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Moving Archives: The Experiences of Eleven Archivists

Edited by John Newman and Walter Jones. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002. x,124 pp. Available from the Society of American Archivists, $30.00 members, $35.00 non-members. ISBN 0-8108-4500-8.

 

Review essay published in American Archivist (Vol. 66, No.2, Fall/Winter 2003)

 

Until the recent publication of Moving Archives; The Experiences of Eleven Archivists, resources for moving archival collections were scant. Published material on planning and executing moves included a few articles and preservation news bulletins, the occasional mention in archival manuals, and books that address the library, but not archival, concerns. Our best resource was the irreplaceable advice received personally from expert colleagues. Archivists can now be grateful to John Newman, Professor and University Archivist at Colorado State University, and Walter Jones, Assistant Head of Special Collections at the University of Utah, for their initiative to produce and edit Moving Archives, the first volume on the subject of large-scale archival collection moves.

Moving Archives is a compilation of eleven narratives by archivists who have lived to tell about their unique and personal experiences with moving collections. John Newman provides an introduction and explains the evolution of the volume. Moving Archives developed from conversations between Newman and Jones on the scarcity of pertinent sources. These initial conversations led next to a conference session, and then to Moving Archives. Also in the introduction, Newman offers a cheering perspective: archival work and responsibilities have prepared us well for the challenges and opportunities of a move. As archivists, we “…often work in…haste, handling new collections and circumstances with little preparation and too few staff, and demonstrate qualities of energy, expediency and imagination” (vii). A move demands the same performance. Archivists’ skills, honed in everyday responsibilities, carry us well into the wide world of moving into, out of, or around our repositories. Newman’s point is sound. Whether moving collections or not, we are responsible for unusual materials (often in unusual settings). We supervise the handling of our collections. We effectively communicate the value of our collections to those not yet aware of this value, whether they are patrons, administrators, or a professional moving firm. The contributions contained within this slim volume support Newman’s line of reasoning, and offer encouragement to the reader.

In Moving Archives, the editors succeed in their objective to provide helpful examples. They hope that the range of these accounts will provide readers with examples pertinent to their institutional settings, and thus some wise advice (vii). The accounts depict in-house, cross-town, and cross-country moves. The contexts of each move vary, of course, and involve renovated and new buildings, disaster situations, and administrative changes. Some moves are exciting and singular, while others illustrate more common experiences.

Each author writes in his or her own voice, and each account is structured differently. Many contributors include descriptions of their holdings and administrative structure, planning activities, the actual moves, and their successes and failures. The variety of repository types and archival expertise is well represented. The book begins with a generalized account, by Lisa Backman, of experience with numerous moves Archivists from academic institutions (Walter Jones, John Newman, Patrick Quinn, Russell C. Taylor, Cassandra M. Volpe) comprise the majority of contributors. Government archivists (Gary Harrington, Joanne A. Mattern, Albin Wagner), archivists at historical societies (Patrick Quinn, Todd Welch) and a religious archivist (Monte Kniffen) are included as well. The result is an interesting and readable volume, offering good advice and discussion of important issues.

The main value of this volume lies in the attention to management issues pertinent to any move. These include planning, moving personnel, building design and construction, public relations, staff morale, preservation, and security. Other helpful discussions concern contracting with professional moving firms, labeling and packing, the measuring of both collections and shelving, and transportation methods. Many contributors explain that a move is a welcome opportunity to increase both physical and intellectual control of collections. The pervasive message is that planning, combined with flexibility, results in a successful move. Such wisdom is welcome, and was previously missing from archival literature. However, other valid topics, such as resolving or avoiding problems with contracted moving firms, fostering staff morale, and ensuring staff safety are only briefly addressed. And necessary “post-move” projects such as shelf-reading, training, and promotional efforts receive little mention.

At points, unnecessary detail distracts from the sound management advice found within an account. Move-specific details are less useful and relevant to the reader, due to the uniqueness of every move. In addition, the varieties of structure and voice can make this volume difficult to absorb. Some contributions provide a general discussion, while others are extremely detailed. The accounts offer different forms of summary advice. While the uneven voices and various structures of the essays provide for a lively read, they can detract from comprehension and clarity. The lack of an index prevents easy or comprehensive access to topics, many of which are covered by more than one of the accounts. An index would have enhanced the book’s value as a management and reference tool and would have helped to resolve the problem of access to specific subjects.

Even with the omissions, both novice and experienced “movers” will find Moving Archives of value. This volume will be a useful addition to archival education curriculum: it will provide students with meaningful glimpses into the reality that is archival administration. While such windows into reality were previously available in articles, at conference sessions, and through discussion, Moving Archives offers us the convenience of case studies within one volume. In addition, the book as a whole sustains practitioners who must plan and execute moves.

Most importantly, perhaps, this book encourages the profession to publish further on the subject. In the introduction, Newman explains that the editors’ goal “…is to provide an initial piece of professional literature in what we hope will become a growing body of modern information about moving archives” (vii). Certainly, with the number of archivists who move collections, and the frequent conference sessions concerned with moving, a comprehensive volume is both desirable and feasible. A bibliography of relevant resources would be very helpful to the archival community, as well.

As Newman, Jones, and all of us who have faced the challenge of moving archival collections are well aware, pertinent professional literature before Moving Archives was meager at best. This volume eases our frustrations regarding the lack of published archival resources, and invites further publication. We can be thankful to the authors who generously share with us their wisdom and experiences.

 

ELLEN ENGSETH
North Park University


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