Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Expanding boundaries

We here in Historical Collections & Archives often refer to our little realm in decidedly regal terms, since we consider it (rightly or wrongly) the jewel in the library crown; heck, we even have dominion over something called the North Tower, which is a suitable space for any Rapunzel (though she'd have a hard time fitting in there, what with the piles of empty document boxes and reams of archival paper). It's easy to get caught up in this ivory-tower atmosphere and forget that we do not operate in a vacuum. Blogging was at first very supportive of this sense of quiet and separation, but now it's actually a helpful reminder that WE ARE NOT ALONE, as it were.

A thoughtful and well-written post by Erik Moore at the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center Archive helps articulate some thoughts I, and surely others, have had about the changes taking place not only in archives and libraries but also in various scholarly disciplines. Moore frames his remarks in archival terms, which is helpful for an archival duffer like myself: "survival-oriented" archives, provenance at the "macro-level."

We here at HC&A have been engaged in a delicate dance between stewardship and ownership, control and cooperation, since I first arrived. It started with a name change, from OHSU Library Archives (which everyone assumed meant we were the archives for the library exclusively) to our new moniker, which was intended to broaden our scope across the schools, centers, and units at OHSU. Then came increased access to the collections, whether processed or not, to get researchers interested. With increased outreach, we received increased attention. Donations of materials came in, sure, but so did questions from groups and individuals who wanted advice on how best to maintain the records in their possession.

Were we truly greedy, every one of these conversations would have ended with me trying to convince someone else to give us their stuff. Luckily, our storage limitations have been a check on my avarice. We now routinely advise folks on the proper storage and handling of materials, refer them to appraisers, or try to point them to other sources of information--even (gasp!) to other repositories which might be better suited to their proffered donation.

In the end, this serves us more than I could ever have imagined. We are developing networks of interested individuals, learning about resources that exist out there in the community, and fostering a bit of goodwill in the process. And it helps the community: the long-term survival of records cannot be predicated on the actions of formal repositories alone. If we truly hope to see information preserved for future use, we need to extend our reach well beyond our own walls.

As a favorite comic of mine once said: "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

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