I've recently come to the conclusion that, like everybody used to preach at us when we were children, you can learn as much, or more, from your mistakes as you can from your successes. I know, that's rather self-evident and shouldn't really be news to any of us, but I think the difference I'm seeing now is in the professional sphere. We don't always feel like we can admit to our failures, so we don't get to really hash through the process of determining what went wrong and how it might be fixed or avoided in future. Evidence for this conclusion? The plethora of "best practices guides" out there that presumably must be based on a few people finding the wrong way to do it, but there's no mention of that. How come nobody's done a worst practices guide? And if there's good ways and right ways to do something, presumably there's bad ways and wrong ways to do it, and why not share that? Why not share the whys and wherefores of the path that shouldn't be taken? Explain why that's a bad idea, keep others from going there.
Well, I know part of the answer to this question: and that's anonymity. It's awfully hard to say "don't do this because we did it and it was awful" when you could possibly be embarrassing people with whom you work. Or messing up future job prospects.Or who knows? Not smart to burn those bridges when you might need them again some day.
But the loss of wisdom-sharing potential, oh, the loss. This is one of the reasons why I love going to archival conferences. The sessions & workshops can good, but seriously, it's the hallway chatter. That networking potential which occasionally, late at night in the quiet of the hotel lobby, where a few friends get chatty and start talking about those things we don't always want to talk about in the light of day or where people might overhear without us knowing it.
In that spirit, I posit the creation of a worst practices guide for all you archivists out there. Send me your stories, fully redacted of identifying information (you don't want to get me sued, do you?) and I'll post them with your name off of them. But let's make this useful, since it's a guide. The bad stories? Can't just be bad stories. Share the lessons learned, the things to avoid, the steps that shouldn't have been taken and why. Email them to me. arlene_b_schmuland at yahoo.com. I'll post them as I get them.
And to get you started (obviously I'm breaking the anonymity rule here but to my knowledge Dief & Lia aren't able to use my laptop to surf the web and I don't think I'm damaging their chances of future employment by posting this): here's a graphic image demonstrating why you should never allow cats to help you with your filing. I think the lesson is self-evident, but just in case it's not clear to you: they don't really understand the concepts of filing and they slow down the process substantially when they won't get out of the box.