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The True Cost of Acquisitions

An Archivist’s Toolbox – Words & Illustrations by Mary Kid: “Earlier this year, I read an article titled Hail the Maintainers. The authors, writing on the rise of Silicon Valley, argue that too much value is given to innovation, rather than the labor involved in maintaining the technologies resulting from it. “Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations,” the authors assert. That is worth a deeper dive. I drew parallels between this sort of technological maintenance labor that the authors described, and the day-to-day tasks performed by library and archives workers, especially within and in support of special or research collections. Coincidentally, I read this article while involved in two projects where I developed calculator tools that can measure the impact of a single acquisition in terms of staff capacity and associated supplies, transportation and labor costs. These calculators give evidence to the lasting impact acquisitions, both large and small, can have over an entire department. In addition, they offer a way forward for institutions to take informed steps towards more sustainable collection development. The Maintainers made me think about whether there were words or concepts commonly used within special collections like “innovation” that similarly obscure the lived realities of workers’ experiences. The word I honed in on was “donation”; as in, “an acquisition that was donated to the archive”. This word connotes something as free-of-charge to the recipient, which in the case of acquisition donations could not be farther from the truth…”

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