Wait. We're *gulp* Moving?!?! Part I.

Pack Up Your Troubles

In mid-2016, my organization announced that it was moving out of its headquarters of over nine decades. We would sell our building, purchase a new one, renovate the space as needed, and start over at a sight more fitting to our needs. Our old building was a former residence, into which we had put little maintenance over the decades, and our one tiny elevator had died, never to be resurrected.

Outside of the general sadness, confusion, elation, chaos and stress of moving with about seventy office staff, I had the added conundrum of having to move the Archives. This was actually the second Archives move I’d been involved in within a couple of years, but the first one was minimally disruptive to me personally (it was at my other extremely part-time gig). The current move was fully in my face, had huge implications for my collections, would change everything about my workspace and the work itself. I learned a lot in the process, and if you’re a Lone Arranger within a larger institution I hope this helps should the dreaded words “We’re moving!” fall upon your ears.

My Archives, packed up and ready to move out of a great old space.
Lessons Learned

If you’re a Lone Arranger like me and most of your fellow employees have no idea what you do all day, what kinds and how much “stuff” you have, how the Archives operate or, more generally, why they exist at all, you may very well spend a lot of the move process explaining why you need so much space in your new home, why parts of it need to be heavily climate controlled, and where it should be in your new space to allow for security as well as patron access. Keep pressing on these points. Put everything in writing. Show examples of other Archives if possible. Explain to anyone and everyone why you need what you need, but don’t expect them to remember it. Reiterate what you’ve told them in writing, and cc: everyone involved.

If you have records management responsibilities or feel like you should be collecting contemporary materials as you go, be relentless in chasing your colleagues to turn over materials they no longer need or want. I was not as diligent as I could have been in this regard because a) I absolutely loathe having to chase people around and b) I got tired of doing it over the course of a year. People are freaked out by having to go through all of their stuff and yet reluctant to turn it over to an archivist lest you throw out something “important” (like all the files they’ve never, ever looked at since starting their job). Plus, they are already too busy trying to continue to do their jobs while being pelted with move-related information. Just keep at it; whatever you have to do.

Tie Up Those Loose Ends

Take the opportunity to tidy up collections that have languished in a half-processed state. Do some basic re-foldering and grouping of items into series if you have time. Go through and dispose of materials that clearly aren’t going to make the cut in that collection. You’ll save on space and won’t be needlessly moving things you will eventually toss.

Purge, purge, purge. Help your colleagues let go of material that will never be brought into the archives or is already well past its legal retention date. We had dozens of boxes of financial records dated far beyond their seven-year destruction dates in our basement, along with boxes of unused stationery that was not only starting to smell like basement funk, but was about to have the wrong address on it. We probably shredded and recycled several thousand pounds of paper before moving day.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

No matter how quickly you spring into action to prepare for the move, you will not get everything done in advance. I did say try not to move things you’ll probably chuck in the end, but you will also run out of time and have to bring some of it with you to examine in the new space. It happens.

Things will be messy and hard to work with for a while afterward. Not only did I have about three hundred boxes scattered throughout a maze-like floor plan to unpack in my new home, there were still workmen running around tying up loose ends. Our move schedule was ambitious and extremely fast-paced to the point that some new, pre-ordered furnishings and file cabinets would not even arrive for another month or so.

Work The In-Between Times

You will have down times during the process. Make the best of them. We had about a week in which we couldn’t go back to the old office, but we also were not allowed to show up at the new place, lest we get mowed down by a dozen burly guys carrying boxes. I downloaded some key documents to my home laptop and did some of the tedious, data-entry things I had neglected for the past year, like logging research requests … from 2015 onward. I also could have: worked on a grant proposal, started pulling together a list of accomplishments for the year to present in an annual review, laid out the talking points for a presentation I’m giving in a couple of months, or read several white papers from the field. There are dozens of things to do that don’t directly involve using the collections. Take a breath. Do a few things that have been waiting to be done, and get ready for this new adventure.

How About You?

Has your Archive moved? How did it go? What went well and what could have gone better? Make us all cringe with your moving tales of woah and cheer on your move successes by telling us about it in the comments section below!

And … check back next month for the continuing saga in “Wait. We're *gulp* Moving?!?! Part II”

Bonus! For indulging me as I grumble and pontificate on moving, take 25% off some sweet Archivist swag on Zazzle! Use Code: ZAZZLEUSA25Z. That means these sweet trucker hats are less than fifteen bucks until July 3, 2018 at midnight! If hats are not your thing there are some fab mugs, t-shirts and other things that only we Archivists will find amusing. Thanks for visiting!!


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