More Product, Less Process: A Reassessment

I drafted the following post earlier this year and intended it to run before now, but it didn’t.  It appears today because of the terrible news that Mark Greene has died in a car accident.  I consider Mark to be the brightest archivist of my time.  He was also a dear friend with a twisted sense of humor that melded perfectly with my own.  I am near tears as I write this.

Herb Hartsook


Mark Greene

Mark Greene

In 2005, the scholarly article, “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing,” shook the archival world.  Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner challenged the archival profession to rethink everything they do in arranging and describing collections.  The authors argued that archivists needed to re-imagine the time and attention traditionally allocated to handling each and every sheet of paper in arranging a collection, as well as the performance of expensive and time-consuming preservation work and the detailed description of archival collections.  It stands as the best known article to date written on the archival profession.

Dennis Meissner

Dennis Meissner

Greene and Meissner were persuasive in arguing that existing archival standards had resulted in universal, crippling, and ever-growing backlogs of unprocessed collections.  Their article offered a solution.  They presented a menu of options to speed up the processing and opening of collections.  Chiefly, they pointed out that collections, or series within collections, are not uniformly valuable, and that every archival collection should not automatically receive identical handling.  Adopting the strategies they advocated would result in major positive results – chiefly, making collections available much more rapidly and thus shrinking backlogs.

Greene and Meissner were pragmatists offering a solution to a real and growing problem.  Within a short time, MPLP became generally accepted as a standard for the profession.  But, their theory is occasionally abused to affirm shoddy work.  SCPC has been a prominent critic of MPLP as a tool in working with congressional collections.  We argue that the presence of sensitive and even classified documents among congressional collections requires individual inspection of much of the material we receive.

MPLPBut on March 21, 2017, SCPC opened the papers of Environmentalists, Inc., a large modern collection which we processed using MPLP standards.  Users of the collection will note its description is much less detailed than is our norm.  And the collection has not been completely refoldered.  But these rich materials are now available and being used, just as Greene and Meissner would want.

So, I write this partly an admission that I should have been more generous in my treatment of Greene and Meissner.  I won’t rehash my objections to the misapplication of MPLP standards, but I do want to celebrate the impact that creative and deep reflection, such as that shown by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner, can have on one profession. 

This entry was posted in behind-the-scenes, collections, spotlight, uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.