Tag Archives: Archives–Management

So yeah I’ve been re-reading my Capital, and that means first of all expect a lot more twittering and snickering about Bubbee Marx’ funniness, which is too little discussed, but also we come to this:

Moreover, only so much of the time spent in the production of any article is counted, as, under the given social conditions, is necessary. The consequences of this are various. In the first place, it becomes necessary that the labour should be carried on under normal conditions. If a self-acting mule is the implement in general use for spinning, it would be absurd to supply the spinner with a distaff and spinning wheel. The cotton too must not be such rubbish as to cause extra waste in being worked, but must be of suitable quality. Otherwise the spinner would be found to spend more time in producing a pound of yarn than is socially necessary, in which case the excess of time would create neither value nor money.

That’s chapter 7, page 52 in the 1906 edition, and this is a link to the lol Library of Economics and Liberty so we can all follow along. Whether Marx himself subscribes to the bourgeois cult of efficiency, let those who would speak as learnèd men speak, but we can all agree that to produce use-value to say nothing of surplus-value, you have to have tools of replacement-level efficiency. Agreed? Agreed. Which is why our man throws some excellent, if prima facie silly, shade at slavery in footnote 17:

Hence the principle, universally applied in this method of production, only to employ the rudest and heaviest implements and such as are difficult to damage owing to their sheer clumsiness. In the slave-states bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, down to the date of the civil war, ploughs constructed on old Chinese models, which turned up the soil like a hog or a mole, instead of making furrows, were alone to be found.

Can this be true? Discuss among yourselves. There are bigger fish here. Slaves have no incentive to not break tools, nor to treat animals decently, I mean clearly this is nonsense, slaves worked in the home, they cared for children, never mind go on, here’s Marx quoting Messr. Olmstead:

And I am assured that, in the careless and clumsy way they must be used by the slaves, anything lighter or less rude could not be furnished them with good economy, and that such tools as we constantly give our labourers and find our profit in giving them, would not last out a day in a Virginia cornfield—much lighter and more free from stones though it be than ours.

We will pause briefly to consider the Virginia “cornfield,” which by the 19th century was most assuredly not a thing. Two and a half hundred years of slavery had made into a deal the following things: cotton (a lil), peanuts, pigs (fed on peanuts), and tobacco (the biggest of big deals). This is like when that NYT plagiarist dude wrote about the tobacco fields of Palestine, West Virginia. NEVER MIND ON WE PLOUGH WITH OUR ROUGH-HEWN IMPLEMENTS:

So, too, when I ask why mules are so universally substituted for horses on the farm, the first reason given, and confessedly the most conclusive one, is that horses cannot bear the treatment that they always must get from the negroes; horses are always soon foundered or crippled by them, while mules will bear cudgelling, or lose a meal or two now and then, and not be materially injured, and they do not take cold or get sick, if neglected or overworked.

Marx is clearly aware of the internal rhyme of the spinner’s mule and the slaver’s mule. One is a technological innovation which permits two minders to manage like 1300 spindles, replacing (optimistically, with the neoliberal gloss of Marx, “liberating”) the labor of, say, 1300 Penelopes. The other is the rump end of feudalism, strong enough to survive all abuse, creeping slowly across the broken earth. A tool that hangs around for no reason really than that it’s around, it hasn’t been turned into a non-tool, and crucially, that it limits the ingenuity of its user, the worker.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down, Dear Reader? Are you ready to see how this passage of world-historical significance applies to the little-shits-given-about sphere of archivists and their descriptions and the managements thereof?

Behold, APPM (1989) on descriptions of “non-textual” materials, from Rule 1.1B4, footnote 4:

4. For cataloging individual nontextual archival items, see the appropriate alternate rules noted above.

oh man which refers to 1.0B1 footnote 2:

2. For book-like manuscripts (e.g., literary manuscripts and codices) and other manuscript material for which a more bibliographically oriented description may be desirable, see chapter 4 of AACR 2 and Bibliographic Description of Rare Books (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1981); for photographs and other graphic material, see chapter 8 of AACR 2 and Elisabeth Betz, Graphic Materials: Rules for Describing Original Items and Historical Collections (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1982); for motion pictures and videorecordings, see chapter 7 of AACR 2 and Wendy White-Hensen. Archival Moving Image Materials: A Cataloging Manual (Washington, D.C. [1984]); for maps and cartographic material, see chapter 3 of AACR 2 and Cartographic Materials: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR 2 (Chicago: American Library Association, 1982); for machine-readable and computer files, see chapter 9 of AACR 2, Sue A. Dodd, Cataloging Machine-Readable Data Files (Chicago: American Library Association, 1982), and Sue A. Dodd and Ann M. Sandberg-Fox, Cataloging Microcomputer Files: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR 2 (Chicago: American Library Association, 1985).

I submit that this is basically Steven Hensen taking whatever was at hand and hitching archivists to it. Why give archivists a thoroughbred when we’ve got all these different mules already under harness? No doubt this impulse came from a desire to maximize efficiency, and to promote cooperation across systems — if the universe is AACR2 in USMARC then bah gawd you know, we operate under conditions not of our own devising.

Ahh but it still just sucks. Some of the rules just suck. And maybe you don’t live with a lot of legacy APPM in your shop but it just fucking sucks. Every single goddam title is “Papers, 1701-1789 [bulk 1776-1789]” and we can have another sidebar about the idiocy of my personal beef with bulk dating, and if you want to automate that shit, like say, take 100 or 110 and copy paste into 245$a and find-replace capital “Papers” for “papers” and capital “Records” for “records” and pray that you can identify where your dates are and get them out of $a and into $f and oh godDAMNIT 245$g, then you will still have gobbledegook like “Reagan, Ronald, 1910- [Jelly beans and miscellany], [1950s-present]” and you will have to rewrite this by going and looking at the original stuff all over again, which begs the question, why in the everlasting fuck did the NEH pay for the creation of APPM? You mean to say we were somehow doing things WORSE BEFORE THIS WAS A THING?

I am of a conspiratorial bent about APPM. I think that people with a very strong catalogers’ streak, and (to absolve them of some of these crimes) people subject to early data-frugality — “Cnnt prt this many chars to s/l cd. Use abbvs.” — found a discipline which needed flexibility and creativity in description — my favorite is when I get to describe a collection created by a person about another person: Homer J. Simpson Starshipiana, 1974-1991. 520$aCollection consists of Homer Simpson’s Jefferson Starship memorabilia — and sold it on a phantom of interoperability instead. I think we got sold on APPM because of professional insecurity, a perception of diminished status, subalternity whatever. Elsewhere, Hensen laments that there’s no ISBD for archives. THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT. ISBD exists to make sure that you and I are not trying to sell copies of each other’s books, by accident, or for profit via piracy. It is a disciplinary regime. There could never be, can not be, and will never be an ISBD for archives because, dog, you don’t sell those shits. The only reason to lament that there isn’t an international standard for punctuation — PUNCTUATION DAWG — in a description of an archives-thing, therefore, is that the international standard assigns its own legitimacy. IF ONLY WE HAD THE BAR EXAM PPL WOULD RESPECT US MOR. And this was a kind of insanity that infected the minds of thousands of archivists working in the 1980s and 1990s, the people who ask in meetings convened about metadata — FUCK END MY LIFE NOW FOR REAL — “Can you do that though?”

Goddamn, fortunately for us living in the present, there are skilled people in SAA’s description section, and skilled people working with Teh Softwares, who are designing delicate, sturdy tools meant to be used by people with ingenuity and brilliance. Tools meant to transform the workplace from an abyss of tedium into a canvas of delights. ALL IS PERMITTED. To paraphrase my grandfather, if your description can’t be good, it can be careful; and if your description can’t be careful, it should be sanitary.

I’m really not being sarcastic — or comprehensible — here. But I don’t meant to shitbag Hensen. Hensen was — I dunno, arguably? I was like 10 years old lol — responding to a crying need from the profession for stability and guidance, doing the yeoman’s work of turning a billion isolated fiefs of description into a polity, and so APPM reached for the iron shirt of AACR2, without considering leather, or worsted. Something homespun, even.


Four months into the Archivists’ Year seems like enough time to have gathered thoughts about Kathleen Roe’s SAA keynote.

I mean, there’s nothing objectionable here, but since we’ve now spent a third of the year talking to each other and reading and writing about “advocacy” we should maybe clarify what we mean by that. At virtually every level  — from individual archivists’ conversations, to the Issues and Advocacy Committee — “advocacy” is some amalgamation of: speaking up for archivists’ jobs and funding priorities; speaking up for our collections and repositories as stuff; speaking out on issues close to archival practice — jurisprudence, privacy, copyright, usw; and speaking out on issues of social justice regardless of how related to archives these may seem at first.

I can talk about the easiest part first: as human beings, archivists cannot but find ways to bend our work over the long arc of justice. End of sentence. Depending on where you work, though, this might make those funding conversations a little more difficult than they were last year, before you did that giant exhibit about how your board chair’s father invented Agent Orange. So asking archivists (some of whom might not be thus inclined in the first place) to both get out in front on Ferguson or Occupy and get money from Donald Sterling or Donald Trump is you know like sort of Type A. (As an aside, and this deserves and will get much more than an aside here, later, but archives are — with the right argument I can be talked down to a “may be” — structurally governmental; gouvernmentalité is kind of our schtick. There’s something off about acting within them as if they/we are plucky underdogs battling oppression WE CONSTITUTE TECHNIQUES OF DOMINATION FOLKS.)

Speaking out on issues close to our practice, on the model of how het up ALA gets about censorship, trying to find the archives’ equivalent for Banned Books Week, is you know a little fraught. Christine George thinks that archivists’ privilege is something all archivists need to get on board with, and I don’t. Lukewarm SAA action on Belfast is a reflection of the diverse polity of archivists. Pick your issue wisely, folks. Because I at least am totally okay with starting SAA splinter factions. The Real SAA, the Provisional SAA, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Archives (Marxist-Leninist), the world’s our oyster.

So it might seem like speaking up for our collections as stuff is the easy one. I mean, dig deep into your soul: You would not be in this discipline if you didn’t really really like rooting through old boxes, or I dunno, sorting people’s email, or crossing your fingers while an aluminum dubplate goes under the needle to be transferred, or finding out how to get “FILE 0 3$ .qzl” converted to PDF AND THEN CONVERTING THE SHIT OUT OF THAT BAD BOY, admit it, you like the stuff. I have a love-hate relationship with the stuff, and you do too, but as long as there’s some love there, we can speak. Or our education and outreach departments can. What’s that you say? Your archives doesn’t have a dedicated education staff? You mean there’s no one certified as a K-12 educator and background-checked and cleared to enter classrooms? You mean your building isn’t designed, nor more importantly insured to cover visits by 40 schoolchildren? Fuck me you don’t say. Also you say you’re already blowing up peoples’ spot with social media, public exhibits, guest speakers, hayrides, ghost tours? And you’ve been doing that since time immemorial and it hasn’t stabilized your funding streams? Hunh. /scratches head/ Well NARA has sleepovers, why can’t we?

INDEED they do have sleepovers. How does NARA have sleepovers? NARA has sleepovers — which, man, these are cool, even if we’re ripping off museums, and even if the thing about museums that we’re ripping off is empirically bad, that thing being the commodification of the experience of pleasure, the transformation of just visiting and wandering into “appointment viewing,” whatever I would take my man to an archives sleepover if NARA had a nice building downtown instead of a warehouse in the sticks and had SOLD THE NICE BUILDING DOWNTOWN BECAUSE AUSTERITY hold on we’re getting there, wait for it — ahem. NARA has sleepovers because it has the Foundation for the National Archives, which was organized in 2010 to do education and outreach and to for example run a store, now brought to you by Ancestry Dot Com, originally called The National Archives Experience which makes some of you think Mitch Mitchell will be drumming in the back of it, but he won’t be, he’s dead. FNARA exceeded its capital campaign goal of $23.6 million to build the National Archives Museum, where they host galas, give awards to Steven Spielberg, get Ken Burns into our lives when we’d prefer his more talented brother Ric (that is my Burns Brothers Hot Taek).

Which is all laudable. Even if your major corporate donors include Boeing, the Carlyle Group, and Exxon. Fine. Money has to come from somewhere, all piles of money are compromised, every act of capital accumulation embodies an act of violence, yes. I don’t think we’ll be seeing anything about Vietnam in the National Archives Museum any time soon though, do you? We have seen stuff on Iraq — no, not about how we looted Iraqi documents and shipped them to the Hoover Institute — but about the noble rescue of treasures of Iraqi Jewry. And it is noble, and I’m really not discounting it, I mean it totally makes conservators tumesce, but that trove’s recovery for one thing has the surgical character of a hostage rescue on TV, and throws into sharp relief what we did and said about, um, Mesopotamian artifacts. Glad we could get Chabad Lubavitch to chip in. Perhaps next we can help rescue some documents from Hebron.

NO this is all fine, it’s the way the world works. The thing that really gets me about FNARA and Kathleen’s Year is that they are how liberals are conditioned to react to the ideology of austerity. We on your left facepalm and headdesk every time we see this happen, from charter schools, to privatizing public utilities, to bidding out contracts for snow removal and turnpike maintenance, and so on. FNARA allows NARA to pull education off of its books. That’s $5.5 million every year that the federal government doesn’t have to spend, because it’s got David Rubenstein’s money instead. In the CROmnibus for 2015, NARA’s operating expenses appropriation shrank from $370 to $365 million. Let’s look at appropriations since the sequester:

2015 ask: $360
2015 get: $365

2014 ask: $370
2014 get: $370

2013 ask: $372
2013 re-ask: $355
2013 get: $353

The transformation of the National Archives that David Ferriero keeps telling House Appropriations about looks like this. Take on debt to construct new, tourist-friendly job sites. Shutter old job sites and downsize old archivists. Defend your profession with education and outreach, which is paid for by corporate sponsors, some of whom need some reputation-laundering. You’ll notice that NARA’s budgets start with how much money they’ve saved, and FNARA’s annual reports start with how many awesome things they’ve done. What scares me about Kathleen’s Year is that its masterpiece is already up on the wall, a shrinking NARA and a growing FNARA is what it looks like.

The context of federal “austerity” renders the Year‘s exhortations obscene. Education and outreach is not unequivocally good. In my nightmare scenario, it is the tip of the knife, where private funding with designated goals replaces systematic public funding. Wedging neoliberal dogma into our practice will not protect and preserve anyone’s cultural patrimony, nor will it succor the widow, nor clothe the naked, nor free the prisoner. This is not how you become a revolutionary vanguard, nor, more mundanely, is it how you grow the profession. For the former, typically, you need a party. And for the latter, if you want that, well, you don’t need SAA. You need a union.

Dictaphone transcribresses, 1920s, via NARA ARC#1633507

Dictaphone transcribresses, 1920s, via NARA ARC#1633507

The labor theory of value came in for a hiding in the Times at the hands of @michaelrstain of the American Enterprise Institute the other day a long time ago now, and it was pretty funny and some of us laughed at all the morans out there because for real my son has a better grasp of industrial capitalism from reading Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel than this dude has from umpty-ump years reading and writing polemics on behalf of the Wool Council or whatever.

Maybe go read the NYT Room for Debate on Marx, maybe not. The left is outnumbered 4-to-1. The fellah from Berkeley who talks about the grim future in which all workers do IT piecework, harnessed to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk nevertheless gets a weird hed about Marx discounting Capital’s ability to innovate, or something.

Maybe go read Mike Mulligan instead. You can borrow my copy. In it, a plucky lady steam shovel and her man, Mike, are forced out of work by the advent of new kinds of shovels. However, they find a tiny rural enclave where their services are still valued — even an antiquated steam shovel still digs “as much in a day as a hundred men can dig in a week” — and they dig the cellar of the new town hall. Cheered on by the townsfolk, they dig so hard and so fast that they forget to dig a ramp out. The cellar is effectively their grave. The townsfolk then decide to convert Mary Anne into a furnace, and to employ Mike Mulligan as the town hall’s janitor, where they live forever after. This is a deeply sad story and I read it to my son all the time.

Now, also this happened:

On the one hand, the managerial layer of archives believes that implementing technological solutions — just forgive me for using all three of those words in sequence, it’s horrid — does what Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne did to hand-digging, and what the new Diesel motor shovels do to Mike and Mary Anne. Managerialists believe that once a proper implementation is in place — once we’re all shoveling with Diesel, or once we have one six-year-old running a whole floor full of looms, or whathaveyou — labor’s contribution to value approaches zero, even if it never really hits it, and Marx is refuted. Why, look at the gains in efficiency created by using a word processor instead of a typewriter: in 1985 the University of Idaho dropped their per-foot processing time to 25 hours (PDF, SAA members) I mean dropped from what they don’t say or can’t know, but the machine made life easier.

On the other hand, each implementation tethers a kind of worker to it. Dictaphone recordings endeavored to make stenographers obsolete; portable recordings could be transferred to text in massive type-banks, where transcribresses like those pictured above would convert audio to text. It seems likely to me — and here I’m just parroting the ideology of the day, incorporating the language of the oppressor into my own speech, usw, and I don’t care — that Dictaphone’s economies of scale allowed it to sell dictation-as-a-service to subscribers for far less than the cost of hiring individual stenographers, typists, and secretaries. And the scale of the operation and Dictaphone’s ability to use workers who were not trained stenographers or secretaries — though they had to be awrsome typpists — surely reduced labor’s share of the value added to the product, namely, meeting minutes and suchlike.

But where the cost of error was serious, like in the judicial system — man, again, I’m just making this up, so apply grains of salt dear reader — the stenographer stayed tethered to her tools — shorthand, and later those funky steno-keyboards — while the whole new layer of technological efficiency tethered the transcribress to her tools — Dictaphone, headphones, typewriter. The labor applied to create value doesn’t disappear, rather it’s condensed or bundled such that the wages paid for it can be shorted. It’s not that the labor theory of value is wrong on its face, it’s that the managerial class can and largely has arbitraged it into apparent obsolescence.

Same deal with the AEI guy’s dumb example — Bruce Springsteen can write a song in fifteen minutes that’s better than the song I would take 15 years to write: well, of course, but that only makes sense if you don’t count Clarence’s work, and Max’s work, and the lifetime of work of the whole E Street Band, and the lifetime of thinking about songs that preceded that one “15-minute” spark of genius — and the same deal with Brad’s piecework EAD cleanup. Productivity gains only exist when you refuse — out of motives that are basically ideological– to account for labor’s value, when you dissolve everything solid into air.

Let us uncouple “technological” from “revolution”. The University of Idaho should be able to minimally process its archival holdings at a pace of I dunno six or eight hours per cubic foot instead of their 1985 pace of 25 hours per foot because we think about processing differently, because our ideas have changed, because the disciplinary regimes we create have changed, not necessarily because the tools have transformed us. And so long as we have some control over how we think about our tools we can avoid digging so fast and so hard with them that we forget to dig a way back out.


What with the gentle hearts in Chicago blogging and tweeting about the great concern the constituency of archivists has for its employment status, this blog is going to back off of its other reading, and deal with this.

President Bell’s post contributes to a kind of misdirection. The fundamental employment problem in archives is the exact same one faced across the economy as a whole: slack demand, private sector hoarding cash, government rolling back its baby-Keynesian interventions. Students of everything, not just archives students with our patchwork of degrees, can’t find full-time professional employment. Students of not-much-of-anything can’t find employment period. The problem is systemic. Archivists, welcome to the party.

So it’s fascinating to see the head of a professional organization for archivists post that an appropriate response to the employment problem might be to accept fewer people as professionals. Even if it were true that we had a glut of the kind that say the American Bar Association has, wouldn’t that automatically shrink the pool of dues-paying SAA members? Which is something as president you’d like to grow, right?

And true or not good or evil, Bell’s still dressing the employment problem up in the ancient drag of the certification/professionalism/accreditation/why-don’t-we-have-a-bar-exam problem, which is tried and true territory. See Hugh A. Taylor in 1977, [all of these links are open to SAA members, sorry] admitting that chemists and biologists and all kinds of folks made good archivists and then arguing for an Academy of Archival Science to accredit and imbue these folks with the rhetorical bodies and modes of History. Here’s Peace and Chudakoff in 1979 saying that SAA’s professional standards divorce archivists from their natural friends in libraries. Oh wait, here’s Jacqueline Goggin’s complete history of the professionalization question (1984), which I will have to stop this post to go read. Let’s leave it at this: there’s a strain of writing-about-archives, para-archival writing maybe, which subsists entirely on reducing the questions Who are archivists? and What is their knowledge? to Who authenticates, attests to, certifies archivists’ knowledge? And that’s a REAL GODDAMN SILLY THING TO DO.

Let’s instead address the question of employment from the demand side. Just yesterday a leaking gas main exploded two buildings in Harlem. No one has seriously addressed the state of America’s bridges since the I-35W collapse in Minneapolis. There is a century’s-worth of paper records sitting in archives still unprocessed 15-odd years after the ARL survey that said this was maybe a thing. Archives are the infrastructure of history politics culture goddamn every field of research that isn’t based on experimentation and a lot of the stuff that is or can be, so let’s treat them like critical knowledge infrastructure and agitate for them like the essential works they are instead of managing their decline and throwing up barriers to entry in some wanna-be-infanticidal fury or impotent managerial cliquishness. You already know the answer to the question.

Of course they fucking do.

"Digitization projects" in Google Images, 2014.

“Digitization projects” in Google Images, 2014.

I have heard board members of my archives say “Why can’t you just digitize all this and get it online and let people do their own research?” and before lifting my own brain out of its very casing and gnashing it in my jaws only to disgorge the bolus of stewy brainflesh onto said board member’s horrified face, that is BEFORE DOING WHAT IS THE ONLY REASONABLE RESPONSE TO SUCH MADNESS I think about the ways to address people who think computers are magic, and there’s lots of them, the ways I mean although there are also lots of people sufficiently baffled by their own phones to presume that physical laws SHIT LIKE TIME AND SPACE don’t apply to digitization projects, lots of ways to address these people like: The digital archives doesn’t run itself, its public face and its dark storage have hardware and software and intellectual infrastructure; Oh, the Cloud is something we rent from Amazon and give away to the NSA; Stuff you post online doesn’t need description and classification and contextualization because it really doesn’t matter, stuff we do does because it matters; I know you think this is a Knowledge Management™ problem to be handled by a corporate IT department, but you will find that model fails the humanities majorly, where content needs foragers, guides and interpreters, that is, archivists; Also — and this has seriously been bruited in my general direction — you can’t digitize archival material in order to shred the paper and no longer have an archives of things because remember microfilm in the 1920s and how it would lead to a paperless office and then we shredded or burned miles and miles of paper and then discovered that leaving acetate in tightly-sealed metal cans is bad and we basically lost everything yeah that’s not happening again WHY IS YOUR DEATH DRIVE SO STRONG; Or, an easier way of saying this is researchers surprisingly frequently want to see the real thing, and whatever its virtues as a class of being, “the digitized” is not the “the real,” and for most of us the world is not perfectly simulacral. No, I don’t say any of those things. I just say, You don’t have the money or the patience to do that.

Now comes the New York Philharmonic with a big awesome program reviewed in the Times with the same OUT OF THE DUSTY-MUSTY INTO YOUR IPAD tics and tropes we’re used to but which, read carefully, helps me out immensely, viz.:

The Levy Foundation’s first grant of $2.6 million in 2007 put 1.3 million images/pages up by 2011. The new grant of $2.4 million intends to put up an additional 1.7 million images/pages, to cover the whole archival holdings of @nyphil through 1970. A timeline isn’t mentioned but let’s just figure that doing 125% of the last project’s work for 90% of the funding takes the same amount of time — we get better at this stuff over time, after all, I’ll happily grant that, I mean I’m a Marxist, not a jagoff — and the archivists get 3 million images/pages up by this time in 2017. Figure that’s 6000 images/pages per cubic foot, so 500 cubic feet. That’s $5 million, over ten years, for five hundred cubic feet of text and images. $10,000 per box. You don’t have the money for this.

Let’s also consider although this is really minor and nitpicky and I ALREADY HATE MYSELF FOR BEING THIS WAY WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE that invariably stuff we did a decade ago isn’t the greatest — GIF access images? Stuff in grayscale? At 300 dpi? — and some refreshing might have to be done on the 2007 stuff by the time 2017 rolls around. And let’s not forget LET’S NOT FORGET that this is a well-tempered clavier of collections: small, nutritious, informationally dense, weeded, secure, globally significant, fairly old. Think briefly of all the collections you’ve run across that are unweeded, physically insecure, intellectually uncontrolled: now multiply the per-box cost of the digitization project by every bad attribute those collections have. Good, got a number? Multiply by the size of your holdings because you did say “all this stuff” didn’t you, you smug jagbag. There’s your total figure. Is your archives 1000 cubic feet, and is maybe a quarter of that in need of weeding and feeding? $15 million please. How long will it take you to raise that? How long will you pay for refreshing, post-production, and permanent storage and accessiblity of all this stuff? You don’t have the patience.

Magical thinking is abundant in donor/board/one-percenter circles, and why not I mean suppressing wages by offshoring and making up for the slackening in demand with easy credit is in effect magic and it worked FANTASTICALLY WELL WITH NO PROBLEMZ UNTILL OBAMA, so this whole post is in a sense an exercise in pleonasm THIS WHOLE BLOG IS AN EXERCISE IN PLEONASM BRAH but what scares me is that just as our funders have lost touch with archives’ means of production, in aiming to please our funders we recapitulate their blindness. I have a colleague who’s bringing in a terabyte of images every month from her scanning vendor because that’s what funders want and in the meantime begging for a regional digital archives to get up and running so that she can get cheap near-line storage. We’ve ceded control of the means of archival production and are in effect intermediaries between imaging vendors and money men. Which means maybe we reconsider what the product of an archives is with a little more specificity than usual so that we can talk about structures and functions and how we can get a hold of them.

First control of the self, then control of the collections. via NARA, ARC #558218

First control of the self, then control of the collections. via NARA, ARC #558218

There’s kind of nothing as terrifying as associative labor. I think it’s fairly clear that we’ve adopted most of Fourier’s prescriptions for the workplace and, far from emancipating the worker, only solidified the managerialists’ grasp on us inputs:

1. That every laborer be a partner, remunerated by dividends and not by wages. The to-each-according-to-his-ability crowd loves employee ownership, defined-contribution benefits, management retreats / coaching / mentoring, etc.

2. That every one, man, woman, or child, be remunerated in proportion to the three faculties, capital, labor, and talent.
Ditto. Pay for performance for everyone, all the way down to school funding hinging on test results.

3. That the industrial sessions be varied about eight times a day, it being impossible to sustain enthusiasm longer than an hour and a half or two hours in the exercise of agricultural or manufacturing labor. Actually, I think we skipped this one.

4. That they be carried on by bands of friends, united spontaneously, interested and stimulated by very active rivalries. Teams are the great Satan of workplace culture. Teamwork and groupiness are the most pervasive of the neo-Fourierist interventions; opposing teamwork is a priori bad. Who wants to be not-a-team-player? Who wants to be a rogue actor? Dissent minimized, check.

5. That the workshops and husbandry offer the laborer the allurements of elegance and cleanliness. …but not the capacity to actually live for himself in a clean environment. My workplace is cleaner than my house BECAUSE I AM ALWAYS THERE INSTEAD OF HERE. The neighborhood of my workplace is cleaner and more secure than my neighborhood because I am always there and not here.

6. That the division of labor be carried to the last degree, so that each sex and age may devote itself to duties that are suited to it. Because we know in advance what duties we’re suited to, or Fourier knows. I mean, we laugh at the naive rationalism of the 18th century, but any vision of complete and over-arching order applied to human affairs should give us all the heebie-jeebies.

7. That in this distribution, each one, man, woman, or child, be in full enjoyment of the right to labor or the right to engage in such branch of labor as they may please to select, provided they give proof of integrity and ability. Choosing not to choose is of course not an option. Participants only! Also, before we commit you to this unchosen choice, please provide certification from an accredited authority of your integrity and ability.

What is it that archivists — professional, skilled, highly-educated, broadly-speaking well-paid workers — have a stake in? Why are professional workers compelled to identify their work in terms of investment, growth and return on investment? So, to rephrase, what is it that we’re committing ourselves to? Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure continuous self-improvement and rectification of the workflows isn’t it. So what is it that management science offers us, apart from initiation into the cult of self-worship and bodily discipline on capitalism’s behalf which has been with us since wackjob aristocrats started ennobling the industrious wasp and the busy beaver?