October 2006

Frequently asked questions

What do you take?

Sometimes the easiest way to begin answering this question is by discussing what should not come to the archives. Archives are not usually the best place to store material that contains private or protected data such as student records and in the health sciences, patient related information. Student records are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Patient records and material with personal health information (PHI) are governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Both acts protect personal information and identifiers from being published or displayed publicly. From an archives perspective, these materials are best managed by a records retention plan and not deposited in the archives.

Other personal data such as personnel records, search committee files, recommendations on file, tenure decisions, and academic misconduct files are also considered private data and are usually not accepted for deposit.

When an office or department is reviewing its material, it should consider the point of origin for the records. If an office has a filing cabinet full of salary surveys conducted by a related professional association, these materials would not be suited for the archives due to the fact that they were created by an outside entity and only kept in the office as a reference. A researcher wanting to learn more about salary histories would turn to the association and generally not think of looking to the office or department for that kind of information. Likewise, information produced by one office (such as a newsletter) and copies of it kept in another office as a reference, leads to duplication in the archives. If the archives collect the material produced by each office there is little need to maintain the duplicate material.

In general, archives accept little material related to daily fiscal and accounting records. Again, these materials are better governed by a records retention schedule.

So, what do we take?

After discerning what can or should be removed from a set of materials it can become very clear what is suitable for deposit in the archives. There is never a set list of what should go to the archives. Correspondence, departmental records, research files and reports, curriculum materials, non-personnel related committee files, certain publications and audio/visual materials are all types of material housed in the archives. But it is not just about the type of material, it is also about the information found in the records. The content of the material and its relation to the office, department and institution should also be evaluated. This appraisal activity is usually conducted by the archivist or in consultation with the donor and the archivist.

How are the archives different from off-site storage? Can I get access to the stuff?

Archives are often synonymous with a place to store something. While it is true archives are made to store boxes, archives also provide a service beyond storage. Materials are reviewed by the archives staff that then creates written descriptions of what they contain. These descriptions known as finding aids help to provide access to the materials. Office and departments still have access to the materials they deposit with the benefit of discussing their needs with the archives staff. In addition, researchers have access to the same materials for their own work. Material deposited in the archives benefits two constituencies, not one. Archives commit to the long term preservation, storage and security of the materials. The longevity of the materials is not based on current staffing or outside vendor storage contracts. The University provides this commitment through the University Archives.

Board of Governors records

I am pleased to announce the first major acquisition for the project, the University Hospitals Board of Governors records, 1975-1996. The BoG was established to be the fiscal agent for the University Hospitals. It disbanded after the sale of the hospitals in 1996. The collection consists of minutes for the Board of Governors and planning and finance committee reports. The material is a full run of the Board’s activities and will supplement a previous acquisition by University Archives that documents only activities in the 1980s.

collect001.jpgThe records were delivered to my office in 3-ring binders and await boxing. The collection is approximately 6 linear feet at its acquisition. The binders are all labeled with content and date information. The material is in good condition. No further accruals are expected.

When I saw the collection I immediately considered placing the binders into boxes and not foldering the material based on the MPLP method. However, upon closer inspection it would seem that the binders are much larger than the content they hold. By foldering the material, it would condense the collection into 5 or less linear feet. Space considerations, not just staff time, are another area of cost that must be considered. I will update you on my decision once the collection is processed.

More product, less process

I had the opportunity to attend the Midwest Archives Conference fall symposium “More Product, Less Process�? (commonly referred to as the MPLP method) held Oct. 6-7 in Omaha, NE. The symposium focused on the major points made in the recent Greene/Meissner article “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing�? in the American Archivist. It also had several guest speakers attesting to the practicality and benefits of minimal processing.

In a nutshell, the Greene/Meissner article (see an earlier version) asks archivists to reconsider the status quo of processing benchmarks. They argue that there is no minimum standard practiced in processing as there is in description practices and as such archivists have a hard time determining the level of processing a collection may require. Instead, archivists tend to process all collections to the same granularity and in doing so waste time and resources and add to the ever growing backlog. Greene/Meissner advocate processing all collections to a minimum standard. At that point, the archivist can make further processing decisions based on the condition and use of the collection and the availability of resources. In reality most archives already function with minimally processed collections or provide access to collections that have not been processed at all. Greene/Meissner recognize this practice and are simply advocating that it become a working standard.

As for the AHC archives project, there are already over 70 collections of papers and records related to the health sciences and the Academic Health Center at the University Archives that are either minimally or formally processed. The project will add to this number by adding accruals to existing collections and bringing in new free standing collections. As the acquisition of new materials begins, processing plans will need to be developed at the time of acquisition. The MPLP method will be a great tool in managing this influx of materials. Stay tuned and I will try to point out the decisions made during the project and how minimal processing works or doesn’t work with specific collection material along the way.

Field archivist

When I am asked to explain the project or describe what I do, I often respond by describing myself as a field archivist. My job is to connect the records of the Academic Health Center to University Archives. The senior vice president’s office, the six schools and colleges (medical, nursing, pharmacy, public health, dentistry and veterinary), and the independent centers are the primary units that make up the AHC and the territory I cover. The focus of my search for materials centers on the formation of the AHC in 1970 when the Board of Regents appointed Dr. Lyle French as the vice president for health sciences and the events leading to this decision. It also focuses on what has happened since, up to present day.

I have work space at University Archives, but also a “field office�? within the AHC. Being “in the field�? has facilitated making connections fast. Word of the project is quickly spreading throughout the AHC and I’ve been contacted by numerous faculty and staff with tips on the location of a cache of materials they think are particularly interesting or with questions regarding what is considered archival or how best to manage their in house resource files.

Working as a field archivist also helps to educate and create an environment within the AHC that sees the University Archives as a partner and understand the archives as a place where its sole mission is to manage the historical documentation and information of all units of the university.

About the Project

Project Goals

The goals of the Academic Health Center Archives Project are to identify, collect, and make available the institutional and historical documentation of the Academic Health Center, its six schools and colleges of medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, public health, and veterinary medicine, and its interdisciplinary centers at the University of Minnesota. The archives project will ensure that this documentation is preserved and made accessible for scholarly and administrative uses in the University Archives, in accordance with Board of Regents policies, University of Minnesota records retention policies, legal requirements, and professional standards.

Project Staff

Erik Moore is the archivist for the Academic Health Center Archives Project. As part of the project, he is a member of the University Digital Conservancy working group at the University of Minnesota. Previously, he worked on digital projects as an assistant curator at the Immigration History Research Center. He earned an M.L.I.S. degree from Dominican University and an M.A. in history from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. He is a member of the Society of American Archivists, Midwest Archives Conference and is currently the president of the Twin Cities Archives Round Table.

Advisory Committee

Frank B. Cerra, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, Academic Health Center
Elaine Challacombe, Curator, Wangensteen Historical Library
Sarah Evans, Regents Professor, History
John M. Eyler, Professor, History of Medicine
Jennifer Gunn, Assistant Professor, History of Medicine
Elisabeth Kaplan, Archivist, University Archives
Kathleen A. O’Brien, Vice President, University Services
David J. Rhees, Assistant Professor, History of Medicine

About the Blog

The blog details accessions into the project, contacts that I’ve had, and some curiosities I’ve stumbled across. The overall goal of the blog is to make more people aware of the project in the AHC, at the University, and in larger archival circles as well. It is also an ideal way to add transparency to the creation of the archives, which in turn builds confidence concerning their provenance and research value.



Erik A. Moore

E-mail: moore144@umn.edu
Office Phone: 612-625-4665
Fax: 612-626-2111

Office Address (East Bank):
602 Children’s Rehab Center
426 Church Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Office Address (West Bank):
218 Elmer L. Andersen Library
University Archives
222 – 21st Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Mailing Address:
Office of the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences
Academic Health Center
MMC 501 Mayo
420 Delaware Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455