Response Piece: Physical Space and Archives

In my first ever response piece, I’m going to tackle the recent Forbes’ article “10 Workplace Trends for 2016.” Actually, rather than dissecting the whole article, I want to focus my thoughts on one point. (Originally, I intended to write on two points but I had quite a lot to say on the first one.)

#5 – Companies get serious about office design and use it as a way to increase collaboration and attract top talent.

Space is shrinking.  With a changing workforce with its changing needs, employers are rising to meet the challenge by creating telecommuting policies, opening up to co-working spaces and lounge areas vs cubicles.   Um, yes please.  I’ve become anti-cubicle life.  I’ve woken up to this idea for two reasons: first, I’m actually productive working from home (big surprise. No seriously that was kind of a big deal for me) and second, the very nature of my job encourages the “out-of-office” experience.  Is outreach possible in an office setting? Sure.  Social media has made that possible.  But guess what? Not everyone is on social media.  And, to be honest, the human interaction is still needed to connect an individual to your institutions and its holdings.  I’ve long been a proponent of archivists coming out of the stacks and getting out in the open.  Front and center.

Within the context of this point, what does that mean really?  Is space for outreach operations really needed?  Now, before everyone gets all up in arms, let’s think about this. Outreach should be active and proactive.  Reaching out and engaging with communities through events, conferences, festivals, workshops etc.  Introducing them to archives and libraries and then drawing them in.  That being said, does the person who does your outreach really need an office or a cubicle?

Something like this also makes me think of what that means, long-term, for archives.  My concern really is that this issue of space may come with certain negatives.  Our user base with each year is more active online vs. onsite.  Granted, this is anecdotal evidence based on my work in various archives.  Is the reading room/research room, a high traffic area anymore?  And if it isn’t, what does that mean for its continued existence?

Are spaces shrinking in the reading room? Are they disappearing all together?  Space was a big issue at my last job when we made the transition from the heart of Center City Philadelphia to the northeastern outskirts of the city.  Record space was more important than research space.  As a result, the research room shrunk by half.  Does that encourage or discourage researchers?

Referencing my earlier point about ‘drawing people in,’ it begs the question: what does that mean? At more and more outreach events, I’m being asked whether or not our collections are available online.  If your collections (at least a siginficant portion) are not available online, I believe, the level of interest greatly decreases among users.  At my current job, I’m faced with the very real challenge of outreach to a large state.  Texas is huge.  It’s crazy how big this place is.  How do you connect those users to your collection if only a fraction of your overall collection is online?  How do you serve a user base that may never physically step into your building?  And, more importantly, what do you do with all that space?

I would be interested to hear others’ experiences and/or.  Feel free to email me or write a comment below.



About Ashley S

I'm an archivist!
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