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More Product, Less Process, and New Normal

Would something be lost by beginning to privilege the speed of processing over the careful examination of every document? Certainly. Our question is whether we might not gain much more than we would lose.” – Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner *

Greene & Meissner’s paper in 2005 titled More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing has continued to spark debate and consideration across multiple disciplines within the library community. With extensive recommendations as to the breadth and detail required in collection processing and description, it’s hard to argue with some plainly articulated flaws in our existing workflows. All the same, we are aware of the criticisms of the paper, and there is not a “one size fits all” solution to the problem at large. Regardless of where your opinions fall on the paper, I think we can all agree that we care deeply for the success, the longevity, and appropriate care for resources being stewarded by institutions across the world.

The conversation is not limited to the archival community – we’ve heard “more product, less process” (MPLP) discussed in most branches of our company, from Metadata to Digitization and more, and of course we have seen it prominently discussed in relation to seemingly insurmountable backlogs. Where is the line between sufficient, responsible processing that succeeds in driving patrons to the materials they need and becoming servant to unmeetable, perhaps unreasonable, goals?

Following 2020, the world has experienced fluctuation in the workforce (work from home, social distancing, and now in 2022, the Great Resignation); our workdays and personal lives continue to be affected by material shortages and increased prices to things like paper and cardboard; and these factors and more have contributed to growing backlogs. The growing weariness has left many of us shaking our heads and asking, “is it time for something new?”

There’s a chance that Greene & Meissner’s paper is more relevant than ever before for all these reasons, and I’m sure there are other factors than those listed in brief above. We’re also seeing a cultural shift and the push to provide access to underrepresented communities drives a clear directive home to libraries, museums, and archives everywhere: access is just, inarguably, more important than it’s been since the turn of the century.

Backstage has long championed the idea that every collection is unique, and every institution has its community with specialized needs and goals for growth. We also recognize that, in the face of difficult deadlines, sometimes, collections need “more product, less process.”

  • Some of our cataloging clients focus on immediate access to collections. This means that, in processing, copy records that supply subject and primary access points is sufficient for now, and libraries intend to revisit these collections at a later date to give it the special, full-cataloging touch.
  • While FADGI is Backstage’s rulebook for digitization, some clients opt for less fastidious options. Similar to Greene & Meissner’s observation that many modern materials do not need all of the full-scope processing that some other archival collections require, not all collections need the delicate touch of our more staff-intensive scanners.

Later this spring, Backstage will be unveiling a sixth branch of its services to assist archives at whatever level of processing that they determine is appropriate for their collections and their patrons. We’ve been following the discussion around MPLP and how it relates to Backstage’s message and our team is excited to continue the conversation in all departments.

Contact Us
To learn more about our pricing and how Backstage can help you with your collections, you can call us at 1.800.288.1265, visit us online at www.bslw.com, or send an email to moc.wlsb@ofni.

* Greene, Mark, and Dennis Meissner. “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing.” The American Archivist 68, no. 2 (2005): 208–63. https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.68.2.c741823776k65863.

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