Public History MA Alumna, Rachel Jacobson’16 Puts Her Skills to Use at The Phillips Collection Library

Public History MA Alumna, Rachel Jacobson, ’16, found the perfect use of her archival skills in her role as Project Manager for a new program at The Phillips Collection Library and Archives.

An example from the archival collection which will be digitized. Some documents show the relationship Duncan Phillips had with various organizations.

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of America’s first museum of Modern Art, The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Duncan Phillips, who started the museum as a memorial gallery to his father and brother, developed relationships with a number of artists, gallery owners, and collectors. Material documenting these relationships, help make up the archive. Wisely, The Phillips Collection has decided to invest in these historic documents during their centennial, rather than focus solely on an art exhibition. The museum received a collections stewardship grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and I was hired to manage their first-ever archival digitization project.

As a graduate student at North Carolina State University, I worked in the Special Collections Research Center as a Library Associate. This experience solidified my commitment to the archival field and as I re-entered the workforce, I developed evolving skills in the digital side of archives.

Duncan Phillips worked with organizations all over the United States and Europe, including North Carolina.

The project is focused on digitizing and putting a portion of the Directorial correspondence and historic photographs online for both internal and external researchers. Additionally, this grant is intended to help The Phillips Collection develop infrastructure so that similar projects can take place in the future. There are many important steps to successfully implement a new initiative. In the course of performing these steps, I have learned several important lessons as a project manager.

First I had to make the proposed deliverables obtainable. The project I manage focuses on a specific and reasonably sized portion of the Directorial correspondence and historic photographs. The Phillips Collection was interested in setting up a digitization program previously, but the feasibility of their latest proposal allowed them to be granted the funds to pursue this goal. 

Second, I had to protect the scope of the project. Scope is the documented plan and deliverables. As project manager it is important to avoid “scope creep”. Scope creep is when unrealistic requests or changes are made to a project that already has set parameters. For example, if you set out to accomplish X but others wish to tack on Y and Z, they are in violation of the scope of your project, and run the risk of ruining the integrity of the project deliverables.

Institutions with limited resources may try to violate the scope of a grant-funded project because they want to take advantage of the rare opportunity that their institution has additional funding or staff. The temporary boost that a grant may provide makes it important to prioritize the long-term sustainability of a plan.

In considering long-term sustainability of the project, I assessed what software, databases, and systems were already in use at The Phillips Collection and investigated the comfort level of long-term staff with newer technology. With sustainability in mind, I made the decision to utilize a collections management system already in place, rather than administer a complicated Digital Assets Management System.

Following completion of the project, I hope to stay on and help with other related projects either by further enhancing metadata and finding aids, digitizing other parts of the collection, or working with the museum as a whole to implement a Digital Assets Management System.

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