This post was written by Abbey Maynard, Archivist-in-Residence at the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries, in Seattle, WA.
In early September, I began my work as NWA’s first ever Archivist-in-Residence at the Labor Archives of Washington (LAW)– a paid internship that the applicant and host organization jointly proposed. This project aims to offer new professionals paid career development opportunities and work towards the long-term goal of eliminating unpaid work within the archives field. Like many best laid plans this year, there were unforeseen barriers. However, the pivots we made to accommodate safety during the COVID-19 Pandemic resulted in some unforeseen successes and insights into the future of remote archival work and some unique professional opportunities for me, too.
When we applied for the grant back in February 2020, I had planned to spend the residency physically and intellectually arranging and describing the RIDGE Records, a recently donated collection highlighting forestry and land use activism in the state of Washington from the late 1980s to the mid 2010s in the summer of 2020. After delaying the start date in hopes of having more physical access to the archives, we began the internship remotely in the early fall after some limited access to physical records to LAW staff had been restored. The change from on-site to remote work opened up an important personal opportunity for me as well. I was able to permanently relocate back to my hometown in Des Moines, Iowa while I continue to look for my next archival position. Though my location makes the title “Archivist-in-Residence” a bit of a misnomer, I believe this speaks to the flexibility of time and space that might only continue to grow in a post-coronavirus work environment.
In the last twelve weeks, I’ve proposed and implemented a processing plan for the RIDGE records– including updates to the EAD record that are now published in RIDGE’s finding aid on Archives West, a consortial database for archival finding aids in the Pacific Northwest. In October, I wrote another blog post for NWA with more details about the strategies for remote processing we used to achieve this goal quickly. I am thrilled to have been a part of early conversations and implementations of remote archival processing workflows at LAW. For the immediate and possibly extended future, remote processing could be an essential tool to conducting archival work with limited access to physical materials. Having this emergent skill will surely be useful to me as I continue my career in archives.
Descriptive and Arrangement Updates
Remote processing freed up time for me to work on a few other smaller processing projects, participate in anti-racist professional development, and do outreach and promotion for the RIDGE records. I made quality assurance (QA) description and arrangement updates to several other collections, including several accessions of the King County Nurses’ Association records and the Washington State Federation of Labor records. The Washington State Federation of Labor records’ previous finding aid had an eccentric arrangement scheme with no arrangement note, which made it difficult to navigate and interpret. Because it was a legacy finding aid without an additional inventory, I had to make changes directly to the EAD using XML instead of with an external inventory spreadsheet. Though this project was occasionally pure chaos, it was a fun chance to develop my XML parsing skills and make the finding aid more accessible for users. The updated finding aid can be viewed here on Archives West.
Collections Outreach on Wikipedia
One of the most exciting and challenging parts of the residency was using Wikipedia to do collections outreach. LAW has an ongoing project where they add links to archival finding aids on Wikipedia pages to increase discoverability of primary source collections. In addition to implementing this process for RIDGE, I drafted a separate RIDGE association Wikipedia page with the help of several other Wikipedia editors, including a member of the Cascadia Wikimedian group. With their help, our draft is in the queue and waiting for approval! A sneak peak of the draft can be found here. Using Wikipedia has been a great chance for me to explore different archival outreach strategies and brush up on my HTML. Access has always been an important component of my work as an archivist, and reaching users where they are at, in places like Wikipedia, has been a very meaningful experience.
Metrics Logs for Remote Processing
In my project proposal for the archivist-in-residence, I mentioned that I was specifically interested in partnering with LAW because of their clear and strong values of preserving the history, struggles, and accomplishments of working people, and I was curious about how their values and priorities are present in different aspects of archiving. One of the ways LAW strives to incorporate their values into archival work is through a new processing metrics log project where discrete archival tasks and the time taken to complete them are kept track of for each processing project and later added up and a grand total entered into the post-processing section of a processing plan document. Not only does this sort of project make labor time and costs more transparent, but it will also help LAW make more accurate time and cost estimates for processing projects in the future. I contributed to this project by logging entries into these spreadsheets for RIDGE and the handful of other smaller projects I worked on this fall. From my own experiences and occasional challenges mapping my work onto the metrics log, I was also able to provide some feedback to LAW to help them improve the usability of their metrics logs in the future– especially for remote processing, since some of the tasks for in-person processing do not map smoothly onto remote processing. From the metrics log project, I learned a lot from LAW about how institutional values are a part of both visible and invisible work in the archives.
Another Year of Archivist-in-Residence Funding!
Just this week, NWA announced a second year of funding for the Archivist-in-Residence program. As I wrap up my final days of the residency, I cannot imagine receiving any better news than knowing that this program will continue. Completing this residency has been a tremendous experience, and I am looking forward to seeing what next year’s awardee will do with the grant! One of the most exciting elements of the Archivist-in-Residence program is that the applicant and host institution have a lot of flexibility with their proposals, and I anticipate that each year will bring about original, thoughtful projects that hold relevance to the changing landscape of archives.
I am grateful for the opportunity to grow my confidence, connections, and abilities in the archives field– thanks to the NWA Paid Internship Committee, NWA membership, and their Gold-level sponsors who financially supported the Archivist-in-Residence program. I am hopeful that this program and other initiatives like it that seek to reverse the trend of unpaid work in archives will only continue to grow in the years to come.