February 01, 2008
By Robert B. Townsend
ArchivesNext reports on an intriguing survey from the American Heritage Center about “minimal processing techniques” at archives. This is an issue that most members of the profession are only vaguely aware of, but it stands to have a significant impact on current and future generations of historians.
As an intellectual exercise, the survey’s questions provide useful insights into the conflicting challenges archivists now face as they try to balance competing interests and limited resources: Is it better to focus on gathering collections or developing user-friendly finding aids? How much time should archivists spend on culling duplicates and ensuring the materials are properly preserved? And how much of their energy should be spent on digitizing collections and finding aids? In a time when the volume of information being generated seems to be growing exponentially, historians need to be aware that archivists face a growing burden to gather, organize, and describe those materials.
Members should take the time to fill out the survey and provide their insights to the center (which is to be commended for seeking user input), but should reflect carefully on what it says about the concerns of the archival profession.