Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Archives Leadership Institute Intensive

I have the privilege of being one of 25 members of the 2013 cohort of the Archives Leadership Institute (ALI), a training opportunity for emerging and innovative leaders in the archival profession. ALI (which is sponsored by the NPHRC -- the National Historical Publications and Records Commission) features a group of archivists from around the country, working in a wide variety of archives. A little over half of the group work in academic institutions, from smaller institutions with only a single archivist to huge institutions like Yale. The other half of the cohort are from government, private/foundation, or corporate archives (including the Target corporate archivist, who talked with us about everything from her collection of little Target dogs to the records she has related to opening new stores in Hawaii and Alaska).

From June 16-22, I traveled to beautiful (and isolated!!) Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, to participate in the week-long Leadership Intensive, the kick-off to our year of ALI. There, we discussed a number of key trends affecting the archival profession, received mentorship from the ALI steering committee, and collaborated on a number of projects and activities aimed at enhancing our abilities to effect change in the archival profession.

Our facilitator for the week was Luther Snow (no relation to the Luther who the Lutheran college is named for), who introduced ways in which leaders can make a positive impact and affect change, even when they are not in a position of authority or control. We focused on issues of leadership (leading when you’re not in charge or even the manager), not management (supervising). Throughout the week, he closed each day’s discussion by steering us away from need-based thinking (which we all know is pretty common in archives and libraries), and focusing on our assets, partnerships, and contributions to a greater whole. I can be a bit of a pessimist, and I’m not a big fan of most “motivational” talk using words like “generativity” or “synergy.” But it was really useful at the end of the days to think in terms of what we do have and what we can do, as opposed to simply thinking about what we need to do or what we need to have.

He's supposed to be falling. Not a failure
on the part of his awesome belayers.
We spent Monday afternoon at Luther College’s ropes course, essentially giant logs hoisted in the air that people climbed up, walked across, jumped off, etc. Folks like me -- those who weren’t about to do something like that! -- served as the “belayers,” essentially the weight at the other end of the ropes that kept the more adventurous people from falling. This was a great ice-breaking activity that really helped our cohort get to know each other.

Tuesday was focused on preservation of born-digital and other technology-dependent records. This session was led by Dan Noonan, Digital Resources Archivist at The Ohio State University. Dan focused on leadership thinking and skills needed to approach digital preservation, not the technical skills or competencies. He emphasized, however, that every archivist should be a digital archivist. Modern records creation demands that every archivist at every institution know something about born-digital records. He also used one my favorite quotes: Voltaire’s “Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien” (Perfect is the enemy of the good). Too many archivists are awaiting a “solution” to the born-digital records challenge. I was proud to be able to talk about my work with ERIT on our BDRM system, and our attempt to do something to ensure that today’s born-digital records are not lost, even if it’s not a “perfect” solution (although I think it’s becoming a pretty great one!).

Seed Savers Exchange
During lunch on Tuesday, we traveled to Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit farm dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. Not only was the farm a beautiful spot for a picnic (with awesome cows, chickens, ducks, and geese in addition to the plants), but we learned a lot from their seed curator about ways in which their work is similar to ours in the archives (selection, description, distribution, preservation).

On Wednesday, we learned about Project Management from Sharon Leon, Director of Public Projects at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University (home of wonderful projects like Omeka and Zotero). She emphasized the importance of communicating a clear vision for a project as well as a willingness to jump in and clearly model the work that needs to be done for your staff. She demonstrated a number of project management tools (like Basecamp), but stressed that you should focus on using the tools, not years of set up. My favorite thing she discussed, however, was her hiring practice for new team members. At the CHNM, they focus primarily on hiring based on curiosity and capacity to learn, not on a strict list of skills or knowledge. As she noted, this allows her to have a flexible team that is willing and able to adapt and respond quickly to change.

Field trip to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park
During the short free time that we had in the late afternoon, some of us made a quick field trip to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum in nearby Burr Oak, Iowa. For those who are Little House fans, this was the place where Grace was born, but not a place featured in any of the books. Unfortunately the museum was closed by the time we got there, although we did spend time exploring the park. Luckily, Decorah sports a large and surprisingly beautiful trout hatchery that was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, so we traveled there instead.

Thursday’s session featured Chris Barth, Associate Dean at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Chris talked about strategic planning -- particularly about the importance of having a clear vision of where you want to go and a common understanding of how to get there. The vision remains a constant, but libraries and archives must be able to adapt their “how to get there” plan in order to be responsive. He also discussed the importance of assessment, focusing on the fact that we must target our data collection on things we can change in our move towards our vision. His Tumblr focused on major topics in the information profession (http://pulse.infoneer.net/) is one that I’ll be adding to my feed.
Baker Commons at Luther College, site of our Leadership Intensive

On Friday, we looked at issues of advocacy and awareness with Kathleen Roe, the newly-elected Vice President/President-Elect of the Society of American Archivists and the Director of Archives and Records Management Operations at the New York State Archives. Much of what Kathleen focused on echoed my years of working in athletic media relations. Know your audience, be proactive in your outreach, tailor your messages, understand context, and don’t pander. She had us work on our “elevator speech” about archives (prompting one attendee to ask “Why are we always stuck in an elevator?”), and led us through the steps in developing a formal advocacy plan.

Saturday morning, we wrapped up with week with our facilitator Luther Snow tying all of the topics together. We also had time to talk with our Steering Committee mentor about our practicum projects, a year-long project where we will take what we learned at ALI and apply it to our home institutions. Here at UNCG, I will be focusing on building and promoting a records management training program for faculty and staff -- something that ensures that records (digital or analog) that have enduring historical value make it to the archives. Stay tuned for a brown bag session on this at some point in the upcoming year.

2013 ALI Cohort

Overall, ALI was an outstanding experience. Even though I am exhausted and my back hurts from a week spent sleeping on a dorm mattress, I feel like I learned a lot and met a number of wonderful new colleagues from across the country to whom I can turn with questions, ideas, etc. In fact, it was the informal discussions with passionate people during meals or activities or breaks that proved the most interesting and, in many ways, reinvigorated my love of the archival profession. 

We will be continuing our practicums and our conversations throughout the year, including a second formal discussion during SAA’s annual meeting in New Orleans in August. I really look forward to continuing work with this awesome group of archivists (already have a session proposal for the 2014 SAA annual meeting sketched out!) and applying the management skills and techniques learned to my work here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Metrolina Information Literacy Conference

Here are my notes from the Metrolina Information Literacy Conference 2013 in Charlotte, NC. Great sessions on all aspects of info lit!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

IASSIST Conference

Here are my notes from the IASSIST 2013 data conference in Cologne, Germany if you are interested. Some interesting tools and ideas for data support. My attendance was partly funded by the International Programs Center.