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This month we feature a write up from Jennifer Merry and Isabel Cazares who are Archivists with the Arizona Historical Society, Library, Archives & Collection department at the Arizona Heritage Center, Papago Park location. Jennifer is also a Director at Large with AzAA. Jennifer and Isabel discuss the challenges AHS faced in 2020 and how they as an institution overcame them and how AHS is looking forward to tackling the challenges 2021 brings to their institution. We thank Jennifer and Isabel for providing this year in review write up.
As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 2020,” and while we all might want this year in our rearview mirrors, a reflection on its lessons will help us build strategies for a great new year. Last year, we had big plans and hopes and dreams, and instead we got a global pandemic that left us scrambling to change our workflows and tasks to meet a new set of challenges. But meet them we did! At the Arizona Historical Society Library and Archives (AHS), we took the challenge of 2020 and ran with it.
Rewinding back to January, access to collections was available in-person, staff support was for our journal or exhibit program, and digital projects from the archives consisted of online collections. During our museum closure, from roughly March-June, we continued to provide access to our research material remotely, while considering how to revise our workflows to incorporate more digital resources and programming. We found ourselves pivoting to host more digitally inclusive programs supported by archival efforts, increased distance collaboration with our patrons, and have on-going serious discussions of what library and archives digital initiatives should look like. We conducted an Oral History Workshop hosted by library and archives staff in July that gave our archivists a chance to digitally get up close and personal with our staff and patrons to teach proper interview methods.
Staff’s technical skills increased in leaps and bounds with Zoom meetings. We found collaboration flowing through the ethernet cables and out into our Arizona communities. At the same time, the challenges of providing collection access without being in-person and concerns over protecting staff, patrons, and collections in our spaces were front and center. These brought to mind the fundamentals of archives: access and preservation. Access expanded virtually but physical collection access was limited beyond the norm. AHS’s answer was to increase our time with the patron via email or phone in the archival interview process: What are you looking for in your research? Can a synopsis of the information help you? Can I send them targeted scans of the collection that will be helpful?
When we did open to the public once again in October, we relied on our institutional reopening plan and archival-focused materials such as OCLC’s REALM reports. We limited numbers and quarantined collections to tread the line of access and preservation of not only collections but people’s health. At the same time our new initiatives in digitization this year also extended our reach and preservation abilities. With the help of a CARES grant, we were able to pursue microfilm digitization to supply patrons with valuable research materials across state lines. While all of these seem like wonderful initiatives, it is important to highlight the time and focus these efforts took away from other concerns such as collection processing. A big concern for us has become how to maintain our current outreach while still addressing the everyday needs of our archives. The answer might be in the creative ways the various Arizona archives have collaborated in the past and in the present, which brings to mind the upcoming year’s summit that will benefit from the reach of the digital world. AHS is definitely looking forward to the collaboration!
In the meantime, what lessons will AHS take into the new year?
● Communication between our staff and our patrons needs to stay strong as the uncertainties of 2020 linger in 2021.
● Digital access of materials does not mean everything is online, but enough to create a pathway to our door.
● Maintaining our relevance in the chaos is always possible if our mission and vision statements guide us.
● Collaboration can lead to new avenues of success.
The challenge has been laid down, AZAA community! Take a look at your institution’s 2020 year in hindsight and get inspired. The relevancy of archives is growing in the minds of Arizonans. How do we reach out this year to support, grow, and thrive in our communities?
Happy New Year!