For academics, summer is the time to clean their offices and send the stuff they’ve collected throughout the year over to the archives. How do I know this? Because for the last few weeks I’ve had to stumble over people’s “stuff” to get into my office. As in I keep finding random boxes of material without any sort of identification sitting in front of my door when I arrive in the morning. I don’t know who the little fairies are that keep leaving this “stuff” for me but I have a couple of things to say to them: 1. I sincerely appreciate your efforts to contribute to the history of the University but (and this is big) 2. if you don’t ID the material I can’t give you proper credit (and if you’re embarrassed to admit the material is yours then, um, you probably shouldn’t send it to the archives :-)).
Oddly enough, I had read this post a while back and thought, oh you poor thing, I am so glad I don’t have to deal with that. *sigh* I spoke too soon. Anyway, this random dumping of material caused me to throw out a question to my friends in the Twitterverse about how they deal with unidentified material being left at their office and there seemed to be a lot of differing opinions. First of all, let me clarify that I am talking about records transfers from an office on campus to the archives, not donations from community members or alumni.
The prevailing answer seemed to be that I should do nothing and allow people to continue sending material to the archives because to do otherwise might discourage them from sending anything at all. While I do understand this argument (and, believe it or not, I do consider it to be a legitimate argument as I have been accused of living by the “all or nothing code” on way too many occasions), I don’t think it’s acceptable to just leave stuff at the door of the archives either.
I think it’s perfectly acceptable to lay down some ground rules for a variety of reasons, here are a few:
- I am dealing with limited space so storing material until I can get around to processing it is really not an option
- If the person leaving the material cannot answer the 4 Ws and the H, how can I?
- Leaving material without at least letting me know where it came from destroys provenance
Therefore I’ve proposed that at our next manager’s meeting we discuss instituting a records transfer policy that would include a little bit of paperwork (nothing too time consuming but something that will help me to answer the 4 Ws and the H). I’ve looked at the records transfer policies for Drexel University and the University of Texas at San Antonio and I think these would be terrific jumping off points.
I also like what Linda Benedict said:
- If it’s in a picture frame, remove it from the frame before sending it. I really don’t have a lot of space for frames and things like that.
- Include as much information about who is in the picture, what the event was and the date. While I realize that sometimes not all of this is known, it would really help if there is a tiny bit of identifying information even if it’s just the office where the material originated from, sometimes that can spark a memory for others.
- If you have absolutely no information, you can keep it. I won’t go that far but I would say think like a researcher before you send unidentified material to the archives, is it really relevant? Does that random picture tell a story? Is there a connection to the University? If not, then don’t send it. If there is, send it and let us determine whether it’s a keeper or not.
*Just a note, italicized words are my own random musings.