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Strategic Plan progress report
King Jordan Student Academic Center 1255
ForewordMissionFast FactsProgress Report
When I joined the Gallaudet University Archives in March 2021, Covid was still raging through the country at levels encouraging the imposition of various restrictions on movement. This included the campus of Gallaudet University, which was still applying a full-time remote-work policy.
One of the few exceptions to the rule was the Archives team, which was working on campus five days a week, creating an exhaustive inventory of the entire collection for the first time. Although discrete indexes and inventories have always existed of various parts of the collection, this was the first time an actual, physical inventory recording specific items and locations was undertaken on the collection as a whole.
The inventory was necessary in order to prepare for a true first in the history of the modern Archives: The collection was slated to be relocated ahead of a planned renovation or replacement of the Merrill Learning Center (MLC). Although the Archives has been relocated before—most recently from the Edward Miner Gallaudet (EMG) building to the MLC in 1980—that move predated the significant growth of the Archives into the behemoth it is today.
Currently occupying an 8,700 square foot warehouse in Maryland and another 6,000 square feet in the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC)’s Shared Collections Facility (SCF), the Archives represents tens of thousands of individual items ranging from tables and chairs to large sculptural works—and, of course, traditional documents, too.
The inventory had started not long before I joined the Archives as director, and of course, I saw an opportunity. Here was a chance for the Archives team to individually handle, identify, locate, and categorize every single item, box, or object in the Archives in a single project. Through this, we could come to know so much more about the collection: what it contains, where it has come from, and where it can go.
Within the first two months of my tenure, I had a five-year plan drafted and finalized within the outlines of a new vision and mission statement that sought to shift the direction of the Archives and allow us to better manage both the collection as it is and the collection as it will someday become.
That five-year plan, applicable through the end of June 2026, includes four goals:
Each goal breaks down into several objectives, which we’ll examine further in the following sections.
Originally, the goal was to release annual updates on our progress, including in 2021 and 2022, but the relocation project was fully underway in those years and dominated our attention. Now, in 2023, the relocation off-campus is complete, and we are settling back into a normal routine, and it strikes me as a good halfway point to pause and check in on how we’re doing.
Looking back on what we’ve accomplished thus far, it’s difficult not to feel a sense of pride in the team and their accomplishments. I hope once you’ve read through this report, you’ll feel the same.
The Gallaudet University Archives is responsible for the institutional memory of the University and also strives to preserve the memory of the global Deaf Community.
Given the nature of the University’s mission, the Gallaudet University Library Deaf Collections and Archives works diligently to build, maintain and organize the world’s largest collection of materials related to the Deaf Community, as well as the home to Gallaudet University’s institutional records and the records of the Gallaudet family. Included in the collection are artifacts, photographs, films, papers, periodicals, books, and other items. While maintaining a comprehensive collection, the importance of preserving the records of the global Deaf Community and collaborating with other repositories to ensure the longevity of items is essential.
The Archives recognizes that it is one of the world’s leading centers of preservation, conservation, research, and access to the cultural memory of the global Deaf community. It supports Gallaudet University’s mission of bilingualism, diversity, and the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals in a rapidly-changing world.
To that end, the Archives will 1) Use various strategies to support and provide broad and continuing access to its resources to an ever-growing community of Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and signing past, current, and future researchers both on campus and off; 2) Manage, develop, and preserve its collections in accordance with best practices in collaboration with related units and experts within Deaf communities to assure historical value and continuity; 3) Undertake a transformative digitization initiative that supports the previous two goals while offering access to the multifaceted histories of deaf communities around the world; and 4) Assure the highest standard of research assistance and support to researchers of signed languages, Deaf histories, and Deaf cultures of communities both in the United States and around the world.
The status of each objective will be evaluated on a continuum as follows:
By June 2026, the Archives will…
Although we have given several presentations over the past two and a half years, this objective has not been met. Presentations have been given to a range of courses from GSR 210 to DST 497, as well as a special-topics course in digital history, but approximately half of all presentations were for outside groups.
In 2022 and 2023, the Archives collaborated with the Drs. John S. and Betty G. Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center on the following:
Other ongoing collaborations include:
One future opportunity for collaboration with the Schuchman Center includes:
Although we frequently get inquiries from students interested in working with us and our materials, budget constraints make it difficult to bring student workers onboard. Some are willing to work with us without pay, but the strictures of their course schedules and other obligations make it difficult for them to prioritize volunteer work.
While the planned update was in progress, University Communications ordered a freeze on all major updates to existing webpages ahead of a planned migration to a new platform and design, which was completed in 2022. Based on the following statistics from our primary collection on the Internet Archive, this migration may have done more harm than good:
Although there are clear spikes of interest, the overall trend reflects a slight decline in use.
Additionally, a look at our statistics on Islandora suggest that although there is healthy interest in some of our collections, there are a number of fairly significant problems with data collection that make it difficult to accurately determine a baseline. Here is a comparison of our usage statistics between November 2021 (top) and today (bottom):
Some collections are tracked for usage, while others have remained at the same page-view count for two years. It’s not immediately clear why this is the case, but we can see that some collections are tracked and used. We’ll continue to monitor usage statistics, but between Islandora and the Internet Archive, it’s clear there are some data-collection issues at play in addition to continuing internal changes to the Gallaudet website.
Currently the Library and Archives are closely collaborating on issues related to managing the Deaf Collection across its two components: the circulating collection and the Copy 1 collection. Additionally, the E-Resources and Instruction & Reference Librarian offered a great deal of support as we developed a system for managing our SCF collection.
The Museum and Archives are continuing to collaborate despite the Museum’s reassignment to the President’s Office. Projects include:
By 2026, the Archives will…
This is a complex objective encompassing multiple components, each of which I’m pleased to report is ongoing as of this writing; we have collected very detailed and granular information about the holdings and efforts to develop the following plans are actively underway:
Individuals have been identified, but we are still in the information-gathering phase; policy development is underway, but not sufficiently advanced to submit to reviewers for feedback.
As it stands, approximately 20% of the film/video collection is in digital form, whether streaming via then Video Library/Kaltura or on DVD and DV/mini-DV tape.
Digitization of the artwork is a little less simple; although virtually all pieces of artwork have images scanned and uploaded into Past Perfect, our museum collection-management platform, most are not of sufficiently high quality to be deemed archival. Efforts are currently underway to develop a photo studio that will allow archival captures of three-dimensional objects to occur; additionally, the use of our Robo-Scanner will enable the capture of two-dimensional media.
Gallaudet periodicals include everything from On the Green, our internal staff publication, to the Buff and Blue, the long-standing student publication. Technically, our yearbook, the Tower Clock, is included under this heading, as well as the various newsletters put out by the schools comprising the Clerc Center. Virtually all of it has been digitized at this point, putting us well ahead of schedule on this count.
Our photograph collection stands at approximately 185,000 images. Around 6,000 photos have been digitized thus far, and we are currently collecting quotes from third-party vendors for the digitization of our Portraits collection, which contains student photos from the early-to-mid 20th Century. That collection includes around 19,000 individual images, so would be sufficient to meet this objective on its own.
This effort is complex and ongoing. Past years of collection development policy that practiced a status-quo sort of neutrality have damaged trust with those communities, and they no longer view Gallaudet as a “safe” place to deposit their historical and cultural materials. A number of different approaches are being practiced to rebuild relationships, including revisiting donor agreements, offering support in developing community archives that are not beholden to Gallaudet, and strategic purchasing when budgetary constraints allow.
Currently underway as of this writing.
Largely complete. However, we are bound by the terms of a memorandum of understanding establishing our main funding for digitization projects, which means we must prioritize specific collections. If any of the funds are still unspent after those collections have been digitized, we will be able to use them to digitize the high-use collections we have identified.
Currently underway as of this writing. The tricky part is finding a place to put them (see the above objective focused on an institutional repository).
Ongoing. Currently we have received a collection of research materials accumulated by the VL2; have received around 2,000 videos stored by the TV studio based at MSSD; have taken control of the video library previously managed by University Communications; and are providing ongoing limited support to the in-house library and archive maintained by Gallaudet’s Theatre and Dance program. Other collections continue to pop up around campus as offices relocate, address changing space needs, or are restructured.
Archive staff → Patron
Archive staff → Archive staff
Archive staff → Collaborator
Archive staff → Library staff
Another complex objective with many moving parts, but I am pleased to report that the following policies and procedures have been revised and updated:
The following are currently under active review or revision:
Patron support for us includes examining the services that we provide, understanding patron satisfaction, and developing new services to offer, or revising/expanding currently-offered services. A survey is due to go out to the community in Fall 2023 to begin addressing this.
Staff responsibilities, redundancy, and support is an ongoing process of re-evaluating staff job descriptions, ensuring that all services can be covered by more than one individual, and offering the support required to train staffers as required. The pandemic and then the relocation have resulted in three years without a “normal;” the end of the relocation presents us with an opportunity to reassess our positions and consider how our return to campus will also impact the services we provide—and who provides them.
Communication expectations range from how we work with patrons to how we collaborate with Library staff. It can often be challenging to work with a patron whose expectations don’t align with the reality of how the Archives operates, whether that’s due to an internal or external miscommunication. Patrons have expressed dissatisfaction in the past with our response times and with, in some cases, a lack of consistency in policy adherence. This review is ongoing.
Finally, emergency/inclement weather planning actually falls under the header of disaster planning and response. The past five years have seen the following events:
Although the university is in the middle of ongoing efforts to address several infrastructural issues responsible for some of the above listed events, it is clearly incumbent upon us to develop an effective response to disasters. This includes ensuring the presence and availability of emergency supplies, training in an established disaster-response hierarchy, and learning how to assess incidents and prioritize materials that need saving.
As part of this process, two Archives staffers attended disaster-response training in the summer of 2023, and training is ongoing. A representative of the Library to liaise in cases of emergencies will be identified and trained along with Archives staff to respond to disasters.
Across all four goals, we can see that specific, focused, and measured progress has occurred over the past two and a half years.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that strategic plans don’t necessarily capture the full picture of a given unit’s operations in detail. They’re groups of high-level goals intended to achieve progress over a set period of time according to a specific vision and are not necessarily responsive to the baseline level of activity required to maintain daily operations.
That means things like the items covered by the Fast Facts on page 7 figure into this report only when those activities are responsive to the strategic plan, but it’s important to note that those activities are ordinary, even mundane, for the staff of the Gallaudet University Archives. That they are capably fulfilling these duties while rising to the challenge of our strategic plan deserves all the applause in the world.
There is every expectation that the team will continue to push forward on the goals outlined here, and every reason to believe that next year’s report will show the fruits borne by that push.
Director, Gallaudet University Archives
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