During the 2017 MAALL, LLAW, MichALL, MALL, and CALL Joint Annual Meeting, representatives from each of the five chapters came together for a panel discussion titled Preserving Our Histories, Telling Our Stories: What’s in “Your” Chapter Archives? The session provided audience members with the unique opportunity to learn about the history and the contents of each chapter’s archive, as well as the goals and challenges for the guardians of those archives. Virginia C. Thomas, incoming Chair of the MichALL Archives Committee, served as the moderator for the session as well as a panelist. The remaining panelists were MAALL President Susan Boland, LLAW Past President Beverly G. Butala, MALL President Charles Wilson, and CALL Archives co-chair Clanitra Stewart Nejdl.
During the 45-minute discussion, each panelist discussed his or her chapter’s archives for several minutes and then took questions from the audience. Each panelist focused on the history, size, location, content, format, and policies of the chapter’s archives. Although each chapter has something unique to its archives, there were also archive-related issues and concerns discussed that are common to all of the chapters.
History and Size of the Archives
The panelists’ comments reflected significant variety in the lengths of time that each of the five chapters has existed, not to mention the amount of time that each chapter has collected materials for its archives. As the panelists shared, for example, CALL and MALL became chapters of the American Association of Law Libraries in the 1940s and 1950s, while MAALL, MichALL, and LLAW became AALL chapters in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, some of the chapters’ archives contain more materials than others by virtue of those chapters having simply existed longer. Additionally, there are variations in the types of materials that have been collected by each of the chapters, which may also account for differences in the sizes of each chapter’s archive.
Location of the Archives
Of the five chapters, only two have long-term, “permanent” locations for their archives. The archives for LLAW, MAALL and MichALL have all changed location in the past based on changes in their officers and/or the members of their Archives Committees. The CALL archives, however, have been housed for several years at the NIU College of Law Library while the MALL archives are housed at the Minnesota State Library.
Content and Formats in the Archives
There is much similarity in the types of materials that each chapter retains for its archives. Meeting minutes, letters, executive board documents, and chapter newsletters are the most commonly kept documents, in addition to chapter documents such as bylaws and articles of incorporation. The majority of the chapters also have some physical items as part of their archives that are not paper documents. For example, the CALL archives includes award plaques and a 50-year anniversary banner, MALL’s archives contain anniversary banners and photos, and LLAW’s archives contain video tapes.
The panelists’ experiences also reflected how greatly their chapters vary in the formats of the information being archived. For example, LLAW’s archives are almost entirely digital, with the print documents having been digitized by a third party and stored on a jump drive. The other chapters, however, all have some combination of print and digital materials in their archives, and are making varying degrees of progress moving toward 100% digitization. It’s worth noting that, although lack of funding frequently serves as an impediment to 100% digitization for some chapters, Beverly Butala shared that LLAW was able to support the digitization of its archives through fundraising activities. This certainly provides some hope that although a chapter may not currently have funding for digitization projects, there are avenues to consider for future funding.
Retention and Access Policies for the Archives
As with the degree to which each chapter’s archive has been digitized, the chapters also differed in terms of the extent to which official retention and access policies have been put into place. CALL has a relatively extensive retention policy that clearly states what types of documents are to be saved in the CALL archives. However, some of the chapters are only now in the process of drafting a specific retention policy. The panelists all noted the importance of AALL’s archives policy in helping to frame the chapters’ archive retention policies in general.
In terms of access to each chapter’s archives, the panelists discussed how the ability for chapter members to access archive materials online (at least to the extent those materials can be digitized) is the ultimate goal for access. Currently, the majority of the chapters have informal access policies that would allow chapter members to search the chapter archives with minimal notice. Requests for access to the chapters’ archives tend to be handled through the chapters’ Archives Committees or by the librarian in charge of the archives, as applicable. However, such requests are rare.
Overall, the Preserving Our Histories session shed light on the “best practices” of the five chapters in terms of their archives. It also provided the opportunity to discuss some of the archive-related challenges each chapter faces, including funding and resource issues, challenges to the digitization of archive materials, and concerns about accurate and complete metadata for archived materials like print photographs or digital files. Hopefully, this session will be just the beginning of the discussion and the chapters will continue to share ideas and challenges well beyond the 2017 Joint Meeting.