Category Archives: Reference and Access Book Project

General Update

I miss this blog. My posts lately have been sporadic and not as thorough as I prefer. I am in the final stages (!) of writing my reference and access book, and that occupies a large portion of my free time, as well as a large portion of my brain capacity. It is all coming together nicely, and as long as everything proceeds as planned, the book will be published later this year. (fingers crossed)

My lack of attention to this blog is not from lack of desire, but from necessity. However, it also highlights that I would love help in maintaining it. Right now, help with posting announcement about CFPs, recent journal issues, and especially new and recent scholarship would be welcome. I have some things in place that I’m not currently able to keep up with, though I plan to catch up at some point. However, volunteers need not be short-term and having co-contributors will go far in continuing to make this a viable resource. In the meantime, I will try to post relevant items as time allows.

Soooooo, if anyone out there would like to help, please get in touch!

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Be a Part of My Book!

Be part of the Society of American Archivists’ new and forthcoming Archival Fundamentals Series! Cheryl Oestreicher, who is authoring the Providing Reference and Access Services in Archives and Manuscripts book, seeks real-world examples and photos that represent the wide variety of institutions, staffing levels, policies, and procedures that exist throughout the profession. Contributions need not be formally written as standalone pieces, as they will be integrated throughout the book itself. Send an e-mail, a couple of paragraphs, or a few sentences about a practice or experience that you found especially useful. Personal photos, website links, social media blurbs, and other online references are welcome. Copies of internal policies and procedures are helpful, and nothing will be published without your explicit permission. Contributions also can be anonymized upon request. Depending upon the amount of and types of suggestions, some may not be included in the final book.

Simply send an email to: ccoest@gmail.com with the subject line “Reference and Access Book Contribution.” Thank you for helping us to produce a better book!

The following is a list of potential contributions:

  • reading room photos
  • access policies
  • loan policies
  • accessibility of facilities/ADA compliance
  • virtual reading room
  • copyright, registration, reproduction, publishing, etc. forms
  • ethical decisions about access
  • dealing with difficult patrons
  • unusual patron types and experiences
  • unusual disciplines/research projects
  • how do institutional staff use/request records, what materials are they looking for and why
  • reference manuals
  • when archivists do research (beyond standard reference interactions)
  • reference training documents/procedures
  • copying/reproduction policies
  • internal metrics, tracking statistics
  • assessment of reference interactions; post-visit surveys
  • how do you staff reference services: rotation, designated reference desk, subject/curatorial specialists, etc.
  • marketing and outreach strategies (not examples of individual activities, but overall strategies)

When is a Chapter Done?

I officially submitted my first chapter (yay!). I have chunks written for all the chapters, but am now focusing on finishing individual chapters rather than writing bits and pieces throughout.

Finishing a chapter is a challenge, because how do I know when it’s actually done? It’s easy to keep tweaking, to check “just one” more article or book, and to wordsmith every sentence. There are definitely parts that I don’t consider quite done, but at this point I need feedback before I finalize. My rationale is that I don’t want to spend extensive time on a certain section if it will be removed or I need to take it in another direction.

This is a different process from writing an article, which needs to be very solid before submission (though editing and feedback will occur). The AFS series editor provides feedback throughout the whole book process, which is extremely helpful. I included notes and questions about my thought process, as well as specific parts I want advice. As I wrote previously, writing and feedback is a conversation. An editor’s review raises points I didn’t consider, and answers the questions I have.

There’s no particular way to know when a chapter is done. Truly, no chapter will be officially done until the book goes to press. Right now, it’s when what I’m doing is more tweaking and refining, instead of writing. While I want the language to be professional and clear, at some point a copyeditor will refine the text for consistency and to meet SAA’s standards. I strive to achieve those standards, but I also recognize that a fresh review will fix what I overlook. Plus, setting it aside for a while will give me a new perspective when I receive feedback and go to revise it.

It is a good feeling to officially have one chapter done, though I have several to go. It’s progress, and motivation to move on to the next chapter. Writing a book is a slow and long process, but it’s definitely moving along.

Which Comes First, Research or Writing?

As I write the reference book, I continually have the conundrum compared to the which came first, the chicken or the egg. In this case, it’s the research or the writing.

Reference and access is a large part of my daily duties, as with many archivists. It comes naturally to me, and I have my routine to provide good reference and customer service. When I agreed to write this book I thought “Great! I get to write about what I do every day.” Because reference is one of my favorite parts of my job, I initially thought it would be easy. Not that writing an entire book is easy, but I already have solid knowledge about reference and access.

What I’ve discovered, not completely unsurprisingly, is that it’s easy to write about what my staff and I do every day, but that doesn’t mean it encompasses all aspects of reference and access. I knew that I’d do extensive research to make sure I address all types of institutions, practices, policies, history, context, etc. The research is crucial also to provide resources to archivists who want to learn more about specific aspects, as well as demonstrate developments and foundations of reference.

On the one hand, I can easily make notes and outlines about what each book section/topic needs, but on the other hand I need to read what is the vast amount of literature out there for citations. So I find myself again in the same place as when I wrote my dissertation – where to stop researching and write, or do I just write and fill in with research.

Truly, it’s best to go back and forth; do some research and write about it, then write about your ideas and find the research to go with it. I love doing research. Searching through databases, reading footnotes to find more literature, exploring the non-archival writing to see how others use/view archives, and reading what I find. I especially love learning – how reference evolved through history, how different institutions provide services, ideas for outreach, and I even enjoy reading policy manuals. Some of this is not just for the book but also how I can improve and evolve services at my own institution.

I really enjoy writing as well, but that of course is much harder. Sometimes the thoughts are there but don’t come out. When I’m on a good writing spree, I just let the thoughts flow. It can be harder to find literature to justify what I wrote, but I also do not need a citation for every single sentence or idea. I know I have something to say, and I will say it so that readers can use, interpret, and reconfigure the content to best serve their needs.

I see this struggle in many people that I talk to and article submissions I read: too much research without enough analysis or interpretation. We are all adept and finding information, so we don’t need just the references, but why that literature matters. In the case of this book, I don’t need to make an argument for reference and access, but instead provide a wide array of concepts, theories, policies, and practices so anyone who reads the book is able to find something that will help with their job or possibly for future scholarship.

So, there is no one solution of which to do first – research or writing. But it is important to not get too caught up in the research so that the writing doesn’t happen. Currently, I’m at a point where I need to step away from the research for a while and just write. I have a lot of notes, quotes, and so far 263 citations in 71 pages. Likely, some of those will be removed, combined, or moved to “works consulted,” and I want to make sure they don’t disrupt the reading. Writing should reflect the author’s thoughts and ideas, and the research is to enhance them and provide further reading. So here goes!

SAA Book Publishing Survey Results

Last spring the Publications Board conducted a survey to assess members’ needs to strategize the future of publications. This survey assessed topics of interest, as well as how members want to receive and read books. The latest issue of Archival Outlook has an article describing the results of the survey. About 1,600 people responded, and the results are quite interesting. SAA book publications are important not just to advance the profession, but to help fund the organization. As the article states, “Books published by SAA help our members increase their sum of professional knowledge and to partake in a shared vision for archival practice.”

Ebooks have been a bit slow to take off in the profession, but is likely to grow over the next few years; more than half indicated they prefer print but close to half predicted they would access an ebook in the future. Personally, I like both. Ebooks allow me to search and sometimes I find it easier to use them when I’m writing. I can copy/paste quotes, and also don’t need to balance a book and my laptop while reclining comfortably on my couch. However, I still like seeing them on my bookshelf and find it easier to quick grab a book to look something up or hand it to an intern or staff member to read.

More than half indicated interest in a subscription model, which I’m intrigued by. I like the idea of being able to search across publications and easily access literature. For me it would serve a dual purpose: quickly finding multiple sources for answers, as well as the ability to read/review books prior to purchasing. And, of course, fewer books to check out from the library or order through interlibrary loan.

As a current book author, I constantly think about what information archivists need to grow in their jobs and how my book will be used. Reference, access and outreach ranked 5th out of the 10 topics assessed. However, my interpretation is that topics ranked higher – digital records/digitization, arrangement and description, preservation and conservation – all lead to access. While my book will not go in-depth about those areas, I discuss them in relation to reference and access.

I look forward to seeing how SAA publications evolve and develop based on this survey.

Writing Progress

I recently received feedback on my reference and access book draft. A previous post describes my writing process, and of course several times I’ve mentioned the importance of feedback. The notes I received are extremely helpful, as there are thoughts, questions, and suggestions that never crossed my mind but once I read them, make perfect sense.

Naturally, some are easy fixes and some require more thought and/or research. As a pretty scattered writer, meaning I jump from section to section, I expect that makes it difficult for the reader. I think frequently about the book’s organization. The aspects of reference and access overlap continually, and at times it’s difficult to sort out which points should go where. I also make a lot of notes about ideas and thoughts, and even questions about what should be included, what requires more in-depth discussion versus making a reference and referring to other literature.

Feedback is not a reader stating do-this or do-that and the writer complying. It’s a conversation about how to develop, organize, expand, eliminate, cite, reference, discuss, and write. That conversation leads to the writer achieving a better understanding on how the text is read and interpreted, as well as the reader gaining a better understanding of the writer’s goals and thought processes.

For me, this conversation increases my motivation. Notes and feedback provide clarity in my mind about how to proceed and if I’m on the right track. I’ve spent the past few days reviewing the comments, rewriting, reorganizing, and rethinking. And all this has now led to a milestone – 25,000 words (about 65 pages). While I still have a long way to go, I see what I’ve accomplished so far.

And writing is about accomplishments: the first page, first chapter, first draft, first feedback, etc. So as you write, don’t just think about where you need to go, think about what you already achieved.

SAA Publishing Adopts Permalink

Catching up on my reading today,  I read Chris Prom and Anthony Cocciolo’s article in Archival OutlookPermalink Service Adopted by SAA’s Book Publishing Program.”

I’m sure we’ve all been frustrated at times when we find a web link in an article or citation, click on it, and don’t find what we need. When I was editor of Provenance, I spent a lot of time double checking the links authors provided to make sure they worked, and searching for an updated link if they didn’t.

As a current SAA author, I’m pleased that I’ll be able to use this resource. As I write about reference and access, I constantly look at a variety of institutions’ websites for ideas and examples. I also read many books and articles that reference no longer existing websites or content. I use Zotero and sometimes (not always) remember to save a PDF of what I looked at, both for my reference and in case someone would ask me later. Now I’ll have a way to save those references for SAA to keep!