A few months ago, I received a phone call from one of our long-ago donors, Ellen Hays. Daughter of Andrew Hope, she’d given us a collection comprised of her father’s papers and her own. Most of the papers related to their activities with the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood as well as the Central Council of Tlingit-Haida and many other civic organizations. The collection had originally come to us through an accident of geography between 1980 and 1985: Ellen was living in Anchorage at the time, needed to make sure the collection was in an archives, and we were the closest one that collected materials like this and made them easily accessible to researchers. So, a win-win situation.
Anyway, in the intervening years, Sealaska’s Heritage Institute (SHI) came to be; it had a special collections research center and an archivist, Zachary Jones. And in that phone call a few months ago, Helen asked if there was a possibility that we could move the collection to them. Such a move made a lot of sense. Though we provided a good home for this collection, giving it a finding aid with a significant amount of item level description and making it findable via web search engines, it need to be nearer to the organizations it represented. It needed to be in Southeast.
Slight tangent here. Way back in grad school, when my ever-patient mentor and professor Bert Rhoads was teaching me, I’d written a paper on how archives might share collections. It just didn’t seem (to grad school Pollyanna here) that archives should be competing for collections. I felt that we’d spend our time better if we made the effort to coordinate collecting as much as we could. Maybe we could even save more and spend more time with description and reference. I also firmly stated that, as possible, collections should remain in the geographic area they represent: in that age of NUCMC and WLN with nearly no internet nor online finding aids, how else would researchers know where to find relevant collections? (By the way, I don’t think that age is quite as over as it should be…) I was clearly ignoring some of the practicalities for why institutions might not do this such as internal politics, donor requirements, so forth. Bert gently pointed that out to me but he also didn’t attempt to dissuade me from the overall concept.
At any rate, Ellen’s request fell on very amenable ears with me. Getting a collection to a repository for which not only the geography but the narrow collection focus matches? I liked the concept a lot. I had already moved other collections and referred donors to archives geographically located close to where their collection materials were created or collected. For ones that have Fairbanks-only content, I’ve given some of those to our sister institution, the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. For those that have Juneau-only content, I’ve passed on a few to the Historical Collections at the Alaska State Library. And those institutions have certainly done the same with us.
Still, some logistics remained to be worked out. I chose not to focus on the care we’d taken of the collection over time, the processing and description work completed (did you note that statement above that a portion of the collection–most of the correspondence, in fact–was described to item level?), the boxes, the folders, and so forth: I wasn’t comfortable with asking for reimbursement for that. For starters, how do I estimate those costs when I don’t know how many hours it took or which archivists worked on it? Besides, providing appropriate care and description for collections that have been deeded to us is a professional obligation. So that’s our contribution. But I did request that somebody else pay for shipping which Zachary agreed to, on behalf of SHI. And Zach and I went through a few iterations of the deed to come up with something that worked for both of our institutions.
So sometime this week a shipping company will be pulling up to the loading dock of the Consortium Library, ready to take on a pallet of boxed papers to go by road to Haines and by ferry from Haines to Juneau. And the Hope-Hays papers will be back in Southeast Alaska at the Sealaska Heritage Institute.