This is what happens when you cut a library’s budget

As I talked about in my letter to the Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and the Secretary of Education, Dietra Trent, the Library of Virginia has been forced to make massive and devastating budget cuts, which account for 12% of their total staff being laid off. The other shoe has now dropped: the Library will now only be open four days a week, Tuesday through Friday.

Critically, closing the Library on Saturday will be the most painful for the general public, since that is the day that people who work are able to get there and do research. The only statement that the Library made, to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, was

“Suspending our Saturday hours and closing our reading rooms on Mondays is heartbreaking for us, but is necessary,” Sandra G. Treadway, Librarian of Virginia, said in a statement issued Tuesday morning.

Other services that will be cut include “training for records officers as well as longer wait times to fill orders for digital images and to make new collections available.”

Digitization. Processing. Reference. Training. All aspects of the Library of Virginia’s services are being affected and, make no mistake, it is crushing blow.

My letter to Terry McAuliffe and Dietra Trent about the importance of the Library of Virginia

Below is a letter that I wrote to Governor Terry McAuliffe and Secretary of Education Dietra Trent about the proposed layoffs at the Library of Virginia. 26 state employees have to be laid off state-wide, and out of that number 15 are currently proposed to come from the Library of Virginia. It is unfair, inequitable, and devastating to an agency that has born more that its share of layoffs going back to 2002.

I urge you to contact the Governor and the Secretary using the form on their website and tell them why you support the Library of Virginia and why these cuts are completely unfair.

Dear Governor McAuliffe and Secretary Trent,

I strongly urge you to reconsider the layoffs of 15 people from the Library of Virginia out of a statewide layoff total of 26. The first issues is the issue of fairness. No one wants layoffs to come from their agency, but the fact that the Library of Virginia is bearing over half of the layoffs for their entire state government simply isn’t fair. Spreading them across the Executive Branch helps minimize the impact to any one agency; if things are allowed to stand as they are, the programs and services of the Library will be gutted.

But secondly, more importantly, is a message that you may not have heard much, but that is very, very true: the Library is a critical and key part of state government and our Commonwealth and needs to be protected and grown. The Library performs critical services for the Commonwealth, such as records management, the preservation of Virginia’s historical record, and educating students and the public about the importance of primary sources, among many other things.

The records retention schedules created by the records analysis team and the records collected, preserved, and made available by the archivists at the Library of Virginia are the cornerstone of open and transparent government here in the Commonwealth. The records at the Library have been used in court cases, by members of the media, by citizens of the Commonwealth, and by members of your own administration to review the day-to-day actions of the government. The Library is also one of the first in the country to publish, en masse, the emails of a gubernatorial administration with the emails of Tim Kaine now available online. In a day where emails are constantly in the news, this project shows what an archive can do. All of this is threatened by these potential layoffs.

This last point, about the emails of Governor Tim Kaine, also illuminates a larger point. With the records of state and local government becoming primarily digital, rather than paper, the human and resource cost for appropriate records retention, long-term archival storage, and processes to make these documents available just like paper records is skyrocketing. We need more records managers and archivists to deal with this new future, not less, and the Library needs more resources to make sure that there isn’t a massive gap in the historical record because we aren’t able to deal with digital archives.

The Library also does dozens of educational programs every year, ranging from teaching school-aged children about the importance of primary sources, to genealogy workshops to Virginia residents of all ages, to book talks given by important authors from Virginia and beyond. These include events requested by members of the General Assembly during the legislative session, which is a perk that the members get to give their constituents who are able to come to Richmond. This is an important educational experience for Virginians, both young and old, to learn about primary sources.

If these cuts are allowed to take place in the way they are currently constituted, you will be doing irreparable harm to the historical record of Virginia, the openness of government in Virginia, and the education of the citizens of Virginia. I urge you to spare the Library of Virginia, which has already been hit with devastating layoffs in every round since 2002, and spread these layoffs more equitably across state government agencies. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Benjamin Bromley

Prospect research as an alternative career for archivists and librarians

This is the text of a presentation as written that I gave at the Fall meeting of MARAC in Roanoke, Va., on October 9, 2015. I adlibbed some, but it is pretty close.

My name is Ben Bromley and I am a development research analyst with Virginia Commonwealth University. While this may seem to be a left turn from traditional archival jobs, it is another job in the greater field of information management. The training that I received in library school and on the job as an archivist gave me the qualifications needed to get a job in prospect research and management.

Intro to University Development: We all know that universities and non-profits are reaching historic lows in funding from state and federal governments. Cutting public support has been the trend over the past decade, and there doesn’t seem to be much sign of it abating.

For these institutions to continue to provide the same level of services they have in the past (or, maybe some day, to start adding new positions and expanding services), private philanthropy is needed. Embedded in the world of private philanthropy is a job that often calls for applicants with library and information science degrees, and one that my archival training prepared me for very well: prospect research.

Prospect Research and Prospect management overview (history of?): The goal of prospect research is to identify new prospects who might be interested in donating to your organization and then finding the best match for their interests at your organization. In short, we try to find out the potential prospect’s affinity to our organization and then also need to estimate the capacity that they have to make a major gift.

The formalizing of prospect research as its own field is fairly recent, with APRA, the professional organization for prospect researchers, only being established less than 30 years ago.

There are many different places that a prospect researcher can work: many larger organizations, such as universities, will have prospect researchers on staff; some smaller organizations may rely on individual freelancers or consultants, and there are vendors who, in addition to other services, hire prospect researchers to work on their side.

The work is often collaborative, working not only with the other staff in your office but with the development officers and other University employees.

Research: The part of the job that will came most naturally to me and that will, I think come most naturally to most of you, was research. The most visible product of the prospect researcher is the research profile. Insteading of writing a biographical or historical note on a person or organization as part of a finding aid, we are writing a similar biography of a person or organization for the use of a development officer.

Just like archival description, the types of profiles that we write depend on the needs of the development officers. Some development officers will only want a brief profile, summarizing a person’s current job and how much we think they can give. Other development officers want as much information as we can possibly provide on a prospect so that they can be prepared for any eventuality. We also balance what a development officer thinks they need with the time we have available and the tasks we are doing for the rest of the institution.

The information that we typically provide is a summary of a person’s professional career, their personal relationships, and their non-profit giving and affiliations. And just like a bioghist note, not everything that we find is going to go into a profile. Even though we are doing research on people using publically available information, people still have a right to privacy; that right is compounded when we bring all of this information together from multiple sources into one document. We make sure to include what the development officer needs to know, and leave out other stuff.

One of the key differences between research and traditional archival description is right there in my job title: along with presenting the information, I also analyze the information and make conclusions based on my instinct and the available information. Factors such as the person’s relationship to the institution, previous history of acting philanthropically, interests and hobbies, and a myriad of other information is taken into consideration when evaluating a prospect. Just because they have plenty of money does not mean that they actually give money, or are actually willing to give money to your institution.

This analysis comes into play most when we are trying to estimate the giving capacity of a person. Obviously, we cannot see bank accounts, stock holdings, or anything like that. The resources that we use (and I will get to those in a minute) can only find publically available information. So, estimating someone’s giving capacity requires some investigation, some guesswork, and some analysis. We typically look at what the person’s current and previous jobs are, and how long they’ve been in the field to try and estimate what their current salary might be. We look at their real estate holdings, political and non-profit giving, and giving to our organization as well, and plug all of this information into a formula that is typically standard across the industry. And we take a look at their personal situation and family as well; even if two people look the same through the formula, someone with two young children is probably less likely to make a big gift than someone whose children are grown. That is the kind of analysis that we bring to the table.

Data integrity: Another one of our primary duties as researchers is making sure that the information found in our database of record is accurate and up-to-date. We are the custodians of the database, and the information in it is our responsibility.

We make sure that we have the most up-to-date contact information on entirety of people in our database so that we know that our communications are getting to them. Development officers have a limited amount of time, and can only spend one on one time with people likely to give larger gifts. However, universities still want to stay in touch with their entire alumni base, since any money given is sorely needed and people giving small amounts now may eventually give larger amounts in the future. While we are making sure we have their updated contact information, it is helping the university lay the groundwork for the next generation of donors.

On a more practical note, we also want to make sure that we know, for example, when people pass away so that their spouses do not continue to get mailings or emails.

Prospect management was the area that required the most learning for me as I made the transition from archival work to prospect research. Each development officer carries a portfolio of prospects with whom they are working to try and secure gifts to the institution. Some are proactive about adding and dropping prospects, but often they need our help in doing so. We want to make sure the development officers have the right prospects in their portfolio, so we help the identify new ones and help them make the decision to drop a prospect if they are not right for that department or for our institution as a whole.

Another part of prospect management is making sure that development officers document the contact that they have with donors. We want to make sure that we stay out of each other’s way and don’t bombard the prospect with conflicting information. Encouraging and reminding the development officers to document their interactions in the database of record helps prevent this from happening.

So what sources do we use to conduct prospect research? We use a mix of proprietary and freely available databases and sources of information to perform our job.

For biographical research I will use proprietary databases such as lexis/nexis, genealogical resources such as ancestry and familysearch, newspapers, court information, and social media accounts.

For all aspects of estimating someone’s giving capacity, I will use resources such as salary surveys, which are typically published by each industry; property assessment databases, zillow, SEC and FEC filings, and more.

The two hardest part of making the transition from archival work to prospect research are somewhat related: math, and the business and accounting terminology that typically surrounds it. Luckily, as archivists, we are naturally curious, so I now know things like what a charitable remainder unitrust is or how to read a 10-K filing submitted to the SEC.

Special Library Association specifically supports prospect researchers, and they have some good resources on their website. There are also local APRA chapters throughout the country, which have resources and conferences; APRA-Virginia, for example, typically has a one day conference twice a year that is affordable for people to go to. There are also blog posts and other resources online for other archivists and librarians going into prospect research work. I hope I have given you a good overview of how archivists are already qualified to be prospect researchers and feel free to ask me questions in the Q and A or come up afterwards and talk to me if you have any other questions.

On leaving (but not leaving) archives

For reasons that are boring to get into, I decided that I needed to leave the Library of Virginia a couple months ago and move into a new position that is not in an archival repository. I loved my time at LVA, and it saddened (and continues to sadden) me that I needed to leave, but such is life sometimes.

But I don’t want to leave the archives community, nor the archival profession overall. I still think that manuscripts, institutional archives, open government, and history are important in a modern society. So that is why I am starting RVA Research, in which I will perform independent research and archival consulting services throughout Central Virginia. This is my way of staying in the community which has shaped my professional career so far, a community which has given me many friends and has allowed me my career so far. So, if you have any research needs in Central Virginia (or know someone who does), I hope you’ll give me a chance to help!

MARAC Plenary thoughts: We will keep getting hit over the head with advocacy until we do it

During the MARAC plenary today, Kathleen Roe of the New York State Archives gave a rousing call for more advocacy by archivists for their profession to those external stakeholders who don’t necessarily know what we do but upon whom we rely for funding. It was an inspiring speech that had a number of us fired up to go back to our home institutions and to do more to advocate (with fire being a theme throughout her speech).

But if you look back over the past couple of years, plenary speakers have been exhorting us to get involved with advocacy left and right. Rand Jimerson challenged MARAC to be advocates for ourselves, our collections, and the stories of the subaltern found in those collections just three years ago. The year after, MARAC had an entire conference dedicated to advocacy where Christy Coleman charged us again to advocate to politicians, stakeholders, board members, and beyond. The Council of State Archivists has published “The Importance of State Archives,” a document that gives examples and talking points that can be used by many kinds of archival repositories. A google search for archival advocacy gives you thousands of hits, and shows that this is not just a new topic, but it is one that has been talked about more and more in the past few years.

Roe and others during her plenary talked about archivists needing to ask for what they are worth in salary, benefits, and from their schools, and rightly so. At the same time, archival institutions should ask for what they deserve from funding sources, politicians, other government agencies, and beyond. Too often archives are willing to accept the status quo or accept what their funding sources are willing to give them because they don’t think that they would be able to affect any change. Then, when situations like what happened to the Georgia State Archives occur or when massive cuts are on the table, our advocacy furor is shaken up and we finally start taking action. But when a situation is that dire, it is too late for grassroots campaigns to do much of anything. So please, conference program committees: continue to beat us over the head with advocating for ourselves, our institutions, and are usefulness until we start to get it and start to take it to heart. We need it, and won’t get there unless you continue to push us.

Does it matter if libraries and archives aren’t involved with open government data repositories?

Accessing information about government no longer has to mean going to a building and requesting permission to sift through paper documents. It doesn’t even have to mean writing a letter, filling out a complex form, or trying to figure out who to contact about public records or how to access records in the first place.

Technology has enabled faster, more efficient and more user-friendly access to government information — to public information — and governments across the country are increasingly embracing this opportunity in their policies and practices. One way to do this is to adopt open data policies that build on precedent set by existing policy like public records laws.

-From the Sunlight Foundation’s post “Open data is the next iteration of public records.”

Government transparency is a good thing, and so I am happy to see the proliferation of open government data repositories, like data.gov and its equivalents at the state level. One worry, however, that I have is that it does not seem that libraries and archives are involved in creating, managing, disseminating, or describing this information. Most of these projects come out of such locations as state’s IT agency, or the budget department, or some other administrative actor. I will admit that I have not looked at all of the open government data repositories out there, so there may be libraries and archives involved in some of them. But this is the kind of data that has traditionally been provided by libraries and archives, and now it is being taken out of our hands and being served elsewhere.

When I initially sat down to write this post, I was ready to be full of angst about the state of archives in our society, and that our roles were being taken over by IT departments and computers. But open data repositories generally deal with data that is machine-readable, and usually machine-created. On the other hand, we archivists have an explosion of digital data to deal with, the natural extension of the explosion of paper records during the middle of the 20th century; emails, word documents, excel spreadsheets, websites, blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook, and more still defy easy manipulation by computers and easy aggregation into data repositories. One could argue that by taking the burden of providing these datasets that are easily described in the aggregate, archivists are thereby allowed to concentrate on records that cannot be described so easily or automatically. In addition, many of these datasets are provided in machine-readable format, which obviously leads itself to be described by machines rather than archivists. One of the things at which archivists excel at is taking a large mass of data that is difficult or impossible to describe automatically and providing access to it to researchers. But there is always an existential pang in my soul when a record previously provided by archives moves elsewhere.

So what do you think? Does it matter? Am I being an open government hipster, saying that libraries and archives were into open data before it was cool? Or should we cheer the move of these types of records to a different sector?

The Library of Virginia now has emails from Tim Kaine’s administration available online!

Since being hired by the Library of Virginia just over a year ago, a part of my job has been to process emails from the administration of Governor Tim Kaine, who was Governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010. And last week, the first fruits of our labors were realized, with the release of over 66000 emails from Tim Kaine and his executive office. I was only a very small part of this overall effort, but I am proud to be a part of an organization that takes this kind of commitment to making digital public records accessible. You can find the whole collection on our Virginia Memory site; have a look!

Science Friday talks digital preservation

Everyone’s favorite Friday NPR show, Science Friday, came across a topic that hits near and dear to my heart: digital preservation! This past week they talked about a new method of long term preservation, which entails encoding the data onto DNA. Obviously, the practical use of this technology is still decades away, but this could solve the problem of media obsolescence.

Disappearing documents, Archives Team, Facebook, and more: Link roundup 10/4/11

This time, on the link roundup, there are disappearing documents, distributed digital archives projects, inaccurate quilts, government records, and more!