Review: Management Concepts and Archival Administration

“Management Concepts and Archival Administration, by James C. Worthy (1979), in A Modern Archives Reader, Daniels and Walch, editors, pp. 299-308.

The author’s thesis, as stated at the end of the article (!), “is that . . . the important principles of management are essentially simple and straightforward and their application is largely a matter of common sense.”  That thesis in turn rests upon a more basic foundation, namely “the essential requirement that the manager have character and integrity, a genuine respect for fellow workers, and a commitment to fairness and justice in all relationships down, up and across the line.”

Now back to the beginning of the article, Worthy notes correctly that most archives are but part of larger institutions and those organizations will have their prevailing rules and regulations and procedures.  Within that context the archives must operate, though somewhat thankfully, most archives are themselves fairly small and simple organizations and so their managerial problems are simplified.  Worthy dismisses much of the dominant managerial literature as unnecessary for our purposes.  That said, a sufficient summary of the remainder of the article can be reduced to the following points:

  • First: the importance of knowing the job. The first and most important qualification for the successful archival administrator is a firm grasp of archival functions and procedures.
  • The second requirement is setting objectives. To do that, first define the purposes for which the archives was established; i.e., how does the archives serve the larger organization?  [Picking up clues from the next article by Desnoyers, we will also want to ask how the archives serves donors, patrons and even the archivists themselves.]
  • The first principle in setting objectives for archival administration is therefore close collaboration with the parent organization to identify and define the ways in which the archival function can serve its particular needs.
  • The second principle in setting objectives is selectivity.  Resources are always limited: money, people, space, time, etc.  The greatest menace to successful archival administration is failure to establish realistic priorities–there must be a concentration of resources on a few well-defined ends.  Resources must be concentrated, the central purpose of the archives must be identified, defined and agreed upon.  And that central purpose must be achievable within the limitations of the resources available.
  • It is a good idea to put these objectives down in writing, particularly as guidelines for future action.
  • Once objectives have been identified, the actual task of organization is not difficult.  Divide tasks among staff available.  [with some view to skill sets]
  • The key to effective organization is management by objectives.  If objectives has been clearly defined and realistic priorities established, and if necessary tasks have been broadly allocated, the objectives themselves become the organizing principle that direct the application of human endeavor.  If the objectives are clear, limited and specific, each staff member can readily see how his or her work relates to the achievement of the objectives and how the work of each relates to and supplements the work of the others.  Problems of communication are minimal because relationships are direct and face-t0-face.  Capitalize on the inherent human capacity of people to work together toward common goals.
  • That in turn leads to Management by participation, namely, the fact that people work better if they have some say in how the work is done.  “Means oriented” management (rules oriented, constrictive of personal incentive, tending towards “micro-management”) versus “ends oriented” management (local governance and leadership, greater personal freedom to solve problems as they arise).
  • A second aspect: Just as employees will feel a greater sense of responsibility for work in whose design they have participated, so too will they feel more personally obligated to achieve goals they themselves have helped set.  To the extent that employees can help shape constraints, they are likely to feel more committed to observe them and more likely to see them as aids rather than restrictions.
  • In sum, all group effort is by definition team effort.  The manager must have an attitude that recognizes the importance of employee involvement and that seeks to create a work environment where personal involvement can thrive
  • Final item: evaluating performance.  People are best judged by what they actually accomplish.  People work better if they know how well they are doing.  But annual reviews are not particularly effective, so don’t wait to tell them; find ways to guide, reward, instruct and train.   Nothing is more central to managing people than making judgments about people and letting them know where they stand.

About wsparkman

Director of the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, Missouri.
This entry was posted in ACA Domain 6, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Review: Management Concepts and Archival Administration

  1. Pingback: Readings for ACA Domain 6 | A Providential Archivist

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