Tufts University Digital Collections & Archives Managerial Interview

This is a paper I wrote during my studies at Simmons College.

The archivist that I chose to interview for the purpose of investigating management styles, was Adrienne Pruitt, who is the current collections management archivist at the Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives. She oversees collection management and archival processing. This job includes managing preservation, assessing collections, and planning and prioritizing processing work. This entails overseeing various staff members to ensure that work is getting done and the work gets divided accordingly.

It is interesting to consider the future of archiving and becoming an archivist. Based on Pruitt’s explanation of how she became a manager of the Tufts Archives, it appears as though being an archivist almost instantly means being a manager. While Pruitt received her undergraduate degree in art history, she found an interest in museum work which led to an eagerness to understand curatorial work. In order to work as a curator, she discovered she needed a degree in library and information science, which is how she found her way to Simmons College. After graduating, the jobs she took on consisted in some aspect of management. Some were more managing volunteers and interns, but she slowly moved towards taking on projects and managing a small group, to now managing a staff about ten. Managing just came naturally. I believe her experience from Simmons College greatly influenced her natural ability to manage. Simmons College is very good with trying to ensure that their students are prepared to take on managerial roles including providing some hands on experience in the various courses offered. This likely led to the healthy combination of ways to manage a team.

Pruitt discussed managerial styles. The staff size is about ten ranging from student workers to Simmons graduates, with a few professionals. For the small space that they work in, I thought Pruitt and her director tried to find a balance between being too hands—on and too hands—off. The style seems like a healthy combination of a democratic, paternalistic, and laissez-faire management. Democratic in the sense that the manager, in this case Pruitt, allows employees to take part in decision-making. She and her staff meet individually and collective, sometimes once week, depending on the circumstances. During these meetings she wants to ensure that the staff feels comfortable and also understand what they think is best for the staffing community. Collectively, they divide the work. This segues to the laissez-faire management style. While the staff is able to contribute to thoughts on how the work is divided, Pruitt and the director do divvy up the work between staffing members, while she oversees all operations and aspects. The paternalistic aspect of the management style comes from Pruitt and the director being hands-on in a sense with trying to ensure that the staff members understand all aspects of the archives and have access various training opportunities. At the same time, they make their staff feel welcome and like an additional small family.

The staff assisted in the processing of a collection to prioritizing work. The work is then tackled sometimes collectively and sometimes individually, but help is always available. I believe that by creating this type of management system, the Tufts Archives paved its own path towards creating a safe environment for both staff members and patrons. While I was there, patrons came in and out of the archives happy to begin their research. They had no problem asserting their presence and their research request, which was swiftly attended to. I watched as sometimes staff worked together to try and resolve the patron’s query or get the materials needed.

When looking at the Tufts University website, I wasn’t sure how patrons knew about the Tufts Archives. I asked Pruitt about outreach. In an academic setting, I found that utilizing course classes was key. Many teachers talk about records that can be found to aid in research at the Archives. The actual Archives’ website is very wordy and confusing. It is currently asking users to help in the website’s advancement and will undergo renovation. Websites are key in pulling patrons. It seemed as though patrons were less likely to reach out or come in if their website wasn’t visually appealing. It was an fascinating and thought-provoking admission. I was happy to help in the user survey. I found that I learned a lot more about the Archives and am more inclined to seek out some research services now that I’m more aware of their collections.

The Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives (DCA) “supports the teaching and research mission of Tufts University by ensuring the enduring preservation and accessibility of the university’s permanently valuable records and collections. DCA assists departments, faculty, and staff in managing records and other assets. DCA collaborates with members of the Tufts community and others to develop tools to discover and access collections to support teaching, research, and administrative needs.”

Tufts University never had a formalized archive until 1997 by Russell Miller; however, the university archives was technically established in 1964. The archives now hold over “4,300 cubic feet of office records as well as university and student publications from Tufts University. The Archives is also the repository for manuscript collections by Tufts faculty, alumni, affiliated individuals (such as Edward R. Murrow) and organizations (e.g., the World Peace Foundation). In addition to documenting the history of Tufts, its holdings are strong in environmental studies, theater history, international affairs, broadcast history, and literature.”

Delving deeper into the managerial aspects of the archivist and the archives, was almost like a time warp. In 1997, the Tufts Archives became an official digital collections and archives. It was fascinating to hear that Tufts has been digitally focused for a little over a decade. The inclination stemmed from seeing the rapid growth in technology and believing in its future longevity. The Archives has one of the strongest focuses on born-digital records. Being advanced for its time, Tufts University has almost no back-log. For almost two years, the Tufts Archives began accessioning their collections as soon as they came in, creating simple finding aids to ensure that the collections can be made available to patrons. They are beginning to deaccession certain records and collections, which I can see being a weakness. Accessioning collections and then having to go back and survey the collection and go through to figure out what should be deaccessioned can be extremely time consuming, which has created several projects for the Archives. At the same time, the Archives is going through and editing frequently used collections’ finding aids to make them more detailed.

Often times, archives seek out grant funding or ask their larger organization for help. While it is rare that the larger organization helps financial, it is common to see the larger helping when issues arise. That’s exactly how Tufts University is. The Archives is comfortable seeking help when issues arise and there is easy access to technical support, even though, they at times make mistakes. It was nice that The Archives was able to get “emotional” support. Yet, as far as grant funding, Pruitt has not yet applied to any grants in the four years that she has been there. Grants are not a pressing focus for the Archives at this moment. This kind of shocked both of us. Most archives are constantly actively seeking out grants. I can kind of understand why the Tufts Archives isn’t as in need of grant funding. Being an archives that was essentially a predecessor to this digital-archives movement, Tufts Archives is already there. While many archival organizations are trying to digitize their collections, Tufts Archives had already done that and prepared for this born-digital age. The software and equipment had already been investigated and implemented, but does go through updates. I realized that when starting an archives, it is essential to think ahead and address possible future innovations that impact records collection. While grant funding is not always essential, strategic plans are still very much a part of all archives. Archives, due to storage and newer preservation methods are causing archives to have to undergo renovations. The strategic plans are great in honing in on projects and renovations. Tufts Archives will undergo renovations trying to create more storage space for their collections. In the meantime, the archivists and staff are going through the collections to reassess their values.

Overall, after the interview and browsing the website, I have a better sense of how Archives should be managed. Archives that have begun the digital transfer earlier, do a lot better in the long run. Being more technologically and digitally focused enables an archives to focus on other projects. Grants will be needed in the beginning but become less of a focus as time goes on because the collections are mostly already digitized and preservation methods have been implemented for best practice. Honing in on certain collections of strength with help in trying to describe and process collections. Accessioning every collection that comes in and creating simple finding aids can be both beneficial and a hindrance depending on the organization. Beneficial in the sense that all the collections are available for patron access, but a hindrance because the staff will need to revisit the collections to edit the finding aids and make them more descriptive or deaccession some of the records.

When it comes to staff management, a healthy combination of managerial styles work best. Ensuring staff that they can feel comfortable asking for help in anyway creates an open environment and a safe space. This then translates over to making sure the patrons’ feel comfortable. Sometimes multiple people working on one individual can help expedite an issue or show the patron that they are important. Meeting individually and collectively shows the staff that they are valued. Permitting staff to take part in decisions that impact the archives, makes the small staff team feel more familial and inclusive. There is less room to question certain things because the staff has an understanding of the why. At the same time, advocating to the larger organization helps the archival organization as a whole. The larger organization can often help by getting other departments involved and promoting the archives. As far as outreach and advocacy goes, in an academic archive, the outreach and advocacy can be assisted through the larger organization. The archives can be promoted on their website. Additionally, the archives can utilize academic courses to promote archival use. Asking users about their experience and how to improve the navigation of the website, seems to draw in more patrons due to getting the chance to understand the collections and services of the overall archives.

It all comes down to being able to create a safe environment for both staff and patrons, while ensuring the archives is in the best condition for the records. That means making sure all measures have been taken to properly care for the records and thinking ahead. A good manager is able to create a safe place and make sure the records are using best preservation practices. A great manager is able to ensure that the staff and patrons feel comfortable and valued, while also thinking towards the future in how records will be created and best ways to maintain and preserve all records. The Tufts Archives demonstrates and archival repository that has had great managers and continues to have great managers, which why there hardly any backlog and the staff and patrons appear excited to be there.

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