A Lay Person’s Love-Hate Relationship with “More Product Less Process”

As a doctoral student, and specifically a student of ancient Near Eastern languages, I have learned to become increasingly detail oriented (read: anal retentive) as the years pass. The longer I study cuneiform, the smaller my handwriting gets and I have noticed certain OCD tendencies related to classification and organization sharpen in my “old age.” I assumed that when I began work in the archives with the CUL Graduate Student Internship, I would be doing detail-oriented processing (my fantasies of archival work being that of handling 16th-century Luther Bibles and other rare/fragile materials, such that opening a box would justify Harrison Ford-esque “That belongs in a museum!” exclamations). I thought I would be working closely with very specific materials and processing on an item level.

As Carrie Hintz, Head of Archives Processing/director of the CUL Graduate Student Internship program and my supervisor, project archivist Brigette Kamsler would explain, the “More Product Less Process” (MPLP) method began around five-years-ago to help libraries house and make available a greater number of collections in a shorter period of time, or with less resources. They explained that no matter what we do in archives, whether processing in tedium or by less detailed methods, we are still making the collections better than they were when we first encountered the materials. Great, right? Making things better, hauling through greater quantities in shorter periods of time, win-win! Everybody wins!

And then the anxiety began to creep in:
“What if researchers begin looking through this collection and see that things are not actually as organized as well as they *could* be?”
“What if, in working on a box level and grouping huge quantities of documents into large folders, I missed something about the original organization of the materials?”
“What if I am actually messing this all up!”

Doubts began to set in as I continued working through the 108 boxes of World Council of Churches materials, and I am sure that Brigette grew tired of my constant questions concerning whether I was actually doing this right or making a big fat mess! Part of this anxiety, from what I can determine, is that:

(1) *I* would never have allowed my papers, personal or otherwise, to be in such an organized state of disarray! (No offense, WCC and the people who were organizing your files in the first place…)
(2) I had a difficult time with the fact that certain papers or boxes did not have a clear “home” in the collection, as some of the materials related to one or more committee or section, or could be housed comfortably in various places
(3) “[Darn] it, Jim, I’m a doctoral student, not an archivist!”—without a degree or years of experience in the field of archival studies, how did I know that I was actually doing this right?

Well, I housed the WCC records—all 108 of those boxes—wrote the finding aid, printed pretty, uniform labels, and hauled those boxes back into their snug corner in the WAB section of the archives, and in two months flat! It really was a sight to behold, looking at the entire collection in its final (for now) resting place. While working on a separate collection after finishing this one, I found more WCC records. I was able to integrate these materials smoothly because of the basic organization that I imposed. Brigette informed me that a researcher had been inquiring into the collection in the spring and was told that he could access it in the next few years, as the time frame for when it would be finished was not then determined. Because of the CUL Graduate Student Internship program and due to the wonderful innovation of MPLP, he can access the collection now! I would say that is a true success story.

So yes, I was a huge ball of nerves for a few days here and there as I gave MPLP the old college try and confronted my disorganization phobias, but now the finding aid will soon be uploaded online, information on the collection can be generally located, and (I think) this collection is easier to access. At the end of the day, I will probably always have a love-hate relationship with MPLP (hate in the midst, love at the end), but the process is a valuable tool and a practical archival trend.

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