MPLP: A Continuing Debate

This posting was originally written on 08/05/2012, but for some reason did not publish properly . . .

In honor of the upcoming SAA conference in San Diego I wanted to address one of the sessions I attended last year. Although as a student during last year’s conference I was eager to jump in and learn what issues archivists were concerned about.  I chose sessions based on interest and this one in particular, Re-Arranging Arrangement and Description I chose because it pertained to a class I was starting that semester on Arrangement and Description.

In this particular session the concept of More Product Less Process (MPLP) was addressed. Admittedly I had to research the issue because everyone referred to it by its initials instead of the whole title. Interestingly enough the topic also tied into a Blackboard assignment I had for my class. Below is my response for the assignment on MPLP:

In the Greene and Meissner “More Product Less Product”1 (MPLP) article the authors endeavor to promote the merits of a spending less time arranging the collection in an effort to open it to the users. This draws me back to the SAA Annual Meeting this year where a session was dedicated in part to this particular topic. Many of the panelists advocated for keeping original order with limited processing and allowing access through intellectual order on the collection level. Like Greene and Meissner the concept of a collection that is spread out making retrieval more difficult for an institution was brought up, but the panelists believed that the time saved in arrangement more than made up for the ability to find individual items.

Weideman, a proponent of Greene and Meissner, in her article “Accessioning as Processing”2 pushed the MPLP idea further in starting the arrangement process with accessioning. She implemented a program for the Yale archives that enables donators to prepare their collection prior to donation. The process involves gathering as much information about a collection prior to donation as well as suggesting to possible donors to arrange their collection prior to donation. This physical arrangement would then be kept by the archives enabling the collection to be accessed by researchers all the more sooner.

Van Ness in his article “Much Ado about Paper Clips”3 argues that Greene and Meissner’s push to get professional archivists to process a certain metric quota of collections per year is off base. He notes that most professional archivists can only work on processing for a certain amount of time during the work week juggling other duties that come with the professional credentials. The majority of the processing work he argues is in most cases done by full time none professionals and a combination of student workers or volunteers depending on the archive. Here I can agree. I have had the opportunity to volunteer for the National Parks Service and University of Utah, and starting this week Utah Valley University to help process the collections that the professionals just do not have the time to do.

In my readings I have found that most agree that each collection should be handled individually and that all the rules and guidelines are merely that and should not be applied fully in every case or within an entire collection. Here too this can be applied to the principles of MPLP. While for some institutions and even within certain collections that are already in some sort of physical order the aspect of creating finding aids for the collection can be a priority, this will not work for all collections or institutions. No matter what there will always be institutions that will prefer to physically go through a collection prior to allowing the collection to be accessed. I agree with both positions that the processing is the biggest hang up to allowing access while there is a need for more hands to process those collections as Van Ness stated.

1. Greene, Mark A. Greene & Meissner, Dennis (2005).  More product, less process: Revamping traditional archival processing. The American Archivist, 63, 208-263.

2. Weideman, Christine (2006). Accessioning as processing. The American Archivist, 69, 274-283.

3. Van Ness, Carl (2010). Much ado about paper clips: “More product, less process” and the modern manuscript repository. The American Archivist, 73, 129-145.

As for how I will conduct the arrangement of the Highland City Library Special Collections and Manuscript Archive because we have such a small collection I will be accounting for each item individually.

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