In 2015, The Mariners’ Museum Library at Christopher Newport University was awarded a three-year Hidden Collections grant from the Council for Library and Information Resources to catalog 48,000 negatives held in cold storage; a supporting project digitized the negatives. Before the start of the project, the staff at The Mariners’ Museum Library performed a risk assessment. The project’s risk assessment included normal risks, such as staff turnover and exceeding digital storage capacity, but it failed to include additional risks that seemed both remote and horrible to contemplate. But per Murphy’s law anything that can go wrong will go wrong and it did. While the risk management plan helped, but was rapidly overwhelmed. Presenters in this session will talked about how they have had to mitigate risks that came to pass without the guidance of forethought normally found in the risk management plan.
The grant required The Mariners’ Museum Library to hire cataloger who would create item-level catalog records, as well as create authorized names for vessels, persons, businesses and places. The project catalogers were also tasked with composing talks, blog posts, presentations and articles about the project along the way.
While their project’s risk assessment included staff turnover, it did not foresee the possibility that two photographers would leave back to back. This is resulted in the unexpected discovery that the digital camera was not working correctly. The camera had to be sent back not once but twice. These two things alone caused a set back the project. But when it rains, it pours. The Mariners’ Library at Christopher Newport University was asked to leave the university and had to move in, so to speak, with the museum. And even after overcoming all these hurdles, then came the issues with the negatives themselves. The negatives were donated in the 1930’s and stored in less than ideal conditions. In the 1990’s the negatives were moved to cold storage but in some cases it wasn’t cold enough. Furthermore, the original count of 48,000 was not accurate. The original inventory done many years prior, counted the number of envelopes but what was inside of the envelopes.
These challenges were seen in a positive light. The Mariners’ Museum Library viewed these as opportunities to find creative solutions to their problems. They went from zero volunteers to fifteen in one year. While there was a lot of time upfront to make this a reality the long term benefits outweigh that. None of the volunteers work directly on the grant but they have been able to take over other duties that have helped the staff focus on the grant.
Having a solid vision of success really helps when you are thrown a curve ball or two or three. That solid vision of success allows you to not get frazzled by the unexpected challenges that will come up. One of the greatest takeaways for me was, bad news only gets worse with age. Deal with it upfront and directly. Otherwise, it’s just gonna get worse.
Karolina Lewandowska, M.A., M.L.I.S.
Naval History & Heritage Command