I came to my job as a special collections librarian in an urban public library with grand ideas about interactive finding aids, MARC records linking to HTML or EAD finding aids or maybe a catablog, digitized content in a DAM system or collaborative project, and envisioning our first born-digital acquisitions. What I found: tens of feet of unprocessed manuscripts, rare books, objects, and ephemera without printed finding aids or even donor agreements; uncataloged maps and card catalog-indexed vertical files, uncataloged microform, and a backlog “closet of doom.”
Nearly one year into my first professional position as librarian-archivist, I have some idea of how I would like to proceed with the unique collections of the North Carolina Room. I decided early on to formulate a structure for our existing archival and special collections materials, but first we needed a place for stuff to go. I got an NCPC grant and had a locking cage built where our department would be moving. Then my colleagues and I started moving collections, objects, and rare books into the cage (photographic and audiovisual materials are kept in a temperature-controlled closet).
The North Carolina Room has officially moved to the ground floor of Central Library, where I am now able to deal directly with the materials in our cage, particularly record groups that need finding aids. Our community organization archives (League of Women Voters, Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as StoryLine) can be kept securely in one place, but no one knows about them. My next step? Create an inventory of fonds (as well as objects, scrapbooks, and other unique materials).
After that, I have to admit I am unsure where to go. Ideally I would work with an IT team and administration to purchase and install Archon/AT and start adding finding aids that can be exported into our catalog as MARC and through our website as EAD/HTML. But we don’t have an IT team, our budget is slashed, and our county government programmers are not interested in supporting a database (yet).
I’ve developed an accession numbering system to go through all of the inventoried “collections” and am creating MS Word-based, very preliminary finding aids that I will hand to our cataloger so we can at least get some “placeholder” MARC records in the catalog. Then I am going to create a catablog and/or create HTML finding aids and investigate the possibility of our finding aids becoming part of ArchiveGrid.
In some ways, I have come to prefer “placeholder” MARC records that can be shared on WorldCat to the multitude of complicated, expensive finding aid programs out there. At UCLA (before AT) we would create a MS Word finding aid, an MS Excel container list, then send these files to an EAD coder who would then program the finding aid and send it to the OAC for harvesting. The Brooklyn Historical Society’s catablog, Emma, combines full-text searchable summary entries with links to PDF finding aids — using a free blog interface.
In my mind, and in line with the now overhyped MPLP method, people prefer to know that you have a group of records about someone/something instead of waiting for a precise description of every single item in a group of records. I see rows of unprocessed scrapbooks, slides, maps, artwork, administrative records, etc… and see a lot of information that isn’t being shared. Basically what I am wondering is: are finding aids in the traditional sense worth it?
Here’s to making things available. Feedback/suggestions are welcome!