Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wanted: Grateful Dead archivist

It's really rare that archival job postings get much attention outside of the archival community, but the University of California-Santa Cruz's recent announcement that it was seeking an archivist to manage its Grateful Dead Archive has gotten more media coverage than the recent confirmation of David Ferriero as the 10th Archivist of the United States. The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and lots of other media outlets are all over the story.

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Last night, Jon Stewart (who needs some help with the pronunciation of "archivist") got into the act. As evidenced by the reactions posted to the Daily Show site itself and the Archives and Archivists listserv, reaction is mixed: some archivists think it's hilarious, while others are insulted by the offhand manner in which Stewart dismisses our profession. FWIW, I'm in the former camp. Yeah, the "alphanumerically?" bit is kind of snotty, but this is a man who, upon receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, said: "As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better."

The job itself sounds like a great opportunity for a really high-energy archivist, who will work with approximately 600 linear feet of
archival records, news clippings, artifacts, photographs, posters, audio and video recordings, and publications by and about the band and correspondence and art contributed over the years by their fans.

Why do I say "high-energy"? Well, the person who takes this job will be responsible, among other things, for:
  • Developing overarching arrangement and description policies that conform to accepted national standards
  • Developing digitization plans and digital access mechanisms
  • Dealing with rights clearances and permission issues
  • Creating and maintaining ties to the band's fan community and potential donors
  • Providing reference services to academic researchers and members of the general public
  • Curating exhibits and overseeing the loan of materials for exhibit purposes
  • Planning conferences and other events
  • Developing a volunteer/intern program that will tap into the fan community's knowledge and expertise
  • Maintaining the Grateful Dead Archive's Web 2.0 presence
  • Helping to set policies governing the operations of the Department of Special Collections and Archives, of which the Grateful Dead Archive is part
  • Serving on appropriate University Library committees
As the Toronto Star points out, the successful candidate will likely have to perform another job function: "acting as the world's most chilled out bouncer." Ever since the surviving members of the Grateful Dead transferred the materials that comprise the archive to UC Santa Cruz last year, people have been traveling to Santa Cruz in hopes of getting access to the material. However, the Department of Special Collections and Archives -- quite rightly, I think -- is turning people away until they can establish some basic intellectual control over the collection.

What a great challenge -- and what a great opportunity. How many of us have large numbers of people clamoring for access to our holdings? Moreover, despite the stereotypes associated with Grateful Dead fandom, the band's following is drawn from all walks of life. I realize that the new Grateful Dead archivist and his/her colleagues in the Department of Special Collections and Archives are going to be struggling mightily to meet the immediate demands of researchers -- and, in all likelihood, to deal with some ongoing media attention -- but I hope they devote at least a little attention to educating the Grateful Dead Archive's users about the nature and value of archives in general.

The Department of Special Collections and Archives's other holdings, which include 16th-century Italian books, works of art by Lawrrence Ferlinghetti and others, mammoth photographic collections, materials relating to the history of feminism, and local history materials, would make a great teaching tool. Even if the users of the Grateful Dead Archive don't actively use any of the other holdings, I'm sure a lot of them would, with a little gentle nudging, grasp the value of preserving and providing access to these materials. Some of them could, with a little more nudging, become effective stakeholders and advocates. I, for one, would love to recruit a few advisory committee members, PAHR pushers, State Historical Records Advisory Board members, and other champions whose taste in casual wear runs toward tie-dyed t-shirts and Birkenstocks.

If you've got a master's degree in library science or archives management, are familiar with established professional standards and know how to put them into practice, supervisory experience, expert knowledge of modern American vernacular culture and music, first-rate organizational and communication skills, and lots and lots of energy, this job may be for you. You've got until December 4 to submit your application.

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