Monthly Archives: February 2012

Getting Supplies

When one wants to start an archives, one will often do so with no budget. Below are a couple things that have worked for me and some of the archives I’ve volunteered with.

Turning Repositories into Donors; aka: Ask Colleagues

Established repositories of all sorts periodically re-house collections. Many of these rehousing projects are based on the observation that boxes and folders take on acidity though the years and should be renewed. Ask for the old boxes and folders. Many of them are still in perfectly usable shape. While it helpful if you know someone in the repository, you can always send out calls for used materials to local archives groups.

Collecting something you fear a potential donor-repository might not care for? (Dear Catholic institution, can I have used folders for my Gay and Lesbian Collection?) Be vague. Most archivists will appreciate that small, volunteer organizations need supplies. Hopefully they’ll be relieved to find something useful to do with all the old boxes and folders and won’t ask too many collection-specific questions.

Turning Future Patrons into Financial Donors; aka: Ask a Friend

A lot of basic supplies can be purchased for a reasonable price, assuming no one person needs to pay for everything. Split your supplies list into specific items with listed prices and appeal to like-minded people to choose one or two items to purchase. Having an event? Now is a great time to remind people who support your archives that disaster planning requires a tarp, paper towels and a hair-dryer. Have a donation jar with a description of needed item and the price and ask that people supply money to specific causes. Or have a jar for unforeseen needs.

Short, pithy donation signs tend to work the best:

Like your local community archives? Help us buy a box for only seven dollars!


Help us survive our first disaster — Donate to our emergency relief fund. After all, it’s only a matter of time…

When one wants to start an archives, one will quickly realize that this is a joint effort, which requires more than just the people actively working with the collections. Cultivate relationships with future patrons — the people who constitute the community your collecting for — and with colleagues at established repositories. Everyone has a lot to learn from each other. And when it comes to finding basic supplies, these connections can be invaluable.

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Managing Expectations; or, Professionalism and the Pariah of the Imperfect

When you want to start an archives you are likely to hear a lot about professional standards. The archives profession has done a surprisingly good job of getting the word out about the need for environmental controls for the preservation of physical materials.

I often hear it said that without climate control any material that we gather will rot.

This is true.

It is also true that doing nothing is a worse solution.

And climate control is only one factor. Those of us who went through an MLS program often want to see collecting policies, deeds of gift, patron registration forms. These are what we think of when we think of running an archives. But this belies the fact that no repository ever sprung fully formed and funded.

All of these factors are important, but none are a prerequisite to starting a collection.

Instead of fearing an imperfect environment, our time is better served collecting, arranging, describing and promoting the material that that would be worse off without our intervention.

If we all waited for the perfect solution before we started a project, we’d never begin anything. When one starts an archives, one will make mistakes, corrections and amendments to policies, practices and workflows. This is done within every repository large and small. This is what it means to do one’s best and learn from one’s mistakes.

When you want to start an archives, you shouldn’t let your knowledge of the ideal undermine your willingness to do the best you can. You shouldn’t let professionalism make a pariah of the imperfect.

Or, following Voltair, Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Or, more succinctly: haters gonna hate.

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