Archivists at home
Archivists at home 1
At work 2
Closing Shop 3
Readings and Resources 3
Suggested Steps to Take 3
Things that archivists probably can’t do remotely 4
Things archivists can do from home (or anywhere else!) 5
Admin work 5
Collection work 6
Collection development 6
Linked Data 7
Student workers (see also “Additional comments on Student Workers” for advocacy ideas) 8
Work on “you” 9
Additional comments on student employees 11
Additional Tips and Resources 12
Continuing Education 12
Crowdsourcing Projects 13
Archival Programs and Products 14
Remote work tools 15
Fight back from COVID-19 15
“Archivists at home” began as brainstorming advocacy tool by the Accessibility & Disability Section (Society of American Archivists) for developing a more flexible concept of archival labor, whether it is archivists working from home due to COVID-19 or archivists with disabilities. The document has evolved in scope to address needs of the archival community grappling with COVID-19 broadly, ranging from the workplace, choosing to temporarily close an archives, to working from home, supporting student and contingent workers, and archival resilience to COVID-19.
Please feel free to reference and share this document widely. We’ve been thrilled at its use and reuse! We’ve been honored and delighted that it was shared by the Association of Canadian Archivists, the Society of American Archivists, the International Council on Archives, Archivist Memes, Archivists’ Think Tank, and many other organizations and individuals around the globe. It was also featured in a webinar by the Society of Southwest Archivists and Texas Digital Library and in articles/blog posts by Library Journal and CLIR. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this document (see list at the end of the doc), anyone who has added questions and prompts for expansions, and everyone for reading and sharing this doc. We are a community of archivists, we’re all in this together!
Most salaried archivists will have institutional support as well as company technology to work from home, however hourly, contract, and independent archivists will lose out on wages, contracts, and even retirement benefits. Advocate for your students workers and hourly/part-time employees to also be able to do remote work. We are pleased to share that on April 8th, the Society of American Archivists Foundation approved the Archival Workers Emergency Fund to provide financial assistance for archival workers experiencing acute, unanticipated financial hardship due to the crisis. If you can, please DONATE! The fund is now accepting applications. Thank you to everyone for your support!
Stay healthy and safe, everyone!
SAA Accessibility & Disability Section Steering Committee
P.S.- If you have appreciated this document, we would love to hear how it has impacted you. Please fill out this brief survey or email us to let us know! firstname.lastname@example.org
If your shop is still operating, these are some steps to try to quell the spread of the virus:
- Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) COVID-19 Research Project
- Guidance from the CDC
- American Alliance of Museums Health in the Workplace
- Resources for Collections Management during COVID-19 crowdsourced doc
- Consider moving to appointment-only reading room access or completely close down the reading room.
- Clean all surfaces frequently (reading room, work areas, etc.)
- Ask staff to regularly and thoroughly wash their hands
- Sick staff need to stay home
- If you are immunocompromised or have another type of disability that would be targeted by COVID-19, fill out disability accommodation paperwork with your employer to enable you to work from home
- If you are a caregiver of someone who may be more at risk for COVID-19, consider applying for FMLA or other workplace accommodations to avoid your exposure and transmission to your loved ones.
- Consider the risk of your staff being infected not only from the immediate work environment but every door handle, toilet, bus seat, and table counter between home and work. Prioritize their safety and continue creatively evolving services and outreach in a rapidly changing COVID-19 environment
- There have been some discussions about whether/which cleaning agents are ok for documents and books on Facebook and other social media. As opposed to potentially damaging historic material, it might be best to consider temporarily closing down to protect all researchers, staff, and the historic record.
Whether the word came from on high or whether it’s your responsibility to decide whether to close your archives, here are some steps and considerations to take as you close operations due to COVID-19. RBMS has been compiling institutional responses to COVID-19. To submit info on your repository’s approach, fill out this form.
Readings and Resources
Suggested Steps to Take
- Check/update/make your Disaster Recovery Plan. Identify staff who will be available “on call” in case of emergency or who could occasionally check in on the venue.
- Make sure that someone will be able to remotely monitor prox entry logs (or note this as a desired feature if your stacks don’t currently have prox entry locks)
- If you have digital environmental monitors, try to set up remote access for checking the logs for any spikes in humidity and temperature
- If you have a security camera for your stacks, would you or someone else be able to check it remotely?
- Dehumidifiers: make sure they drain into a sink or shut them down, empty, wash, and bleach spray
- Prioritize the safety of people first
- Allow and encourage workers to work remotely
- Does your place of work have a formal telework agreement? If yes, ensure that all are signed and collected. If not, determine if other departments have/use telework agreements and if they can be adapted.
- If you do not require telework agreements in the office, determine if documentation is necessary and how to manage time keeping.
- Can employees get access to work laptops? What work-related tasks require access to a VPN or other specialized credentials?
- Anticipate that your staff will be dealing with a lot of external life factors relating to COVID-19, such as school/daycare closures or caring for other dependents, which may impact productivity. Check in and support them.
- Communicate with researchers to give them a predictable date (if possible) when public services will close or reduce hours
- Make sure that materials are in boxes and put away. It’s not only to reduce clutter but also to make sure that materials aren’t damaged by continual light (if the building lights automatically remain on during scheduled times), or exposure to humidity, temperature fluctuations, and other environmental risks.
Things that archivists probably can’t do remotely
- Inventory new physical collections
- Suggestion: You can try to take pictures of boxes and transcribe the folder titles remotely.
- Physically arrange and rehouse collections
- Staff the reading room desk
- On-site instruction and physical repository tours
- Conservation treatments
- Barcoding and labeling items
- Working with classified or otherwise restricted materials.
- Reference work that requires access to analog/physical content
- Stack maintenance (retrieving, shelving, shifting and shelf-reading)
- Processing of born-digital content reliant on digital forensics tools
- Digitization work
- If you/your institution is considering taking collection materials home for processing/digitizing
- Careful, some laws, institutional rules, and insurance companies may not allow taking collections home!
- If you/your organization has decided to allow digitization projects at home, what are documentation and steps taken? (Please feel free to fill this out and add your name to the list of contributors!)
- Does your institution have equipment loan paperwork?
- It’s probably best to only do digitization projects on collections that have:
- low monetary value
- low fragility
- small/lightweight (postcards, push pin buttons, bumper stickers, 20th century photographs, etc.)
- Audio Cassettes, videocassettes possibly, only if you have the proper equipment
- There should probably already be an item-level inventory/item count for the collection
- How does the repository and supervisor ensure that all material taken is returned?
Things archivists can do from home (or anywhere else!)
- Clean up shared working drives (if you have remote access to share drives etc. via VPN). Deduplication, delete unneeded items, standardize file names, organize files, etc.
- Donor relations - while it may not be possible to accept collection acquisitions, check in with your donors to ensure their wellbeing. The care and trust you build during this time will pay off.
- Email maintenance (responding to older emails, weeding, organizing messages)
- Emergency planning updates (continuity of operations, humidity and temperature monitoring, assessment of staff and collection health/safety during a closure)
- Meetings/Committee work (via phone or teleconference)
- Plan fundraising
- Reach out to smaller archives (eg., community archives, religious archives, lone arrangers, etc.) and offer to share your knowledge (esp. with those still figuring out digital archiving!)
- Research new and emerging technologies that may be applicable to your collections
- Review and revise existing contracts
- Review rights statuses of both your collections and works published by your institution held by other repositories/entities (e.g. HathiTrust) to determine if any can be released into the public domain, either because copyright expired or can you urge your in-house counsel to release works into the public domain or via Creative Commons license.
- Revise/update/create documentation of policies, forms, workflows, and manuals
- Not only is this an opportunity to maintain internal documentation, it also should be a “mental download” of any institutional knowledge you have that others might need in case you aren’t able to return to work immediately.
- Take the time to question policies and workflows to be more efficient and inclusive.
- Could documentation go into a wiki-like platform such as Confluence for ease of use and editing?
- Could forms go online?
- Can you analyze your reading room statistics to evaluate
- Optimal reading room hours
- Most popular collections
- Why? Does it have to do with topic, level of description, or other factors?
- Plan for your unit’s reopening strategy. It seems unreal that we’re at home, but we’ll eventually go back - whether we all are ready or not. What will be the next steps?
- Archival supplies ordering and product research
- Be wary of budgets in this coming year. Can funds be carried forward, or would it be better to spend towards stockpiling reserves for leaner times?
- Explore collection management/digital asset management programs (See Programs and Products section below)
- Prioritize and estimate out the extent and timeframe for processing the backlog
- Quality control review of digitized content (from your public side or back end system if accessible)
- Design a virtual tour of your archives/collections/facilities (can be completed once we return to work). Example of a type of virtual tour: Able Eyes, or could be highlights of your collection
- Transfer collection- and item-related info that exists in shared drives, spreadsheets, deeds of gift, etc., but hasn't made it a collection management tool or onto public-facing discoverability portals.
- Exhibition planning (either digital or on-site)
- Process digital records
- Compare the collection development policies and existing collections - are there collecting areas that could be more robust? Are there new areas of documentation that should be pursued? (example: archiving the institutional response to COVID-19)
- Examples of documenting COVID-19[a][b]
- What collections are good candidates for digitization? Plan out the steps for copyright clearance, etc.
- Where are repositories with complementing collections? Think about building “digital bridges” across repositories such as
- Authority control maintenance and deduping
- Audit your collections for DACS-compliant descriptions and outdated/oppressive/racist/sexist/homophobic language (see Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia’s Anti-Racist Description Resources and others)
- Catalog/inventory material (if you take pictures of the material ahead of time)
- Compare and update descriptions across finding aid databases and ILS catalog records
- Copy-catalog printed materials
- Data clean up finding aids, catalog records, and database descriptions
- Examples: spell check, reordering archival components, populating repeated fields, building templates, etc.
- Import/encode legacy finding aids
- Create/edit metadata
- Explore ways to share your collections in aggregators/linked data such as WorldCat, ArchiveGrid, SNAC, etc., if they aren’t already
- SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context) is all-remote, and offers a free, all-remote training program. Contact Jerry Simmons at NARA for more details.
- use OpenRefine for batch reconciliation and editing
- Explore digital humanities projects
- learn how to use DH tools
- What datasets could be derived from your collections?
- The RBMS TPS Community is crowdsourcing approaches to online instruction
- Answer reference requests (if possible to access collections and/or surrogates with some dependability.)
- Archives Hashtag Party!
- Create FAQs or “Ready Reference” answers for questions you get frequently
- Creating/updating LibGuides/research guides
- Social media outreach - engaging with users online
- Draft, schedule, and write blog posts
- Video tutorials
- Reach out to local teachers who may have students working on National History Day projects, that can be done remotely, or partially remotely
- Communicate to other divisions/departments about what the archives is doing to see if you can support their work (for instruction, student workers who may need hours, etc.)
- Contribute to History Hub, a crowdsourced history research community sponsored by the U.S. National Archives. Free and open to anyone. Partnership inquiries welcome.
Student workers (see also “Additional comments on Student Workers” for advocacy ideas)
- write/edit metadata
- spell check finding aids, etc.
- Transcribe digitized material (other organizational staff might be able to help with this, if they need remote tasks, as well)
- Transcribe/convert paper based legacy finding aids
- Metadata cleanup in ArchivesSpace or other Web based repositories
- inventory your digital content and fix description errors/enhance metadata
- Work on assignments that connect archival collections or workflows to their coursework
- Consider writing an essay/blog post for a newsletter, journal, or your institution
- Keep in touch with your volunteers, who may be at the highest risk for COVID-19
- Arrange for periodic check ins
- Take the work of managing volunteers seriously as part of our community responsibility
- Arrange transcription, research, or other projects at your institution or others (see Crowdsourcing Projects section)
- Transcribe/translate digitized handwritten documents (diaries, correspondence, etc.) See the list of Crowdsourcing Projects below as examples.
- Caption/create transcripts for videos and oral histories
- Web archiving using either the Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/ | free but can't control the files) or Webrecorder (https://webrecorder.io/ | free up to a storage limit, and can download files)
- Web-site maintenance and clean-up (if that’s part of your gig)
- Make sure there’s alt-text for all images
- Do an accessibility audit on your website and databases using WAVE and other accessibility checkers
- Check for dead links and other out-of-date information
- Self-care. We are going through unprecedented times. It is scary. Imagine how even more scary it is for someone who is immunocompromised. Acknowledge your emotions and give yourself and others more patience and compassion.
- Set boundaries of work and life when you’re at home. You aren’t on-call 24-7 (unless it’s in your job description!). You need work time, family/friends time, and You time. Defend each category! See also Galadriel Chilton’s “Notes on Working From Home”
- Think about the job you’d want X years from now. Schedule time each week to
work towards that job
- Some people might be relieved to work from home due to negative workplace dynamics. Think about how your team communicates and works together. Could there be ways to reset to more healthier and empowered relationships?
- Engage your professional community
- SAA, and other international/national/regional professional organizations
- Schedule a remote lunch or coffee talk with colleagues via phone or video to talk about things besides work
- Write thank you notes
- Email maintenance (responding to older emails, weeding, organizing messages)
- Professional writing (blogs, articles, books, etc.)
- Write and edit presentations
- Grant writing, revising, or research (either for yourself, to fund your institution/department, or otherwise)
- If you are an Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA) member, work on your ACA recertification worksheet
- If you are academic faculty eligible for tenure, work on your tenure dossier
- Work on your annual performance evaluation, review your professional annual goals
- Complete applications for professional support and funding (for summer and fall) conferences
- Make your own website/build up your professional dossier on platforms such as
- Catch up on reading professional literature
- Join a mentoring program!
- Pursue your research agenda
- Investigate archival projects and documentation in GitHub
- Learn new skills! (API, python, etc. See the Continuing Education section)
- Webinars and other professional development
- Identify opportunities for partnership/collaboration in your geographic or subject area, outreach via email (or planning for future outreach)
- Familiarize yourself with other repositories in your geographic or subject area through resources available online
Additional comments on student employees
We are considering giving student employees the option to work remotely by designing posters and educational handouts/activities that could be used in the future. Other projects would also require students to have computer/internet access to either enter metadata, or write text for exhibit labels - ongoing projects they can maybe do without the collections if they have enough background work completed. As of this moment, our student employees are allowed on campus if they need to work (financial reasons or otherwise) - they just need to fill out a form requesting permission from university administration to return. But that could change any day now.
-Christy Fic, Shippensburg University (email@example.com)
If your student employees produce social media content and they can access what they need online (Box, Google docs, something like that you can add to) they could work on their social media posts. -- Rachel Seale, Iowa State University (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)
For those of us in smaller institutions (who maybe don’t have as much online content for students to be able to access/review/edit), do we have leeway to get creative? If I run out of projects, I’m considering allowing students to participate in large-scale crowdsourcing transcription projects for other institutions as “on-the-clock” time. I’m thinking specifically of the Smithsonian program, but there are others. They would still be building important skill sets, but with a focus on contributing to the larger profession, as opposed to only my own institution. As my mother-in-law would say, just a thought. -- Liz Cisar, Augustana University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Student pay is a small part of some libraries’ budgets, and for us it’s been budgeted through July 1. Consider just paying them and giving them that time amidst the chaos to do what they need to do/get away from their computers! Public schools may not be able to do this as freely as private ones, but this is a great gift in a difficult time. --Stephanie Bennett (email@example.com)[c]
Students on Federal Work Study assignments may qualify to receive their payments even if they do not work the full number of hours. Colleges and universities have the option to issue them checks in the full amount through the end of the academic year. See studentaid.gov for more info. (Our university chose to do this.) --Heather Perez, Stockton University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Additional Tips and Resources
- ACRL Presents. Association of College & Research Libraries. Free webinars.
- ArchivesSpace webinars
- ARCUS Leadership Academy. For the next 5 months, Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC, the SRI Foundation, and American Express are underwriting the full cost (usually $2,500) of access to all 25 ARCUS short-courses. ARCUS courses cover a broad array of leadership topics, including community outreach, public speaking, financial management, fundraising, team building, advocacy, and many more. Use code SAArchives20 for free access[d].
- The Carpentries: free online curricula for research data (Data Carpentry), research computing (Software Carpentry), and data/software skills for library work (Library Carpentry)
- Codecademy: learn to code for free
- Connecting to Collections: free webinars on collections care
- Conservation: Together at home free webinars by the Icon Book and Paper Group
- Coursera/edX: free courses in research data management, project management, time management, business writing, etc.
- DHPSNY: free recorded webinars on collections care (geared towards NY State, but free to all)
- Digital A11y: Digital Accessibility Courses Roundup: A list of digital accessibility courses, many of which are free
- Digital Skills for the Workplace: 15 free courses to enhance your workplace skills
- DiRT Directory (Digital Research Tools Directory): list of digital humanities tools organized by category. Very useful starting point!
- Education Series, Iron Mountain. Free webinars, mostly about records management.
- Free Code Camp: learn to code for free
- Image Permanence Institute webinars
- IMLS/CDC webinar recording: Mitigating COVID-19 When Managing Paper-Based, Circulating, and Other Types of Collections
- Khan Academy: learn to code (and many other things) for free
- Map Warper: a georectifier for juxtaposing historic maps onto Google Earth, etc.
- NEDCC on-demand webinars on collections care topics, digital preservation, grants & fundraising (follow link and scroll down for the free ones)
- Open Refine: tool to clean up messy data
- The Programming Historian: “novice-friendly, peer-reviewed tutorials that help humanists learn a wide range of digital tools, techniques, and workflows to facilitate research and teaching” (+1 vote)
- SAA’s Free Publications list
- San Jose State University iSchool: free Archives, Records Management, and Library Science webinars
- TaPOR3: digital text analysis/visualization tools (see especially the curated tools lists on the homepage for good starting points)
- Voyant Tools: digital text analysis tool
- Create/update Wikipedia pages with relevant information from your institution’s records, especially in the Resources section of a Wiki page (Wikipedia gets picky about original research, so adding links to finding aids/digital collections in the Resources section is a good bet)
- Includes humanities and science projects, 448 projects from across US government agencies
- FromThePage hosts crowdsourced indexing and transcription projects
- Library of Congress crowdsourcing projects. Their transcription projects do not require you to register an account, but the tagging and reviewing projects do require you register an account.
- NARA’s Citizen Archivist program. Requires you to register for an account before beginning work on a project.
- History Hub (crowdsourced reference, open to anyone. Other archives, libraries, museums, and institutions welcome as partners). Register for an account to ask or answer questions. Email email@example.com for partnership inquiries.
Archival Programs and Products
- Collection/metadata management programs
- ArchivesSpace - Lyrasis-owned open source but with a membership fee in order to access the user manual
- Object Management Systems
- Digital asset management system
Remote work tools
- AnyDesk: for connecting to a work computer remotely
- Google Hangouts/Meet: free google account allows for meetings of up to 10 people (25 for G Suite accounts)
- Microsoft Teams: free chat and collaboration capabilities. Tiered paid services.
- Skype: a free video conferencing platform
- Slack: a messaging platform that also supports 1:1 video and audio calls
- WebEx: a free personal account allows for unlimited meets of any size
- Zoom: a free personal account allows for unlimited 1-on-1 meetings and a 40 minute cap on group meetings. Some employers have institutional accounts for work-related meetings that have more extensive services.
Fight back from COVID-19
Let’s fight back against COVID-19! A possible narrative could be that COVID-19 caused a global shutdown, the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, and possibly the worst recession since the Great Depression. In the archives world, it has caused the temporary shutting down of many archives, and may also cause permanent closure to some and job layoffs. How can we combat this narrative? If we look in hindsight at COVID-19, what will we have done and what did we learn?
In the face of COVID-19, we:
- By creating an Archival Workers Emergency Fund
- By lobbying for archives to temporarily close for researcher and staff safety #CLOSETHELIBRARIES
- Argued for the benefit of archives for institutional memory, community memory and beneficial tools, standards, and skill sets
- Archives are more than physical records and buildings
- Archival labor doesn’t have to be in an office
- Learned that technology can open doors
- While things are different, we can also reach audiences that we couldn’t before.
- Crowdsourcing transcription of our digital collections:
- Enabled people who use screen readers to access historical documents
- Enabled keyword searching, text analysis, and other digital scholarship
- Enabled people stuck at home to engage with the historical record and unite for a shared goal
- Meetings, job interviews, instruction sessions, and conferences can be by videoconferencing. This has been a barrier for people with disabilities and now the path is paved to continue to be more flexible.
- If COVID-19 forces us to secure-in-place for weeks turning into months, how do we “take up space” and make a presence in this new “normal”? How can we leverage our collections and our expertise to enrich and support people during this time? How can we meet people’s need for:
- Color your collections
- Trivia, puzzles
- Scavenger/Treasure hunt through online content
- (a well trod path with always room for more, particularly of previously underrepresented narratives)
- Draw popular attention to archivists, archival labor, and archives. Being an archivist can be intriguing to others. Use this opportunity to share what we do, what we think about, and what we care about!
- crowdsourcing options
- community memory and collections
- efforts to support displaced archival workers
- Highlight that collections and memories will demonstrate societal adaptability and success, not just the losses
- Solace: remind people of their histories, and that history is currently being made. Encourage community archives and personal archiving
Thank you for reading this and a huge THANK YOU to contributors Peter Agelasto, Dara Baker, Jessi Bennett, Stephanie Bennett, Alexandra Bisio, Anne Britton, Jessica Chapel, Liz Cisar, Sarah Coates, Darren Cole, Julia Corrin, Raquel Donahue, Steve Duckworth, Lev Earle, Christy Fic, Liz Francis, Michelle Ganz, Samantha Levin, Andy Mabbett, Bridget Malley, Rachel Mattson, Alix Norton, Margot Note, Kelly Osborn, David Owings, Jenn Parent, Heather Perez, Keli Rylance, Rana Salzmann, Debra Schiff, Rachel Seale, Jerry Simmons, Hannah Sistrunk, Jenny Swadosh, Lydia Tang, Olga Virakhovskaya, David Owings, and others!
For any questions or comments, please contact the SAA Accessibility & Disability Section at firstname.lastname@example.org
[a]Question: are there ideas in the works to collect the experiences of those who cannot document (too busy, no tools) and for those who are not writers, are not digital content creators, are not home? COVID/pandemic collecting plans should look into the future as well as the current events.
[b]Do you have ideas? :) I wonder if there needs to be an organized push with Storycorps perhaps to have frontline workers record their experiences?
[d]Sadly, this code has expired.