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.
North Park University