"Archives 101"

RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage reviews books, reports, new periodicals, databases, websites, blogs, and other electronic resources, as well as exhibition, book, and auction catalogs pertaining directly and indirectly to the fields of rare book librarianship, manuscripts curatorship, archives management, and special collections administration. Publishers, librarians, and archivists are asked to send appropriate publications for review or notice to the Reviews Editor.

Lois Hamill. Archives 101. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021. Hardcover/Paperback/eBook, xiii, 287p. $115.00/$48.00/$45.50. (ISBN: 978-1-5381-3300-2/978-1-5381-3301-9/978-1-5381-3302-6). Reviewed by Courtney Gillie.

Archives 101, by Lois Hamill, is an introductory reference work which takes great care in introducing the layperson to archival practice. Archives 101 is a professional textbook which promises to give the reader “a solidly grounded, practical overview for the most typical duties” (p. ix). The language is clear and specialized vocabulary is bolded or italicized and defined. Hamill does not fall into the trap of using professional jargon without clearly explaining meaning. From the beginning, Hamill holds the hand of the newly created archivist and walks them through professional concepts, collecting, identifying and maintaining a variety of physical and digital objects of interest.

The book is aimed at new professionals, community members who wish to become involved in archival projects, and amateur hobbyists which is clearly displayed throughout the work, such as with the quick references for creating a finding aid or examples of naming files in standard formats. Policies and guidelines for archival use by patrons and protective practices for staff are given throughout the text, and collected examples are available in the appendices, giving Archives 101 a solid position in the reader-archivist’s reference collection. The overview course in copyright, knowing when and where to ask for help, the care and identification details for the various products of photography found in Archives, and the various appendices are helpful to the archivist.

The book’s chapters cover the spectrum from intake and assessment to security and disaster response. The book has 15 chapters beyond the Preface, covering topics like basic definitions, materials collection, photographs, digitization, reference, exhibits, storage, and disaster preparedness. The back matter of the book is extensive enough to use as a work-a-day reference source for new professionals who may have been thrown into collecting for a small or medium cultural organization without several years of archival training. Hamill includes a listing of “Figures, Tables and Textboxes,” for finding aids, descriptions standards, catalog records, specialty format audio and visual materials and electronic file organization. Besides the “Glossary,” “Bibliography,” and “Index,” there are also four appendices titled, “Guides and Policies,” “Sample Forms and Workflows,” “Representative Examples,” and “Vendors,” filled with examples of the various records and ephemera produced and used in Archives, Special Collections, and Historical Societies. Archives 101 differs from other textbooks with the inclusion of representative examples, sample labels, and a proposed fee guide, likely to be valuable for someone coming to Archives without experience in galleries, libraries, archives or museums.

In the “Preface,” Hamill describes Archives 101 as a practical guide for small cultural organizations. However, the text would also serve as a welcoming start to new employees of archives of any size. The text gives specific examples on how to care for records, photographs, audiovisual materials and books. Art and objects are addressed as needed when discussing cataloging, digitizing and exhibits. Further consideration for unusual and non-textual items is in the “Other Types of Materials” chapter. Hamill takes care to encourage the inexperienced archivist by detailing as much of the profession and associated business whenever possible. Of particular note is the section on Display Methods for the chapter on exhibits, which describes book cradles of cloth, acrylic, and coated wire, along with citing and directing readers to other works on displaying objects or display techniques. In this manner, the author addresses new-to-the-field archivists who have an unknown amount of Information Science in their backgrounds, all without condescending to the reader-archivist.

As much attention as is given to the physical manifestation of archives, Hamill gives equal attention to the digital creation and maintenance of the non-physical holdings of the archive. In the “Preface,” Hamill gives several reasons for choosing to integrate PastPerfect, the museum collection management software the author uses throughout the text to catalog and display archival documents, photographs and objects. The primary reasons Hamill gives for including PastPerfect are the affordable cost and ability to include many different format items. To facilitate the description and access of digital collections, most chapters have a corresponding tasklist for PastPerfect, complete with screenshots to give the reader an understanding of the workflows possible with the software. The author includes examples of how hard-copy forms, word processing file documents, basic HTML webpage and dSPACE Institutional Repository-based online access will appear for patrons who use the associated collections. Hamill asserts that “[f]aculty teaching courses to prepare students to work in or manage cultural or nonprofit organizations in archival programs, library schools, public history programs, or possibly even museum studies or integrative studies may find this text helpful” (p. x). As such, Hamill includes both written workflows and visual examples when defining common vocabulary used in Archives, such as provenance, and original order, explaining concepts such as deed of gift or universal design, and showing possibilities for film sizing, metadata schema, accession records, or documenting and arranging computer files. The dual presentation of information, both visual and textual, will appeal to anyone who requires concrete examples or who relies on reference tables and graphical representation of data for learning.

Throughout the text, the emphasis is on the actions the archivist can take, and the corresponding considerations that come with such action. Hamill states, “[s]pecific examples are given that the reader may copy or modify and adopt” (p. ix). The chapters on photographs, for instance, will be an asset to anyone responsible for a collection who has not before had to take care of images and pictures. The photographs chapter starts with bullet points to orient a results-oriented reader. The two chapters on photographs and images detail best practices for arrangement, and explains how and why things may change. For example, the paper and plastic enclosures that may be used for pictures versus negatives are described with consideration for price, handling and storage environments. The instructions for identifying types of photos, describing tintype, daguerreotype, ambrotype, albumen print, and stereograph, though for clarity the author could insert a summary heading here before the transition to heading ‘safely housing photographs’ (p. 68). Consistently throughout the work Hamill takes care to address how needs, priorities and means of collecting organizations will affect short-term decision-making like processing, and long-term decision-making like access via software and hardware. Hamill states in the “Preface” that the “goal is to present the most significant questions of issues to consider, or the most common variations in a situation” (p. xi). In this vein, the author has created a practical guide that is not strictly specialized. Archives 101 could apply to all record keeping practices. It is aimed at cultural organizations and repeatedly incorporates archival standards and practices, such as Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC21) and Dublin Core Metadata Element Set.

While it is important to remember that Archives 101 is an introduction to archives, the chapter on “Disaster Preparedness,” and the discussion of copyright and CMS are more of a crash course than professional training. Hamill seems to address this lack by reminding the reader that the topics are extensive and complex. She then including more specialized texts and reference works within the chapter. The reader would do well to follow up with the Additional Reading/Resources sections that follow each chapter rather than filling in the blanks with their incomplete or non-archival professional experience. There is additionally a minor graphical inconsistency in the chapter “Managing Digitization Projects,” in the tables for electronic file structures. The file folder symbols are all represented by a closed folder, instead of the file path having open folder symbols for the selected directory, to better illustrate the real life experience of browsing computer files on Windows to the reader-archivist (pp. 101-103). The software walkthrough, with steps and screenshots is at times bigger than the chapter. This could also be a stumbling block for readers who are unfamiliar with licensed Content Management Software (CMS).

The focus of Hamill’s book is on the end result — a working, accessible archive — without losing the necessary “how to” aspect. Archives 101 gives example forms and information layouts with formatting, along with concrete examples from Archives, Libraries, Museums and Record Management practices. The text is a welcoming and helpful guide for complete beginners who have never worked in libraries, museums, or academic institutions. The work is also suitable for a beginning professional to ensure a strong understanding and base knowledge, or new cultural organizations to grow as a collection and an archive while keeping in mind patron needs. The book is an effective plan, which, to quote Hamill, “is comprehensive, simple, and flexible” (p. 203).

— Courtney Gillie, State Historical Society of Missouri