Tuesday, August 30, 2016

There are days when I admire my self-restraint

Yesterday was one of them.

We recently had a person walk into the museum to volunteer. She's in Baraga temporarily, her spouse is on a short term assignment, she accompanied him and discovered living in a motel room for a month can get boring fast. So she stopped by the museum and asked if there was anything she could do. Of course we said yes. There's always the boring stuff like cleaning fingerprints off display cases and swiftering the floors. And she's literate, which suggested she could help with tasks like proofreading the finding aids or doing whatever the equivalent of ground truthing the finding aids against the actual files might be called. We've got her help for a few more days; she leaves Baraga on Friday.

The finding aids, incidentally, aren't true finding aids quite yet. They're a work in progress. The first step in creating any finding aid is figuring out just exactly what you have. Once you know that, then you can decide the best way to organize things, what categories would be most appropriate, and what is actually worth keeping and what can go into the round file. Back in 2012 when the whole finding aid project began there was nothing, no guide whatsoever to what might be lurking in the "archives." The vertical files were a mess. Not only were things stuck into folders rather randomly, there were two sets of filing cabinets: "Jim's stuff" and the files anyone was free to dig into. It wasn't a huge amount of material -- a total of 17 file drawers in all -- but it was a mess.

Since then, working at it for a few hours at a time one or two days a week I've gone through the files, merged Jim's stuff with everything else, and created an index that now runs about 300 pages long and is still growing. If someone walks into the museum now and wants to know if we have anything on a particular subject, we can pull a 3-ring binder off the shelf and tell them to take a look. It's far from done, definitely still a work in progress, but for sure it qualifies as better than what we had before. Once it's been cleaned up a little more, I'll convert it to a PDF and throw it up on the museum website, but that's probably not going to happen until next year. Before I do that, there are categories that need to moved around, stuff that needs to be either condensed into one file or expanded into multiples, and a reconciliation done between what's in the Archives on PastPerfect and what's listed in the finding aids.

I also know it's got issues. There are typos. There are inconsistencies in how things were entered as the index/finding aid evolved. For sure it needs a good proofreading because like most people I have a really hard time spotting my own typos and bloopers. So yesterday I made the mistake of asking our newest volunteer if she could do some proofreading.

Major mistake. Turns out the woman is a talker. I had computer stuff to do, some minor (filing the museum's 990-N for the 2016 tax year, which ended for us on June 30), some a little more complicated, and I really did not want any interruptions. No such luck. I thought proofreading would be a nice silent task for her. I told her to just highlight everything she saw that struck her as odd or as an obvious error and not to ask me about every bit of weirdness. No such luck.  Every misplaced piece of punctuation, each inconsistency in style, generated a comment or a question. Lots and lots of commenting on the inconsistencies, way too many suggestions on how we could have done it better, and in general way too much noise coming from that side of the office. You want to annoy a former professional copy editor really fast? Suggest to her that she doesn't know how to do bibliographic entries.

The good news is she's still alive.

The bad news is she's coming back this afternoon to torment me some more. I decided that in the interest of getting at least part of the document proofread I can live with the color commentary.


  1. Could be she is isolated and lonely and you are providing her only non-spouse company. Could be directing her to highlight items she finds that need to be fixed AND ask her to make a note about it. I'm thinking legal pad with columns, one for pg of error, one for finding like 'typo' and one for 'comments'. That way she will be 'talking' by writing and may stay out of your hair better AND move the work forward. The lists she creates will be helpful in that you can scan them and zero in on things that require actual thinking. Hope this helps. Pat.

  2. For sure I know I'm providing a mental health break for her. Today was better -- I wasn't trying to focus on writing anything so was able to indulge in small talk without feeling irritated by the distraction.

  3. Having over 30 years in the bike business, I feel the same as you about the "experts" who come in my store filled with a couple months of internet bike education. I had to develop a strong will to avoid pissing them off.

  4. I find that screaming 'shut the fuck up' works.

  5. At least she is short term and not a full time resident. Perhaps you could interest her in volunteering some place else - Suggest to her that the Adult Literacy Program really could use your special skills.
    Worth a try
    the Ol'Buzzard


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