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The evil of the paper clip

March 8, 2012

Sadly I couldn’t make it to this week’s meeting so thanks to Nicole for this update….

We had a lively meeting to discuss MPLP. It was interesting to see that all those present did not find the suggestions the authors made to move from micro to macro description of collections controversial at all. Most agreed that listing collections roughly when they were accessioned was a common sense approach. High level rather than item level description was longstanding practice among those at the meeting even though more detailed cataloguing would be desirable, if there were ever enough staff resources available. Everyone recognised the evil of the common paper clip and admitted to the itch to remove it from archival documents.  We contemplated why we don’t just scan everything in (not met with much enthusiasm) and what role volunteers play in archival cataloguing (diverging opinions). The subject of how to measure archivists’ work and what metrics could present an industry standard were more controversial  – the time spent cataloguing a cubic foot or linear metre of material depended on the complexity of the collection and the other duties archivists perform every day as well.

We parted hungry as our ‘usual’ spot was occupied but resolved to return again to discuss the latest developments in FOI. A suggestion was to discuss the Information Commisioner’s article in the Guardian or something similar to be crowdsourced in due course.

Before then, of course, don’t forget that those of you who couldn’t make it to the pub will get your chance to twitter about MPLP on Monday 26th March 8-9pm. Please post any questions below and I will pull it all together the weekend before.

  1. Like most people on Monday, I agreed with the spirit of MPLP, which I see as being:
    1) If (or rather when) you have to make a choice, cataloguing more records in less detail is preferable to cataloguing fewer records in more detail.
    2) Don’t waste resources on work of minimal benefit to user needs or to the physical [?and perhaps even the moral] defence of the records
    3) Have a joined-up approach to preservation and cataloguing.

    I could disagree with some of the specifics (I think they were quite flaky on the relationship between cataloguing and digitisation, for instance) but I felt that the specific recommendations weren’t really the point.

    Incidentally, at my workplace, ‘cataloguing’ of records made of ‘traditional materials’ covers four different types of work:
    A) All new accessions of paper records are catalogued down to file level. (This may seem counter to the letter of the recommendations of MPLP but is definitely necessary as our productions are by file.) Individual descriptions are normally brief and often transcribed from or based on the title on the existing file covers.
    B) Records accessioned previously are catalogued in more detail, perhaps down to item level.
    C) The contents of paper finding aids are converted into online catalogue entries. This either expands existing file-level descriptions, adds item-level descriptions or both.
    D) Catalogue data is cunningly manipulated (usually in bulk) to make it more self-explanatory (and often fuller) – either as a separate project or an adjunct to a type-B or type-C project.

    All type B and type C projects need to be approved by a central panel, which makes sure that the projects are properly resourced and meet user/business needs (though there is a presumption that, by making existing finding aids more flexibly searchable and more widely available, a type C project will normally meet business needs anyway).

    We do use volunteers (under supervision) for some type B and type C projects, but these are carefully selected to make the best use of volunteers’ skills.

    What I’m not so sure about is the ‘metrics’ aspect. ‘Traditional’ arrangement and description is quite a ‘holistic’ activity (i.e. more of an ‘artisan’ work than a production line) which isn’t that easy to measure in a meaningful way. Although my workplace monitors closely its cataloguing programme both as a whole and as individual projects, specific targets are very much set on a project-by-project basis. Anything else is not really feasible.

  2. Got so carried away before, I forgot to specify my question:

    How does ‘More Product, Less Process’ help us to define or understand the relationship between cataloguing and digitisation?

  3. Jon Garde permalink

    At the last meeting I promised some references on FOI for the next meeting. Not one article in this case but a series of resources on line:

    Topic 1: FOI was it a mistake?

    Topic 2: What does FOI cost?

    – Part A (I love this one – an FOI to try and get at the cost of FOIs – you have to download the PDF response and read it to realise that Sir Humphrey is alive and well)

    – Part B Birmingham council

    Topic 3: Does FOI drive governments not to take records or to use private email accounts?

    – Part A: The case of the NHS risk register

    – Part B: The case of the Gove emails

    Topic 4: The arguments for and against

    Topic 5: Are there any objective statistics on how well FOI is doing?

    Topic 6: The American experience

    – Part 1: Private companies use the FOIA for commercial gain

    – Part 2: Is the FOIA response rate a barometer for government efficiency?

    – Part 3: Letter from America – it’s the public not the press who use FOIA

    I hope these links can go some way to providing a healthy debate on Freedom of Information for next time.

  4. Jon Garde permalink

    Just came across these three additional links – all very relevant to what is happening right now. Sourced from JISCmail here;e5e5f7e.1203).

    What price freedom of information?

    Two commentaries on David Cameron’s recent statements:

  5. Can I suggest a question for cardcont Twitter chat on Monday?:
    Do we need to measure archivists’ work?
    What role has digitisation in cataloging?
    Is item level cataloging and preservation too expensive nowadays?

  6. Jon Garde permalink

    For those who don’t want to just read the background to the FOI debate this four and a half minute video has today gone up on the BBC website:

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