Handling users’ research requests is a valuable activity for archivists to perform. For users, the speed, helpfulness, and positive experience of the transaction—delivered through a system’s email integration—is important since it may be the first or only interaction they have with the research institution.
This significant outreach activity may be too easily ignored by senior management, who often do not understand or appreciate archival labor. Optimizing the research and request workflow, including capturing and interpreting relevant, powerful metrics, allows archivists to advocate to the decision-makers within their organizations and articulate their value. A robust archival collections management system (CMS) allows for transparency in the research and request management process, enables the selection and presentation of the right metrics, and addresses the importance of evidence-based decision-making.
Capturing the entirety of request and research activities—their breadth and depth—justifies archivists’ work with collections. Leveraging this data demonstrates the organization’s return on investment for the archives or special collections department. The ability to answer user requests quickly and easily changes the perception of archives from a place that provides stuff to a place that provides services. This shift is significant at a time in which materials are increasingly born-digital or digitized and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, physical access is closed or limited.
Email integration within a CMS is a valuable budgeting and management tool, helping archivists measure time spent researching topics or answering questions. With statistics and tracking, archivists can analyze trends with their collections, which is especially important for discovering what collections best resonate with researchers. Evidence-based decision making, empowered by statistics, enables archivists to make the right choices with limited time, money, and labor.
Evaluating response-time metrics provides valuable information that exposes gaps in collections, archival knowledge, or resources. With a greater understanding of how much time archivists spend dealing with user requests, they can better allocate resources to meet demand. By helping repositories manage incoming requests, the CMS can also aid archivists in providing better and faster services to their patrons.
Generating management reports provides concrete numbers to advocate to decision-makers within the organization that more resources are needed. Request management reporting demonstrates the return on investment in the archives. In addition, leveraging request management data with annual reviews can help archivists advocate for themselves. Reporting in real-time allows archivists to create their reports without programming, permitting them to respond to statistical information requests quickly and easily.
Tracking the amount of time spent on requests and using that information to improve workflows is another benefit of an archival CMS with request management and email integration. Rating the difficulty of requests, and the time spent in fulfilling them, gives a picture of what processes can be improved. Complex requests require an extended period for archivists to fulfill and can provide users with the most value. By that same logic, requests that are less complex should take less time to fulfill. From a process standpoint, if archivists notice a pattern of some less complicated requests taking more time than expected, they may need to improve that process. They could educate or inform users better, provide more guidance, or create shortcuts to the process. They can also strategize about what they can do to make the process more seamless, saving themselves and the organization time.
Evolving Systems and Services
One of the barometers of the level of demand placed on archives to adapt and evolve their services is the rate at which the vendors release enhancements, features, and product lines. As an interface between users and resources, repositories find themselves reacting to changes on both sides, whether it is to new access methods, information literacies, or users’ expectations. Vendors are in pursuit of an ever-changing definition of what the best archival collections management system should encompass. Being able to generate usage statistics and improve workflows is vital to a CMS that works for archivists and their users. The necessity of integrating new developments in technologies while concurrently responding to the expanded concepts of what archivists want is challenging. Having email integrated within a CMS allows information about records of enduring value to be delivered to researchers worldwide.
Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and author is a guest blogger for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts, and register here for her upcoming webinar, “CMS Essentials for Success #4: Email Integration” on April 21, 2021.
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