Death and Archives

This week I learned that an old friend and mentor is likely dying of cancer. This news made me think about death and archives. I am reminded of how archivists are really keepers of memory. We find and preserve what the theoretical physicist, Julian Barbour, called “time capsules.” According to Barbour, time does not exist or “flow” in the linear sense. Only a series of “nows” exist. Humans leave behind “traces” of these nows in the form of paper records or information recorded on various media. Of course, the physics and math behind Barbour’s thesis is incomprehensible to normal humans.

Fortunately, archivists are not normal humans. We do not fear death, because our work transcends death. I believe we’re the only people on the planet capable of this feat.

So, this week I continued my struggle with death. Professional archivists can’t wage this battle alone, and in my case I have a full-time professional records analyst, great help from the Olson Library, and a passel of the best damn student assistants (SAs) on the planet. To keep them on the cutting edge, we (Number One, Sara, and I) engage in review training at the beginning of every semester. SAs are trained in all the basics on a paraprofessional level. This week we reviewed ArchivesSpace and basic search strategies. Number One had them all do a practice exercises. More sessions to come.

Leslie, me, and No-AH! met with the new VP for “Extended Learning and Community Engagement” this week. Over the last several months, No-AH! and I have received numerous requests for records / archival management assistance or consultation. Businesses, non-profits, and government agencies have contacted us. The constant queries indicate to me a need out in the hinterland for educational training. Extended Learning is working a project they call an “accelerator” that will provide faculty and staff with support to develop new instructional programs. We pitched the idea of a records management program for Continuing Education. No-AH! and I would teach the classes or workshops and probably online. Because the accelerator is still just an idea, we’ll be Extended Learning’s test case or guinea pig. More to come as it unfolds.

What does an “accelerator” have to do with death, you might reasonably ask? Any thing No-AH! and I can do to educate the public about identifying and preserving records of archival or continuing value helps in the effort to create and maintain time capsules that will conquer death. Same goes with the SAs. They will graduate and leave Northern with a far, far better idea of the importance of archives in society and memory.

Julian Barbour, “The End of Time”

the end of time


Oh My God . . . What have I done!?

This semester my work week has shifted from Monday – Friday to Tuesday – Saturday. The Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives public hours have also changed to Monday -Thursday, 10am – 8pm, Friday, 10am – 6:45pm, and Saturday, 11-3. I am covering the Saturday hours (along with Glenda and NO!). Our old banker’s hours severely restricted public access and was the number one complaint in patron surveys, particularly our lack of weekend hours. This new schedule will address that problem.

I worked my first Saturday last week and it was wonderful – quiet and sans constant interruptions. Of course, I am hoping that increased patron visits will soon shatter this hopeful peace. In the meantime, I should be able to get a lot of “mind” work done on Saturday – you know, the stuff I get paid the big bucks to do.

I have found this week, however, to be frustrating in that regard, as I have failed to accomplish much of substance. I did nothing on the CCI reappraisal project, faculty personnel records, ArchivesSpace, and the NEH Records Center Grant application (well, actually, I do have a meeting scheduled with Facilities about it this afternoon). Don’t get me started on Stupak, CUPPAD, the Magnaghi Grant, or the pending review of No-AH’s appraisal reports. I did manage to finish the revision of my HS390 song and dance, and I am fairly happy with it. Karen, NO!, and I also started the planning process for Northland in October. Oh! I also finished the history piece for the AAUP newsletter, including the selection of a number of important documents for digital conversion (thanks, Anne!).

Had my regular meeting with the all important dean of AIS.  NMU is going through yet another financial “crisis” as a result of lower enrollments (I’ve highlighted “crisis” because we actually have plenty of money). The provost has ordered budgetary reductions, and I think the dean may be a bit stunned at the severity. Well, it is her first go around. I am certain that she’ll soon become inured to the habitual cycle of management by crisis at NMU. Still, I worry about her.

I made No-AH! go to a meeting with a local government agency by herself (sans me). They asked for the meeting to get some records management advise on how to deal with decades of records (some apparently going back to the 1930s.). No-AH! freaked when I told she would be going alone. Its time to start cutting the proverbial umbilical cord, and I proved correct. No-AH! did a great job. I still believe that she will prove to be the best decision I have made in my professional career.

Who the Heck am I?

Who the Heck am I?

So begins this very public, existential quest for my holy grail. I am not entirely sure why I have created this blog. Why would anyone want to read about me and my experiences? To be sure, the Internet is inundated with enough flotsam and jetsam, so why should I add to the clutter? I suspect my contribution here will become another proverbial “needle in the haystack” of the information age. Oddly enough, for the most part, I avoid the Internet and shun all forms of social media and only occasionally visit a few informative web sites. We are drowning in information, most of it vapid and ridiculous. “Too much information running through my brain. Too much information driving me insane.” — The Police

I keep a private journal that records my deepest reflections of self, others, and events. I actually write by hand with pen on paper – if you can believe it! Hardly anyone puts pen to paper anymore. Invariably, I find that only one or two students (almost always female) in a class of 20-30 undergraduates keep a journal.  Its a sad commentary on our society and the pernicious impact of the Internet.

Which brings me back to the essential question. Why this blog? Again, I am not sure. I suppose I shall use it as a commentary on the archival profession by posting daily accounts of my experiences at the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives. Surprisingly, I find that there is much to comment on. Some amazing people work there and over the years have added a bit of themselves to the place.

Okay, so let’s try this approach. The story of an Archives. Archives Fall 2014