For all the differences between independent, community collections and established collecting repositories, there are some areas of definite similarity. Collection development is often one such area.
Donations to community collections often come, just as they do in many manuscript repositories, in spurts. Sometimes it’s abrupt drop-offs containing multiple boxes of unsolicited and unmarked boxes. Sometimes its almost nothing of long-term value, despite the time and effort spent working with the donor.
One area of collection development that we rarely see in community collections (correct us below in the comments if we’re wrong) is records management — the systematic approach to the life-cycle of records, to help ensure their proper care after their use is done (paraphrased from everyone’s favorite glossary).
Records management programs help ensure (among other things) that records of enduring value make it to the relevant archives. Such programs often exist in highly structured, bureaucratic environments, such as business and university settings.
This seems like exactly the type of collaboration that community collections — often working with (very) minimal budgets and staff — could use. Many hands, after all, make light work.
Records Management Programs represent that type of collaboration that is sorely needed for community collections.
What would a community records management program look like?
So, what would a community records management program look like? For starters, it would probably only deal with the latter-half of the records cycle. For example, in the fast-paced world of functioning social justice organizations (or, place your-area-of-interest here), no one is likely to listen to us if we were to tell them how their records should be created. The form the records take will be shaped by the needs they fill and all other relevant considerations.
We can, however, ask them to hold on to stuff they make. We can explain that it’s important to capture a full picture of the organization. We can even work with them to explain what about the organization we hope to document, and help them think about which records best do this. We don’t keep everything and there’s no reason to pretend otherwise.
So a community records management program might look like this: Donors agree to set aside copies of relevant paper-based material (fliers, say, or meeting minutes after a certain amount of time), and/or send emails to a specified email account if the records are created and dispersed electronically. The Archives then does whatever it needs to — further appraisal, etc.
Yea, but how feasible is any of this really?
We’re a practical-minded bunch here at Start an Archives!, and we assume the same of you. How likely is it to expect anyone to set aside stuff? After some work in this area, our official answer is “kind of likely, sometimes.”
How likely is all this? After some work in this area, our official answer is “kind of likely, sometimes.”
But honestly, how ideal are most records management programs? People might set aside things for us, especially if we have a designated space for it to go. Playing up the only-set-aside-what-is-actually-important angle will probably be a bit harder.
Just like in other settings, getting people to do things for you works best when it’s very, very easy for them. If you’re interested in just keeping standard notices of activity, you can, say, simply subscribe to mailing lists, and keep those emails as a record of events. If you know that paper records are created, maybe a designated box is a good idea: “when these are made and distributed, please just drop a copy or two in our Archives box”.
With more time, failures and success we hope this will be easier to set up (and articulate) in the future. Until then, let us know if anyone has this figured. We hate reinventing wheels.