Interesting development with one of Mother NARA’s blogs.   Enough to wake me up from my winter hibernation.

A comment on the Archives and Archivists Listserv on Thursday told people “NARA absorbs input.”  What?  How is that possible?!  This is Fedland.  Home of bureaucrats, drones who are skilled in turf protection and hunkering down.  (That’s what bloggers say about us–if it’s on teh Intertubes, it has to be accurate, gotta defer to the wisdom of the all knowing crowd, right ?)  Well, no.

Look at the blog where the breakthrough occurred.  NDC.  Yeah, that one.   Maybe surprising to peeps outside NARA that this is where input was “absorbed,” but not so inside.  Oh, and the comment that is cited among those received from the public?  One from a former NARA employee.  Yeah.  Somebody who knows that sometimes Stuff Happens and that managers play a role in that.  Oh yeah.

Thing is, AOTUS has gotten comments from former NARA peeps, too.  His first blog post inspired a reaction to his use of the term Citizen Archivist from Archivesnext.  She linked to her own post under his.  The reaction from the Top Change Agent?  Silence.    Oh-oh. 

More and more, I think that was a miscalculation.  First impressions matter.  Especially when people outside don’t see AOTUS walking the floor, asking questions, talking to employees and researchers, doin’ the outreach thing inside the hallowed halls.   The stuff that new agency heads  do.  Yeah, seen it before.  Remember Governor Carlin’s meetings with staff in open forums to take questions  (“when am I ever going to get promoted, whine whine,” as co-workers rolled their eyes and stifled laughter)?  And Vision!!!! 

So we get that starting out often means outreach, outreach, outreach.  Thing is, blogging is harder than it seems.  Just putting things out there is just the first step.  Followup is critical.  It’s like tennis.  You don’t just let the balls lobbed at you fall at your feet.   The Big Dude would have done better to write a follow up post acknowledging the points Archivesnext raised about the term “Citizen Archivists.”   Because, man, Archivesnext used to work at NARA.  Knows something about its culture and the challenges.  Instead, AOTUS stayed on task and put up another post about Citizen Archivists, without acknowledging the buzz about the term and the concept in the archivosphere. 

Which of AOTUS’ posts got the most comments?  “Open to Change,” of course.  Yep, 74 comments.  But look at ’em.  A very high proportion were from NARA peeps.  Thirsty for change much?  Yeah, I’d say so.  Eager to get “on the bandwagon?”  Yeah, mebbe some of that, too, for a few.  

How’s the transformation going to work out?  Remains to be seen.  After the rollout comes the hard part.  Implementation.  And that’s hard, man.  Can’t do it by saying “out with the gray-heads” (some of ’em actually do have value).  Or “budgets are tight, so long student part-time employees, wish we could keep you but oh well” (ouch).  Gotta get the knowledge and character and leadership mix right.   That means understanding the unique issues and, yeah, problems in AI, AII, and out there in the rest of Mother NARA’s outposts.

Yeah, the Big Dude is busy.  And his heart seems to be in the right place.  But it sure would have helped him and Mother NARA, if he would have engaged more outside from the get go.  Been able to answer some of the questions thrown at him right from blogging day one onwards, by smart people such as Archivesnext.   It’s not too late.  But time sure is a wastin.’  And there’s more and more water flowing under that bridge every day.