Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The fantasies of Attila

I have this archival placement fantasy.

My archival fantasy is that the first job out of grad school is in a medium to large size archives where the new person has giving, caring, and more experienced archivists available to act as professional mentors.

My archival fantasy is that this job pays enough that the worker can afford rent. And food. And make payments on student loans.

My archival fantasy is that this job provides the ability to really dig into the basic work of archives (processing AND reference) but also to take part in the broader work of the archival profession (appraisal, donor work, outreach, teaching, digital projects, and whatever the future might hold).

My archival fantasy is that the first professional position is a resume builder, not a placeholder.

My archival fantasy is that the position allows the archivist to learn about the wider world of archival work so they can make a conscious decision about their career directions rather than just being forced into a direction based on the focus of the position or their inability to translate it into a new and better job.

My archival fantasy is that every archivist regards their first professional position as a stepping stone, not necessarily something to be turned into a permanent sinecure nor something to be survived.

My archival fantasy is that university administrations take partial responsibility for the ability of their graduates to be placed post-degree. [The corollary fantasy is that funding allocator for universities stop regarding professional degrees solely as an income-generating resource. Another corollary fantasy is that students thinking about enrolling demand to see longitudinal placement statistics specific to their course of study.]

My archival fantasy is that any archives with 3 or more professionals on staff decide they have an obligation to pay the profession forward and have at least one of those positions dedicated to professional development of a new archivist. [The corollary fantasy here is that they also take ownership of their job descriptions and fight the good fight with HR and Admin to advertise the job they actually have on offer and then do everything in their power to hire appropriately credentialed employees.]

My archival fantasy is mine and not to everyone's tastes.

My archival fantasy has a very narrow scope and may not be all that practical in the real world.

My archival fantasy is what all fantasies are, and presumes I'm perfect, incredibly flexible, and capable of achieving all of the above, all at once.

But I also have fantasies about the USDA rewriting the food pyramid and putting raspberries and chocolate as one of the foundational levels so FWIW.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Moonlighting with Northwest Archivists

One of my side gigs is to serve as chair of the NWA Professional Development and Education Committee.

Truth be told, I'm trying to get out of it. I've had this job for a couple of years and made--to my mind--too little progress on it. It's much too important to be left to somebody like me, especially right now when I've got a few too many other committees that I'm chairing with actual outside imposed deadlines and work that could have an immediate and important effect on relaxing my future workload. Not that there's really a committee right now, since I haven't gotten it together to convene one (despite actually having some people volunteering to be on it. I know. It's very sad. And I am ashamed of myself.)

But before I handed in that resignation to NWA, I did want to complete at least something committee-wise, so I wouldn't feel like a complete and total loser. So this summer I set up a survey for the NWA membership: asking what they actually want from pre-conference workshops. I'm hoping to have this piece of it moved over to the NWA site since that really should be the host for NWA survey responses, not my personal site. But in the interim, here's some results from the survey. I had 62 responses, 60 from NWA members. Given that NWA has a current individual membership count of 164, that's a pretty great return rate from the NWA membership (over 1/3.) Clearly, this matters to you all.

Preferred length of workshop:
Nearly 55% said it depends on the content, preference among those who stated something other than "depends on content" runs toward half-day to full-day. Despite the fact that no one chose two days as their preferred length, I wouldn't assume that two-day workshops are completely out of the picture, but their content would have to be of fairly high interest to get sufficient attendees.

The food question: Assuming catering will add to the cost of the workshop, what did people want?
68% wanted coffee/tea/water.
54% wanted snack breaks for workshops over 4 hours.
Less than 10% wanted a sit-down lunch supplied, though 26% wanted the option of boxed lunches.
Based on this and the comments, I think it's safe to say that catered food would need to come with an opt-out option, at a minimum.  Also that food is important, but the ability to do some selection would be preferable. This could be achieved through making sure the workshops are held somewhere that a variety of food options are available.

Cost of workshops:
I provided 3 options. Must be under $75, could be up to $150 if length and content warrant, could be over $150 if length and content warrant.
20% of respondees said that workshops needed to remain under $75.00. 27% said they could be over $150 if length and content warrant. (The rest fell with the middle selection). Though this is difficult to analyze, I think the committee should take from this that in general cheaper is better, but exceptions could be made.

ACA accreditation:
Nearly half of respondents (47.2% of those that answered the question, 40% of all respondents) requested workshops come with ACA re-certification credits. This is relatively easy to obtain for workshops, ACA has a form on their website that needs to be filled out in advance.  Given that nearly half of respondents want this, and presumably it wouldn't affect the rest one way or another, I think we need to ensure that this is an option for most, if not all, of the workshops offered.

Priority for the level of content: broadbased basics, entry-level but focused, or mid-high level specific:
Nearly 3/4 of the respondents said that the focused topics are of high priority. The remaining chose them as medium priority. Broadbased basics were of low priority to most respondents (nearly 90%, 5% each chose them as medium and high priority). Generally the high-low priority followed the spectrum of focused development-related topics to broadbased generic "archival basics." One commenter noted: "Basics are important for the conference to be welcoming to people new to the profession, but mid-high level specific keep more experienced folks engaged. A balance is optimal." At the same time as there was a clear preference for more focused topics, the comments provided were clear that not all focused topics were of interest to attendees and sometimes they were too focused. In terms of taking the Education Committee's marching orders from this: I would assume that a spectrum of workshops offered over time or at the same time might be the way to handle this so as to meet the broader needs while ensuring that those who do need the very specific high level subjects can also obtain them. It might require coming up with a short-range to medium-range prioritization plan for workshop offerings, also with keeping some flexibility in terms of offering topics that may vary in order to meet the needs of the broadest range of the membership.

Topic specific: what do people regard as medium to high priority? The question was structured by giving respondents a list of 22 different topics from which to choose (also allowing them to make suggestions in a comments field, since my brainstorming was unlikely to be a comprehensive list of potential topics). Respondents could chose low, medium, or high for a priority status. These are the suggested topics that were medium to high priority for a significant majority of respondents (i.e. less than one-third of respondents chose them as low priority)

  • 98% electronic records (of that, 63% said high priority)
  • 93% digital curation (57% said high priority)
  • 88% metadata/description standards (49% said high priority)
  • 83% preservation (34% said high priority)
  • 82%  a/v media (39% said high priority)
  • 81% digital forensics (40% said high priority)
  • 80% outreach (25% said high priority)
  • 72% photographs (25% said high priority)
  • 72% institutional repositories (23% said high priority)
  • 70% records management (32% said high priority)
  • 68% arrangement and description (12% said high priority)
  • 68% grants (25% said high priority)

Source of training, does it matter and what do you prefer?
This was an open-ended question. A lot indicated no preference, or no preference with the caveat that the instructors be well-qualified to teach it (mostly for the learning experience, but also for the ability to argue for institutional funding). Of those who preferred NWA-regional instructors (7 of the 44 people who responded to the question), it was partly because of cost but also because of the ability to keep up connections/networks with the instructors post-workshop. Several mentioned that they really like some of the workshops coming from national organizations (presumed non-NWA instructors) and the reasons, if given, varied from the assumption that training from national organizations would be a simpler argument to make in terms of getting institutional support, to the assumption that we might not have local expertise, to the assumption (mistaken) that ACA recertification credits wouldn't be available for home-grown workshops.

Volunteer teachers?
I found this response somewhat discouraging in light of the interest in NWA teachers in the previous question's responses and given the concern about the costs: most nationally-based workshops are significantly more expensive than home grown. Only 5 people said they'd be willing to teach a workshop and offered their expertise on a subject (only one matched up to a topic that scored above 80% in the med-high priority range). Given that mismatch, going local—at least within the NWA membership--could prove to be a real challenge. It raises some significant question for me: is the expertise in these topics available locally? If so, how do we encourage the NWA membership to view themselves as potential educators for their colleagues? If we need to keep costs low to support the broadest accessibility, how do we build the support within the NWA organization to subsidize or reduce costs for our neediest members and still give them access to the standardized workshops offered by SAA/AMIA/ARMA/etc?

So where next? I'd like to convene a quick committee meeting for those interested in serving on the Education Committee (as chair or otherwise). At the very least, I'd like to get a RFP out for preconference workshops for the May 2014 meeting to see if we can match up any of these priorities with proposals or if we need to start talking to SAA and other orgs about what we might be able to offer from their standard catalogs of available courses. From there, it'll be up to the committee. And by the way, if you're a NWA member and interested in taking on a leadership role in the education/professional development arena, have I got an opportunity for you!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A collision of communications

I just realized I'm out of step with most people around me. Okay, I know, I know, that I actually figured out when I was about 5 in PE class. But this isn't about my having to learn to ride a bike twice, this is about communication.

I'm here to tell you: my name is Attila and I hate texting.

Hate it. As in a level of loathing I rarely feel for a method of communication. Email, phone conversations, instant messaging, F2F conversations, I'm all okay with, mostly. Texting? Nope. Abhor it with white hot heat of a thousand suns.

Okay, that's hyperbolic, but I'm trying to make a point here.

It's like all the negatives of emails (no ability to read inflections, bad spelling and grammar, and summary to the point of being unclear) with all the negatives of phone calls (intrusive, and okay, that's all I got, intrusive.)  All on a teeny keyboard that tells the world I wasted all those months in 9th grade touch typing class. So much for my hard-earned WPM count which isn't much to brag about, but is much higher than my WPM count when using only my thumbs. And texting isn't really all that great for conversations, or at least not the conversations I like to have. And you have to pay for them, too! Where's the upside?

I've tried, I really have tried. But despite being an early and avid adopter of a lot of methods of electronic communication, this one isn't it for me.

I text. Rarely. I text my sister when I have something of limited importance that doesn't require much explanation and know I'll forget it if I wait til a time when my time zone and her time zone and my work schedule and her work schedule coincide for a conversation. I text her on weekends to say "are you free to talk now?" But she refuses to read email more than once a week, she hates using computers for non-work stuff, and the scheduling differentials on weekdays preclude phone calls, and so I'm stuck. Text for quick stuff, voice mail for longer. I'm okay with that use of texting. Once every couple of weeks, no problem.

Note: Big Sis has an email account. She doesn't like email. I respect her lack of love for that communication method, though it's one of my favorites. So I don't use it to initiate contact. Ever. See where I'm going with that?

Big Bro is pretty much the same, only I'm honor bound as a little sister to occasionally irritate him so I do--rarely--initiate contact via email. Plus he's never really flat out said he hates email, and Big Sis has, so maybe it's not quite the same.

I could go on and on and on. And frequently do, but that's another reason I don't like texting. But I won't. I'll just ask you: if you're not Big Sis or Big Bro who have way too many blackmail-worthy stories of my childhood for me to get too snarky with them, if there's any other reasonable way to get my attention for information that needs to be imparted either direction or for a conversation, could you maybe try that?

I, my thumbs, and my phone bill thank you.