A Practical Response to The Archivist (2015)

Sarah Chilton
Senior Research Librarian
BROOKINGS Library
Brookings Institution
SChilton@Brookings.edu

Unlike Nathan Mathers in the short film, The Archivist, I do go home every evening and I don’t see myself in videos I process. I will admit to occasional dreams (or nightmares) about boxes, cloud storage, files, tape cassettes and photos. I do find myself trying to finish one more box or file, but there is so much else to do, I don’t let a collection processing take over my life. As a research librarian at the Brookings Institution and a lone arranger of the Brookings Archives, processing happens in the time around requests for library or archival reference.

The Brookings Archives was established in the early 1980s with grant funding from the National Endowment for Humanities and the Cafritz Foundation. A project archivist was hired to collect and process the records of the Institution, a public policy research organization founded in 1916. A finding aid to the collection was published in 1987. Plans called for a librarian to accession material after the archivist left. I took over that role around 1993. My training consisted of a new MLIS degree with a concentration in reference services and participation in training at the Modern Archives Institute. Since then I’ve received lots of on the job training and I’ve counted on the advice of colleagues including those on the Lone Arranger listserv. The bulk of our 750 box paper collection was moved to and offsite storage facility. With real estate prices around Washington, DC so high, the storage facility changed hands and the collection was move further away from the city four times. I was finally able to bring the collection back to Brookings. I’ve spent the past year reorganizing and rehousing the collection in the building basement. I started scanning paper archival files program 15 years ago. I didn’t have all the answers for a digitization project, but I started with two scanners, (one flatbed and the other with an automatic document feeder) scanning software, and storage on the Institution’s drive. Funding for a content management system and optical character recognition software were deferred for several years. Now, with an OCLC ContentDM management system in place, I’m busy loading digitized paper and born digital documents into our repository. Board of trustees, presidential files and photographs have been the priority so far. Our scanning project continues with help from library assistants. I’m also investigating ways to collect more digital content including email and process some paper files from a retiring president and vice president. I get about 10 questions a month for archival information. The requests range from questions from our Executive Officers about former policies and programs to graduate students from around the world studying past Brookings research projects. In the coming year, I hope to establish digital rights so customers can use our ContentDM database to do their own research. Of course, I will continue to process more content for the archives.

Jackson Place NW, Brookings Sign
Brookings building at 722 Jackson Place in 1932. Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.
BrookingsExterior_20
Brookings building at 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, 2018. Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.