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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