Monday, June 24, 2013

Release of the ego

About a year and a half ago, I finished a BIG PROJECT at the library/archive at which I was working (and still work, incidentally).  This project involved organizing the papers of n organization that had donated them to the library.  The project itself was a three-year one, and I had worked on it for the last 2 1/2 years of the 3 years.  I was not the only one to work on it, and as a graduate research assistant, I was not even the one who was in charge of the project.

At the time, I said the following:
I do feel that I and my colleagues have accomplished something. However, this accomplished thing will not endure forever, even if we can assume that the collection is a static "thing" that has been created.
Now, I learn that a very small number of items in the papers that had originally been donated might belong to another organization.  And that organization has requested that those items be "repatriated" to its own records.

Something that I didn't know until I heard about this issue is that repatriating (perhaps not the best word...."de-accessioning" is probably a better one) parts of a collection to the creator organization is not particularly unheard of.  It might not be common, but it is apparently something that's done, and it's certainly not scandalous or even necessarily an adversarial process.  It probably has something to do with whether the donor organization actually had the rights to the material and with whether we can all something the "so-and-so-of-so-and-so records" if it contains items that are not actually the records of "so-and-so-of-so-and-so."

But I notice that I tend to feel a bit territorial about the whole thing.  I have somehow acquired the sense that this collection is "mine" because I processed it.  The fact that patrons are referred to me when they have a question about the collection helps reinforce that sense that it's "my" collection.

I should know better.  I got out of that collection what was promised me--a 2 1/2 year job with a tuition and fee waiver that helped me pay for grad school.  And I got even more:  subsequent employment at the same library, current (albeit temporary) employment at that library, a cv credit, and professional contacts.  There was no representation made to me that I had a special "proprietary" interest in the collection, and because I work at a public institution, the collection really is public property.

Still, I note a sense of wanting to advocate for "my" collection and point out reasons why I think these items, which are in fact pretty inconsequential to the collection itself, ought to remain.  On the merits, I might even be right, but it's not my call.

1 comment:

Jon said...

I can definitely understand feeling ownership over a project that you spent years of time and thought to.

The truth is that, aside from the legal issues of who has 'rights' to material, it's a great thing to be so invested in the work you've done. I sometimes feel that way; although sometimes I do work that becomes a source of so much aggravation that by the time it's finished, I never want to think or hear about it again! Your experience here is better than that.