In the last post, I introduced the proof-of-concept checkout system and briefly described the methodology used to create it. In this post, I would like to discuss more thoroughly the first technique: stakeholder interviews.
There are several benefits to be obtained from touching base with relevant parties at the Briscoe, especially those parties that may deal directly with UTVA collections. First, the interviews bring together multiple institutional perspectives. Since we are attempting to create a checkout system that can untether a collection from a single staff member, it behooves us to be proactive about identifying and possibly addressing issues common throughout the archives.
Second, the literature that I read regarding archival reference strongly emphasizes that collection knowledge is a key to providing high quality archival reference service. How can we diffuse collection and institutional knowledge? How to diffuse knowledge about the UTVA for staff not directly involved with accessioning and processing the actual materials? One component of a solution is establishing documentation practices for creating accurate and comprehensive access tools: finding aids, inventory lists, internal navigational guides, etc. To this end, Janice Ruth suggests that archival reference staff be involved in the creation of these tools. These interviews build on and extend this idea to include more people. Since Ms. Meyerson, UTVA interns, and I work with these materials daily, what can we do to make access more accessible?
The legacy hardware in my project present a unique set of challenges. Use of a gaming console for emulation research requires other components (peripherals) to render properly the game. In our circumstances, these peripherals are also collection materials. And, in order to provide an authentic gaming experience for a researcher, we need access to non-collection material, e.g., a TV. Finally, the gaming system’s components have to be gathered and assembled. I cannot remember when I last saw an RF Switch Box before this project.
So what did I do? I interviewed these different stakeholders at the Briscoe: Exhibits, Reference, Pages, and Public Services. And what did we learn?
Access for Briscoe staff has two components. One has to be able to find an object both intellectually via finding aids, inventory lists, etc and physically within the building via shelf lists, navigational maps, etc. When an object’s location changes, there are multiple opportunities for ‘error creep.’ How does documentation get updated? Who is responsible for updating? And when these documents are updated, do all relevant actors have access to them? For example, if hardware from the UTVA is pulled for an exhibit, it essentially goes ‘dark’ for the length of the exhibit. Briscoe staff and potential researchers would need to know that certain items are inaccessible. This example helps to illustrate that the documentation resources are ‘living’ documents and will grow over time. As I previously mentioned in the post “Plastics: Preservation and Conservation”, this again reminds me of PREMIS: hardware as objects, location changes as events, and documentation ‘updaters’ as agents.
At the same time, UTVA documentation may become unwieldy. When pages retrieve boxes, pages often are unaware of their contents. Consoles and related peripherals strongly suggest item level control and description which, in turn, generates more documentation.
And some legacy gaming systems harken back to the 1970s and 1980s. How do we provide technical assistance in the Reading Room should a problem arise? Are some of the materials too resource intensive and thus will not be paged without prior notice? How do we respond appropriately to an unannounced guest requesting UTVA hardware? What does a legitimate researcher request look like? Sound like? Developing the checkout system will also help the Briscoe fine tune UTVA access policies.
Finally, how did we apply our interviews when initially designing the checkout system? We described and cataloged at an item level including delineating the relationships between a console and its associated peripherals. Matt, the previous UTVA intern, created a UTVA Master Hardware Inventory list and there is a 1-to-1 correspondence between an item and its inventory number. This relationship is unbreakable which allows the item’s location to be updated as needed. And we took a lot of digital images…images of hardware, of non-collection materials, systems being assembled, locations within the Briscoe. The respective inventory numbers serve double duty as a naming convention for images, files, documents, and folders for staff members. These resources were placed in locations already in use by Briscoe staff, emblazoned with the title “UTVA Hardware”.
In later posts, I will discuss some additional documentation created to help service UTVA hardware requests.