The Joys of Processing

In the job description for my new job, processing was noticeable absent.  Admittedly, that was part of the reason why I applied to it.  The other reason was it included education instead.  For about 1 1/2 years, since graduating back in 2011, I longed for and hoped for an archives job that included some aspect of education and outreach.  Those jobs were few and far between.  I had the experience in education but, I felt, I needed the street creed of processing to demonstrate my archival abilities.  So, when I accepted my last position which was a contract processing position, I took it for the processing experience.

Now, I have a wonderful job that includes education and outreach.  A place where I can finally vocalize the ideas I had long harbored to get archives noticed by the general public.  My time, for the most part, is divided between reference and education.  While I am learning a lot and enjoy meeting new people, I felt a longing of sorts.

I never thought I would say it…but I actually missed processing. *gasp*

For many who know me and have had the fortune to work with me knows that, on some level, I find that processing  doesn’t challenge me in the ways I like to be challenged.  I am, by no means, trying to undermine the fact that processing can be challenging.  But, everyone is different.  For example, some people may find processing more to their liking and their capabilities but regard reference services as a challenge.  And, vice versa.

For me, there are a couple of reasons I miss processing:

1.) Interacting with “the stuff” – At my institution, when assisting patrons, I typically help them to access our databases or external databases like  Or, when I’m providing offsite reference, which usually consists of naturalizations,  I turn to the microfilm instead.  I would estimate for every 6 or 7 reference requests, I probably have one request where I handle original documents.  Each time I handle an original document, I find myself pausing momentarily to take it all in.  Sometimes I’m standing in the stacks looking at a bound volume and go “hey, I’m looking at an 1869 criminal docket.”  And instantly, my mind is blown.    With processing, I get the opportunity to handle these precious and rare documents.  While sometimes the records can be a bit on the mundane side (like an interoffice memo), I get the chance to see some real gems like an 1855 court case involving a rifle manufacturing company.  After a quick Google search, I discover that this company helped to produce some of the rifles used in the American Civil War!

2.) A safe zone  – In most of my processing experiences, with a few rare exceptions, what I’m suppose to do is pretty straightforward.  I’ve learned these skills in the classroom and during internships/volunteer positions.  For me, processing is safe.  It’s a completely different beast than reference services.  With reference, you’re dealing with a flesh-and-blood person right in front of you.  They have unspoken expectations.  Sometimes they’re happy or they’re beyond frustrated.  Reference requires you to pull from a variety of skill sets such as your knowledge of the collection, customer service skills, and the ability to not get overwhelmed.  For example, when one person is asking for your help, 2 patrons need help with their computers, and the phone is ringing of the hook, you can easily feel overwhelmed. You’ve got to be the type of person that can think quickly on your feet.  With processing, you develop your own rhythm and pace for how you get the job done quickly and efficiently.  And, the records don’t talk back!

3.) The solitude – I enjoy the solitude of being in my own space, physically and mentally.    When I process, I usually carve out my own spot or corner of a room.  I have things laid out how I like them and in the order I will do them.  This appeals to the methodical side of my personality.  Mentally, I find processing to be soothing.  If I’m having a particularly tumultuous day, processing gives me the opportunity to clear my mind and focus on one thing and one thing only.  I guess you could say it’s my mental yoga.  Other times, my mind is very active and processing gives me the chance to sort “the stuff’ rattling in my head.  For example, I like to write stories but I don’t often have the time to write them or plan them out properly.  I often find that as I’m processing, I may be planning out a story in my head.  There have been plenty of moments where I suddenly stop to jot down an idea.  Or, most often the case, an errand or something I forgot to do.

4.) Indulge in enjoyable pursuits – How many of us really stop and listen to music or a podcast?  I always say I’d like to sit and listen to music but I never get around to it.  Because of processing, I get to listen to my music.  To bop my head to the beat as I work.  Most of the time, I use processing as an excuse to catch up on podcasts.  To actively listen to a podcast is a commitment.  And, it seems the only time I make that commitment is when I’m processing or doing other tasks that don’t require higher levels of thinking or concentration like cleaning.

So there you have it, my list of things I miss the most about processing.  I would love to hear from others about what they like and/or dislike about processing.


About Ashley S

I'm an archivist!
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3 Responses to The Joys of Processing

  1. nixonara says:

    Beautiful, insightful, wise!

  2. therealbetty says:

    Exactly right! I wanted nothing to do with processing either, and have grow to love cataloging for all the reasons you describe. I even like indexing. Working with objects, both original and digital ones, is fascinating and rewarding.

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