; not the board. “The Board.” He spoke of it as if it were an entity of his own, a cross between an incompetent collection of individuals and of minions from Hell. Such a group could drive you over the edge mentally or out of the profession. He had stories, and I have since had similar experiences or observed them in others’ careers.

Not all institutional boards that control museums, archives, libraries, historical sites, etc. fit this category, of course; some may be composed of retired professionals or folks in related fields. But many controlling entities are composed of people who know nothing of the professional standards, theories, or resource requirements of the institutions they attempt to govern. This would be bad enough, even if the board members were aware of their ignorance, but frequently the board members are sure they know more about the profession than the professional. Of course, they could be right, but I submit that, more times than not, this is not true.

This brings us to my unpaid position. I hold more than one at different levels of the United Methodist Church. The controlling entities at the different level differ greatly in their understanding of my work. At the topmost, many of the board are not professional historians or archivists, but have had life-long interests in and studies of history. Some are indee professionals. On the next level there are a few history professionals, but the board is mostly controlled by well intentioned and unknowledgeable amateurs and professional church folk (clergy and laity) who have other agendas. On the local church level, no one has a clue about archives theory and practice, and many refuse to abide by or enforce their own regulations regarding such practice. Preachers come and go, each unaware of the rules that have been established by the board, and often with enough knowledge of the study of history, even professional experience in the field, to feel that they have a superior knowledge of how archivists should function. I acknowledge that it is possible that they are correct, but I really do not believe it.

The dilemma comes down to one in which the staff of the church, clergy and laity, as well as the governing board, insist that the non-staff laity of the church must lead the ministries of the body. The reality is that many of the laity do not follow through on the tasks they accept as their own, and the staff do not wish to give up their own control over things. This becomes a real problem when a lay member who is a professional in his field, such as a Certified Archivist, tries to do his job in a professional manner as requested and required by the board, but the staff, including clergy, and other leaders of the church, fail to relinquish authority along with responsibility. There is an old saying that wine drinkers talk dry and drink sweet. They say they prefer dry wine because that is what they feel they are expected to say, but in reality drink sweet wines. It is a polite way of saying they say one thing but do another. This has been my experience at my church recently. In short, I have not only had to deal with the Church Council, the board (of which I am a member,) but found it has morphed into “The Board.”

Some years ago the governing board of our church adopted a job description for the Church Historian that gave him custodial authority over the historic objects and documents of the church, including the archives. This was done because a study of the records of the church had revealed big gaps in the records, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church had emphasized the importance of records keeping to the church, and because members had attended workshops where attorneys had advised churches that proper records control was necessary to safeguard the church against litigation. Because of my professional training and experience, I was asked to fill the position and accepted.

After passing the description, however, “The Board,” as the Council quickly became, did not enforce it. The archives was not, and is not, in a secure place, historical objects were disposed of without discussing the actions with the me, records were taken from the archives, and, in spite of the adoption of a records management program, no records were given to me as archivist in five years. The staff refused to allow me to set up training, part of my job description, refused to let me inform the congregation of the state of the records through official communication, also part of the job description, did not refer reference questions me, part of my job description, and actually complained when the I began to process the records of the church in a professional manner.

The preacher, a former history professor, stated that there were no churches that applied such standards to their collections, and that it was unreasonable for me to expect such things. This is a fallacy based, I am sure, on his not having visited during the course of his job many churches that have applied such standards. We have established that I am, at best, an oddity to many, but this has not been my experience. That this is not the norm I accept, but I have visited a good number of professionally maintained Methodist archives, have personally been involved in changing the standards in four churches in just the past two years, and have been told of others. (My own, alas, is not among them.) The preacher and other staff have told me that I am being too legalistic in insisting on adherence to the job description and collection policy that was also adopted, but they resist allowing me to change it to free myself from any obligations to adhere to professional standards. In short, I have been made legally, ethically and professionally responsible for the collections of the church, but have been denied the authority to care for them. Yes, this is “The Board” that Pete warned me about.

As I prepare my motion to change the job description of the Historian, and my resignation letter should that not be adopted, I reflect on a final irony. As I have been blocked from doing my job by staff that would not relinquish control, I have also set at meeting after meeting listening to the staff and leadership of the church complaining that the membership was leaving too much work to the staff, and reminding us that we are supposed to be a laity led church. I am supposed to step up and do my job. Indeed. Talking dry and drinking sweet. “The Board” is firmly in charge.

The Heretic

The Heretic is the nom du plume of a historian and archivist who works with the public and in religious institutions. He has been accused by others in his professional world of “heresy” as a historian, archivist and Christian (not formally, of course.) He does not zealously guard his identity, but on occasion voices opinions that he feels might embarrass others. It is out of respect for those persons that he uses the pseudonym. When he is convinced that it no longer serves a purpose, he will discard it. It is really just in fun, anyway. Most people who know him recognize the source of his words, or so he believes.


Once again the question of mission and “serious” researchers versus, say, genealogists/family researchers, came up in conversation several times in the same day. Speaking as a religious archivist (meaning archivist of a religious institution, though I think other interpretations would also apply) I find that “mission” tends to be more of an up front type of thing this work than it is in my other job working in a secular instirution. Still, since that said secular job is in the public sector, mission is, or should be vital, regardless of how obvious it is to staff or patrons.

The impetus of the conversations just mentioned was the discussion among various parties of a program in which I am slated to participate. It was along the lines of the old and ongoing discussion of how archivists feel about the working with genealogists or how genealogists interact with archives staff.  I was asked to be part of a workshop/presentation on doing genealogical research in religious institutions. I was most pleased to do so because I had originally included, as part of my Master’s thesis (it was removed at the direction of my advisor,) a look at how under-utilized such institutions were by genealogists, and I realize that genealogists are the bread and butter of many small repositories and historical societies. I was also pleased because I feel that our collection has much to offer a variety of researchers and our mission is to help people connect to the information they need, regardless of their purpose.

You see, our parent organization requires (at least in theory) that units of the church organization justify their existence by demonstrating how they support the mission of the church. Providing people information about our church, our faith, and those who were involved in it, serves an evangelical purpose as well as other purposes that it might fill. The Discipline (a primary governing document) of our church specifies openness in records as being in keeping with the spirit and practice of our faith. It is easy for me to accept that advocating use of our material is the fulfillment of the mission of our repository. All the other activities, including preservation, arrangement and description, etc., in fact exist to support that use.

The same is true in the public sector institution where I work. There is a mission to provide information to our users. All our other activities really work in support of that mission. To that end, I send researchers to other repositories that might help them if we do not have what they need, I try to discern what skills they have or need to successfully conduct and complete their research, and I try to be open to the idea that there are all types of researchers who have all types of motives for researching. It is not for me to determine who is “serious” and who is not. In our world, genealogy and some specialty research areas are our bread and butter, providing a large percentage of the gate count and comments that persuade those with the authority to give us the resources we need to do our jobs. Yet many of my comrades in arms wish we could just spend our time with serious researchers. I find myself wondering what, separate and apart from the fact that no patrons (read “customers”) means no resources and no jobs, they think our purpose would be in preserving and arranging documents and images if our gate count dropped by 75%-plus? There still seems to be the attitude I experienced at a restaurant I managed in another lifetime; one where an employee actually said “this would be a great job if we didn’t have all those customers.”

By the same token, in a religious archives, at least one with evangelism, apology (traditional sense of the word,) or explanation are a part of the mission, should we not take every opportunity to reach out to any type of researcher? Should we in either case, religious or secular, put ourselves in the position of deciding who is worthy of our safeguarded treasures? Is that our job, our trust? If so, to what end? I have trouble thinking of an ethical one. But comments are, as always, welcome.

The Heretic

The Heretic is the nom du plume of a historian and archivist who works with the public and in religious institutions. He has been accused of heresy as a historian, archivist and Christian. He does not zealously guard his identity, but on occasion voices opinions that he feels might embarrass others. It is out of respect for those persons that he uses the pseudonym. When he is convinced that it no longer serves a purpose, he will discard it. It is really just in fun, anyway. Most people who know him recognize the source of his words, or so he believes.

The other day I had a fascinating experience. I a) visited the virtual world called Second Life (SL) for the first time, and b) visited the virtual archives of Stanford University. (Please pardon me if I get a few of the actual relationships and titles confused, e.g. who is an archivist as opposed to special collections librarian, dividing lines between the archives and special collections in their situation. I was there on my lunch hour, part of which was used generating my online entity, or avatar, and did not actually have time to ask enough questions.)

I was most impressed by the archives set-up. Besides the exhibits that I saw on the way in which I later learned were old exhibits from special collection that had been retired, the archives room itself was a representation of closed stacks with document boxes that had been photographed from the outside and inside to add realism. The “patron” could click on the documents and a representation would enlarge on the screen, giving some details about the image and providing a link for more. It was essentially a digital catalog, such as many institutions use, but with a virtual world interface.

What impressed me about this were several things. First, it seems a new and interesting way to both provide access and outreach, a good way to introduce students and other visitors to what closed stack material is like. I understand that many younger folk (I’m approaching 50) are into graphic video games and they are, of course familiar with virtual representations of real world objects. Stanford apparently has some SL activity on its campus, so suggesting a trip to the archives as an educational tool is one way to conduct outreach. I have been told that many younger folk are not into SL because it is not a “game” and they don’t see the point in just hanging out there when they could be gaming, but I have met others who like meeting in relative anonymity and are quite comfortable being there. I have spoken with people closer to my age that have attended or taught classes, (most of my geek friends said they had to attend classes as part of their computer or continuing education courses, but I know several who chose SL deliberately,) attend concerts, go there for entertainment, and even some who have held business meetings there instead of through audio/video conferencing. I was once directed by a prospective merchant to either visit their catalog of real life merchandise online to see images, or in SL to pick-up and examine the items.

Second, I was impressed with the very idea that the folks at Stanford were stepping outside the norms of the profession and appeared, at least to me, to be extending their reach out to users and potential users of their collections through SL. I live 2/3 or more the distanced across the country from them and yet I was there interacting with the archivist, (er, virtual archivist,) asking questions, looking around. The most important part of this to me was that the folks at Stanford seemed to invite and welcome me, and the SL environment was a representative (I won’t say virtual) part of that attitude as well as a real point of access. I hope that SL improves their reference services, but if it does not, it will teach them much about how they can best reach out to researchers and future researchers. (Note: I think I mention elsewhere in posts on this blog that I spent many years on the other side of the counter as a researcher, and my perceived attitude towards the role of use and users among archivists was a big part of why I chose that profession. I also think I have mentioned that I am amazed at the fact that in my world the same people who put barriers in the way of researchers have decried the lack of support, financial and otherwise, from the community that they have failed to invite and support in their own right. And yes, I do like and probably over use parenthetical comments.)

Finally, for now, anyway, I was pleased at the ease of access. Yes I had a dickens of a time getting use to navigating my avatar, particularly since I was on a tight schedule and didn’t have the time to use tutorials or ask for help. I have never been a gamer and am not very coordinated in real life. Still, I made it fine in spite of those obstacles. The registration, software download and generation of an avatar took only a short period of time. If I had not used a generic avatar and wanted to spend time customizing it, it would have taken more time, but as it was the whole thing was pretty easy. I suspect that we are not too far from software that will generate one automatically from a Webcam image and deposit it not only in SL but other virtual platforms (Multi User Virtual Environments, or some similar thing) that might arise. Things will be easier, not more difficult, and cheaper as well. The ability to offer access to people in a different way, even people with disabilities, is coming quickly should we wish to participate.

All this goes to say that Second Life, whether it is a dominant force in our culture or not, is at least a significant part of that culture, or contains elements of that culture with which many are familiar. Although I have been told by several folks in the LIS/Archives profession that SL has passed the “tipping point,” I have heard more and read more about it in the past few months than the past few years (which is how long it has been around.) Marketing and business folk are talking about it. They often see it not so much as a stand alone phenomenon but as part of a whole package of both technologies and attitudes that must be taken into account and may be taken advantage of. I think that virtual computer interfaces for online actions and services, including doing business, providing access to archives or presenting research, are becoming more sophisticated and common. Second Life is a great way for people to get their feet wet in these technologies. It costs nothing to start and there are many folks around to help you along. Stanford is a good place to look.

Should you visit them, please note they do not have the staff to keep an on-line archivist in SL. I went during their open house. Should you see this before the date, I have been told they will try to have another one on August 20, 2009. If I am mistaken, I apologize.

One last thing I would suggest we remember. It is not necessary as archivists for us to all become “techies,” as one of my friends puts it. It is not even necessary that we embrace this technology or the attitudes and culture that spawned it. It might, however, behoove us to try to understand it just a bit. We do not have to immerse ourselves in it anymore than I have to go work for the Department of Corrections (or become a prisoner) in order to process their collections. I do have to know something about the structure of the organization and the methods used to create the records. If it is part of our culture, if people do use it as a tool for their human activity, we ignore it deliberately only if we have chosen to not document this culture and this activity. We may do that, of course, but can we do so ethically?. History is full of areas where we decry the absence of documentation. But please, if we choose to decide what is appropriate to document and what is not based on our own feelings and beliefs, let us also stop lamenting the absence of records on past aspects of culture that folk in the past thought too unimportant to document.

Hat tip to Archives Next. I was looking at Kate’s site and noticed the post ( http://www.archivesnext.com/?p=317 ) about the open house at SL on the morning when it was to be held. Lucky timing.

I will also note that archivist Mattie Taormina was a great help and communicated her views ant those of her institution in a most courteous and helpful manner.

Also, the folks at Stanford posted the address of the island in SL:  http://slurl.com/secondlife/Stanford%20University%20Libraries/85/224/33 If you are unfamiliar with SL, the starting place appears to be: http://secondlife.com/

The Heretic

I attended a workshop last week,with a variety of people in the history field. There were a couple of academics, but most were in what I like to think of as public history or related fields. There were archivists, librarians, oral historians, film curators, etc. Some had undergrad education, some graduate. Some worked for large organizations such as the National Archives and Records Administration, a couple were the only paid (indeed in one case I think the only— period) staff in their institutions. All told, a pretty eclectic group of people. Yet I wasn’t surprised when the topic of putting records, images, audio, and video online produced an almost universal concern about protecting “intellectual control.” I say almost because, while some folks expressed fear of only some degree of “intellectual control” loss and others thought it their ethical, if not moral duty, to protect that ideal but were uncertain how realistic that was, I was the only one present that said that putting collections online did not, in any way, threaten intellectual control. I was the “almost.”

You see, I have heard this discussion at most places I have worked in archives or special collections. It shows up in workshops, seminars, publications, board meetings, conferences and general conversation. (Yes, one might wonder what type of people with whom I must associate if such a topic comes up in general conversation. It won’t be the first time someone has wondered about me or my friends.) There seems to be a great deal of confusion about the difference between “intellectual control” and “intellectual property rights.”

I worked at a museum once that was not a non-profit (regardless of some ethics codes and definitions of a museum used by some associations, such things do exist; perhaps a topic for a future entry.) They had an extensive and commercially valuable image collection that they did not make available for the asking because they owned “intellectual property rights” to the images. Copyright had been transferred. This was understandable to me. Where I have a problem with such things is when the property rights are transferred to public institutions, particularly when this is done with the public access to the items as part of donor intent, and the institution then tries to limit access to all but people who will pay a price above recovery of necessary costs. I even have difficulties with the latter, if those costs are already paid by the taxation of the users, and then those very same users who own the rights and have paid for the upkeep of the items are denied access unless they pay high fees. I see there is a gray area here where the public funding could be quickly used up by those who abuse the system, thus also denying access to others, but just the same, in such cases the fees are at best a hidden tax and at worse extortion from people for access to their on property.

Okay. The argument can be made for and against limiting access in the case when the public owns “intellectual property rights.” But what about “intellectual control?” Isn’t that the real question? As archivists, are we not professionally required to maintain “intellectual control” over our collections and doesn’t placing them on the Internet limit or eliminate this control? Well, it potentially limits or eliminates “control,” but not “intellectual control.” You see, in spite of what I hear at staff meetings, professional seminars and organizational meetings, we are not required to determine how our collections are used or by whom, except when there are copyright (intellectual property) issues or when such limitations were a condition of the donation and comply with the law. In fact, I would argue that we are ethically bound to avoid such determinations and in some cases trying to make such decisions actually damages our “intellectual control.”

The definition of intellectual control found in the glossary on the Society of American Archivists Website is:

“intellectual control

n. ~ The creation of tools such as catalogs, finding aids, or other guides that enable researchers to locate relevant materials relevant to their interests. [sic]

Notes:

Intellectual control includes exploiting access tools developed by the creator of the materials and, typically, received with the collection. However, these tools must be integrated into the repository’s other tools.”

http://www.archivists.org/glossary/term_details.asp?DefinitionKey=818 [accessed 07/28/2009].

Nope. Nothing about deciding who gets to use it in what way. Nothing about setting up various hoops through which one must jump if you want to use the items. Nothing about protecting the collection from too much access and use.

So how does putting images online, where admittedly they might be downloaded and used for purposes unapproved by the archivist, violate this definition? Does not such an action actually enhance the ability of the researcher to “locate relevant materials relevant to their interests” [sic]? Even if one wishes to view all this as just an access, as opposed to control, issue, the intellectual control is not damaged.

[Aside: I am always fascinated at how hard many archivists try to make it for researchers trying to access their collections. Although I have often heard the term “gatekeeper” claimed by those in the profession, it seems self defeating for a person whose job, if not existence of employing institution, relies upon the goodwill of others and the persuading of people to the effect that the collections are used and valuable to researchers to take such a stance. When I was doing research I was run off by people who worked in places that are now closed or vastly understaffed. There is a connection.]

Neither, as has been argued elsewhere, is context sacrificed. The fact that a researcher may choose to view individual items rather than entire collections is a choice of the researcher, one he can make whether the documents are online or not. Sure, it is true that such a researcher might miss something without viewing the rest of the collection, but on the other hand he might be able to view the documents in the context of an even larger context of documents created in a similar manner by similar (or even the same) creators, but kept in separate collections at separate locations. I have experienced this when doing research on the Methodist Bishop, Joshua Soule. Letters and documents referred to in other letters and documents were in different locations. If I had been unable to view content remotely, I would never have connected documents that could only be understood in connection with each other. I know others have had this experience.

What it boils down to is this. Archivists do not have the ethical, moral, or in many cases legal, right to limit access to their collections based on their own concept of intellectual control. Where intellectual rights are at stake, there may be not only a right but a duty to do this, but it is not a matter of the archivist’s personal desire nor should it be a policy of the institution.

The Heretic