Remembering writing center partnerships: recommendations for archival strategies.
Writing center archives can better support sustainable community and writing across the curriculum partnerships by providing richer institutional memories of this collaborative work. Citing archival research on the Purdue Writing Lab's community engagement and writing across the curriculum initiatives, the author argues that the histories found in administrative documents tend to elide more complex stories of the relationship building required for successful collaborations. The article concludes with a set of adaptable strategies for documenting the successes and challenges of writing center partnerships.
Writing center directors (WCDs) receive a wealth of advice on crafting documents for administrative audiences but fewer suggestions on documenting and archiving their centers' work for an audience of future staff. Rather than approach writing center archives as static repositories for historical research, this article positions them as dynamic constructions that WCDs can proactively shape in order to ensure a sustainable institutional memory across generations of staff. The archive as it is typically understood, however--as documents stored in print or digital files--is just one, albeit an important one, segment of writing centers' many means of disseminating institutional memories; therefore, towards a richer understanding of how writing centers remember their work, I reflect upon how those memories are circulated through informal conversation, unpublished research, and sites of memory often excluded from writing center archives. I posit that institutional memories of relationship building, and their various challenges and compromises, are a particularly overlooked aspect of writing center histories and one for which WCDs might build a space in their documentation strategies.
I begin by recollecting two of my research projects on the history of the Purdue Writing Lab's community engagement and writing across the curriculum initiatives, projects that evidence the often-limited histories found in "official" administrative documents like annual reports and in particular the absence in these documents of interpersonal histories--that is, histories of the relationship building required for successful collaborations. Drawing from my research experiences, as well as recent scholarship in writing program administration and organizational studies, I propose a range of adaptable documentation strategies that writing center directors can implement in their own centers; with the ultimate aim to help make writing centers' memory practices more inclusive of relational histories, usable for current writing center staff, and sustainable for future staff and researchers.
Archives as Institutional Memory
As archival research becomes more common in writing program studies, a number of scholars have addressed how archives are not only sources of historical knowledge but also constructions that serve particular institutional interests and are shaped by spatial and other constraints. In Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition (edited by Alexis E. Ramsey, Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L'Epplatenier, and Lisa Mastrangelo) and Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process (edited by Gesa E. Kirsch and Liz Rohan), two collections that expand our conceptions of writing program repositories, we find not only historical narratives about writing instruction but also the authors' personal reflections on the fragmentary nature of the archive and the challenges this presents to creating the narratives the authors tell. As David Gold describes it, archival research is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box as a guide (15), the contingency of the archive requiring researchers to piece together histories from diverse locations, drawing from diverse sources beyond a single repository.
Meanwhile, other scholars attend less to the archival research process than to the creation of the archives themselves, urging WPAs and WCDs to create documentation strategies to better preserve their institutions' histories. In her foreword to Beyond the Archives, Lucille M. Schultz suggests that we are always making archival decisions, albeit with varying degrees of consciousness: "[W]e routinely make decisions--sometimes deliberately, sometimes randomly, about which records to keep and which to toss" (viii). In stressing the importance of institutional archives to WCDs, I am particularly indebted to both Shirley Rose's and Muriel Harris's views of WPA archives as programmatic resources. I share Rose's observation that writing program archives are not only a scholarly resource but also an administrative one, informing WPAs' planning, evaluation, and learning about "what is do-able in our institutional context and what the potential roadblocks are" (108). As Rose emphasizes, WCDs should recognize the value of their archives, even though they may "consider disposal of old records an eloquent and gratifying gesture for choosing a new direction for the writing program" (116). Unfortunately, the discarding of old documents as a liberatory gesture can make the recovery of and learning from the past a challenging if not impossible task. In building upon Rose and envisioning various strategies for preserving writing center histories, I utilize scholarship on institutional memory to reconsider not only writing centers' practices of written documentation but also to attend to the other spoken and "unofficial" ways through which writing center staff store and circulate their institutional memories. Building upon previous scholarship encouraging WPAs' revaluation of the archive, I propose here that through soliciting detailed staff and partner reflections, partnership correspondence and materials, and unpublished institutional scholarship, and placing and inventorying these in a centralized archive, WCDs can help ameliorate the loss of institutional memory that too often occurs during administrative and programmatic transitions.
Focusing on writing centers more specifically, Harris points out WCDs should keep research archives at their center for several reasons, including that they provide a valuable institutional memory that new directors can access to better understand the position and a helpful reference when communicating with various constituents though grant proposals, yearly reports, and other administrative documents. Moreover, archives offer a valuable occasion for reflection, a moment of pause to consider a center's past, present, and vision for the future (14). Yet while administrative archives hold great promise for WCDs' learning and reflection, in many cases their contents could be significantly broadened in their scope. In particular, the documents most often preserved in administrative archives--which Barbara L'Eplattenier & Lisa Mastrangelo describe as "the fiscal reports and other types of documentation that invariably accompany the running of a department" (xix)--contain few narratives about relationship building, the kinds of narratives writing center directors can reflect upon when planning effective community and WAC collaborations.
Perhaps this lack of narratives exists because writing programs and centers often seek to present a unified agenda and mission, resulting in historical narratives that prioritize a "heroic WPA" or WCD who speaks on behalf of their program. Suggesting ways to complicate these narratives, Christy Desmet argues that to "get beyond" the narrative of the heroic WPA, we should discuss the conflicting philosophies that coexist within our writing programs. "The heroic narrative that pits individuals against a faceless collective," Desmet writes, is "a narrative that unhelpfully constructs any given writing program as a monolith rather than a bricolage of attitudes and practices" (44). Addressing the paucity of archival materials around WPA work, she notes that "what frequently is lost are the traces of conversations, committee meetings, and bitter struggles.... What artifacts persist in a writing program record the force of individual personalities on the writing curriculum but are silent on the collaborative, combative, and negotiated processes that inform the underlife of academic institutions (48).
To address the absence of these narratives about conflicted collaborations, writing centers might revisit their current documentation practices, reflecting on the purpose for their current documents and imagining what additional ones might be helpful to future staff and researchers. According to Karen Bishop, WPAs came late to taking this long view of their quotidian documents; as she points out, "WPAs are most often inundated with the paper of their daily work, but which documents we create and collect, how we collect them, and our inquiry process that helps us decide how these documents might be used in the future have only recently begun to be seriously studied" and are seldom considered "as reflective repositories from which we strategically plan" (44). She is suggesting that the contents of writing program archives shape not only research opportunities, and therefore our larger sense of our collective and local histories, but also our ability to plan effective programs informed by past efforts.
The institutional knowledge contained in the archive may be especially relevant to WCDs who, new to an institution, hope to learn more about their centers' previous initiatives in order to successfully plan new ones. Unfortunately, at best, new WCDs enjoy access to their predecessor's institutional knowledge through in-person contact or archived correspondence; at worst, they inherit a fragmented paper trail to their centers' histories. The reasons for a dearth of archival material in our writing centers are myriad; space limitations may play a part (although the creation of digital archives can address this constraint) as may the time limitations WCDs face due to their many other responsibilities. In the face of these material constraints, the archiving of programmatic successes and challenges--of community engagement, WAC partnerships, or other initiatives--can seem overwhelming given the competing priorities that WCDs balance. Moreover, with the limited university space typically provided to writing centers, it is simply unrealistic for a writing center to save every document it produces. With these material realities in mind, I conclude this article with a range of archival strategies requiring various levels of commitment and staffing.
Tracing Histories of Collaboration
My thoughts toward an expanded archival model were prompted by my recent research at Purdue University's Writing Lab, where I am currently a graduate writing consultant. While researching the Lab's past community engagement and WAC efforts, I found it challenging to reconstruct these histories using only the Lab's "official" archive of print materials, which includes mostly documents written for administrative audiences. In the first of these projects, I sought to reconstruct a chronology of the Writing Lab's partnerships with local libraries and adult-literacy centers, with a particular interest in earlier partnerships that occurred before the current director stepped into the position. Observing an increasing institutional focus on engagement initiatives and hoping the Lab would initiate additional collaborations with the local community, I first wanted to know what partnerships the Lab had already forged, particularly the successes and challenges of these partnerships. For answers, I turned to the Lab's "archives," housed in several file cabinets adjacent to the director's office and containing a variety of documents, including student evaluations; fliers, brochures, and other publicity; and thirty years of annual reports. As I read the files for references to community engagement projects, I was initially and perhaps naively disappointed by the lack of detailed history I found there and then intrigued by the larger implications of this absence for the Lab's institutional memory and programmatic visibility. Answers to my initial questions--Why were community partnerships initiated? Why were they disbanded? What were the successes and lessons learned by participants?--can, I believe, be particularly useful for WCDs seeking to sustain, build upon, and, of particular importance, learn from past programs. However, I found it difficult to reconstruct a historical narrative beyond dates and numbers because the Lab's files, and in particular their annual reports, primarily consisted of brief, quantitative summaries written for external administrative audiences.
The language used in these reports is one example of WCDs' tendency to privilege quantitative brevity and concise statements of accomplishment over qualitative details and complex discussions of challenges. This quantitative bias does not necessarily preclude the uncovering of more detailed histories; as is typical of archival research, I learned more about the Lab's history of engagement by extending my scope beyond the print archive, speaking with prior and current Lab staff as well as reading doctoral dissertations by Purdue alumni Allen Brizee and Jaclyn Wells on a recent partnership with the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy (LARA). (1) Having exhausted my departmental contacts, however, I still learned only about the previous five years' programs and nothing about the Lab's earlier partnerships with local schools and libraries.
The second of my archival projects further suggests a potential limitation of writing center and writing program archives: their lack of centralization due to distribution across individuals. As one of two WAC instructors for a sustained, eight-year partnership with Purdue's animal sciences program, I am currently researching how this collaboration was initiated, with a focus on the compromises and negotiations often required for successful WAC partnerships. While the Writing Lab's files again explained this partnership in quantitative terms, through contacting several of the previous coordinators I have accumulated several boxes of rubrics, e-mail correspondence, student writings and course evaluations, and reports written to secure additional funding from the university. Speaking with the founding WAC coordinator for the partnership, who currently lives locally, I learned how she forged a successful crossdisciplinary collaboration during the first semester of the partnership and also about some of the challenges she faced while co-developing a writing rubric with the faculty partner. Through learning about the strategies that the founding coordinator used to strengthen and sustain this partnership, I now have better grounding for my continuing work with this WAC program.
My acquiring the print archive and benefiting from these profitable conversations depended, however, upon several prior coordinators' personal archiving of these materials, as well as their ability and willingness to pass them along to me and candidly speak with me about the partnership. While this experience resulted in a richer print archive than did my first project on community partnerships, in both projects I learned about the programs' histories mainly through conversation with the coordinators and much less through the Lab's "official" archive. As a new coordinator for a position that has had yearly turnover, I actively constructed an archive that was not already in place when I stepped into the position. It is these kinds of project-based archives of writing center partnerships that I promote in this article, archives that WCDs, their fellow staff, and their partners can learn from as well as build upon for future generations of staff and scholars.
These narratives of archival research may resonate with new WCDs and other writing center staff who hope to learn about the successes and challenges of their predecessors. They may have learned about their centers' past partnerships through speaking with their centers' tutors or other staff and faculty at their institutions, but they wish that the written histories they inherited were more complete and useful for program planning and improvement. In writing center scholarship, one finds various references to limited institutional memory and the challenges it presents to incoming writing center staff. Brad Peters recalls, for example, that upon accepting an appointment as a WAC coordinator, he "inherited three file-folders whose contexts very fragmentarily recorded the rise and fall of two previous WAC initiatives" (emphasis added). Filling in the details omitted in these folders, he learns from several graduate assistant (GA) consultants and the "long-standing director of composition" of undocumented challenges previously faced by the WAC initiative, including that the GAs "served as paper graders and grammar police for faculty in cross-disciplinary departments/colleges," while "[o]ther GAs morphed into instructors of disciplinary writing courses in the departments where they were assigned" (104). In a rare but often-cited narrative about the fall of an independent writing program, Chris Anson writes of being removed as director by a temporary dean while Anson was away at a summer conference. He recalls that he was never given a "satisfactory explanation" for his removal and that even today "the action remains shrouded in mystery" (152), leading to another fragmented written record of writing programs. The reasons for this fragmentation are understandable. What would be achieved by recording administrative conflicts for posterity? More importantly, how would recording these conflicts potentially harm involved parties? Do we imagine that knowledge of them would be helpful for future users of the archive? These questions, while their answers will vary by context, are important ones for writing center directors to ask.
Reflecting upon and even documenting institutional histories involving not just conflicts but also challenges or unexpected results of a program may seem counterintuitive when WCDs have been advised to focus on and document positive achievements. As many scholars have already pointed out, the quantitative and concise recording of achievements allows WCDs to share their centers' institutional value with higher administration, garnering funds and other forms of support. Harris, for example, adapts concepts from business, professional writing, and other fields to argue that writing centers should introduce "stickiness" into their writing, language that is "positive, appeals appropriately to our audiences, is highly memorable, and is concrete and specific" (48). Joyce Kinkead & Jeanne Simpson similarly claim that WCDs need to understand the culture of central administration, arguing that "administrators value proposals--not essays or editorials--that are short, communicate effectively, use graphs, figures, and lists" (78). Furthermore, applying technical writing principles to writing center annual reports, Andrea Zachery summarizes common approaches to our communication with university administration, which include document design elements such as bullet points. She points out that administrators prefer quantitative over qualitative information and then illustrates how writing center directors can "translate" qualitative into quantitative data (5). WCDs are thus advised to reach a potentially resistant audience of higher administration through providing numbers, bullet-pointed items, and other concisely phrased evidence that their writing centers are worthy university investments. While this approach to administrative communication is not exhaustive of writing centers' documentation practices, scholarship on the topic suggests that it is a common one.
When documents written in this concise language form the majority of writing centers' archives, however, writing centers may lack more nuanced narratives of their partnerships. In my own archival research, I found a tendency in the Writing Lab's public documents to depict stakeholders as numbers, be they student writers, community partners, or WAC collaborators, consequently eliding the complex relationship building that leads to effective program implementation and continuity. The Lab's annual reports, for example, disclose little about why past community partnerships were initiated, what curricular artifacts were produced, and, finally, why many of them were brief in duration. Moreover, any challenges faced during the partnerships cannot be found in the Lab's current archives, as the annual reports contain none of the partners' reflections on their collaboration, whether positive or negative, or the compromises or negotiations involved in the partnership. Roberta Kjesrud & Mary Wislocki point out that WCDs "not only try to avoid conflicted collaborations, but also try to downplay the emotions they often provoke" (102). In part because of its stigmatization, and in part because of a lack of venues for openly sharing and recording challenges and failures, knowledge about challenging partnerships is often inaccessible to future collaborators. However, if future writing center staff knew about both the successes and challenges of past work in the local and university community, they might be more sensitive and better informed when approaching potential community and WAC partners.
Seeking to expand writing centers' perception of the print archive and what it can contain, this article argues that without a sustained documentation strategy incorporating multiple perspectives, writing centers risk what Christopher Pollitt terms "institutional amnesia (6)," a condition that can afflict new WCDs and staff who have scarce historical knowledge about the centers they now lead. The rapid pace with which organizations forget because of inadequate documentation has been of particular interest in the field of organizational studies, which has investigated institutions' memory practices to a greater extent than studies in WPA.
As Pollitt contends in his essay on institutional amnesia in public organizations, "stress has been placed on innovation and change rather than stability and precedent, on creativity rather than experience, on envisioning the future rather than studying the past, on sound bites and key words rather than full texts" (6). An organization's focus on the present and its deprioritization of the past materializes in several situations: when an organization fails to document its data or decisions; when this information is recorded but the records are lost; when records cannot be quickly accessed; and when "records are accessible and available, but no-one thinks of using them" (6). Pollitt aptly observes that an increased rate of organizational restructuring has caused organizations to "rapidly lose touch with the records and personnel of their organizational 'ancestors.'" New staff in senior positions knowing "little of the past experiences of the units they now command, and discovering what records of this experience may exist is not an activity likely to be high on their lists of priorities" (6).
While Pollitt is interested in institutions outside of academia, many of the challenges to institutional memory he discusses apply equally well to writing programs and writing centers. His observations reveal the importance of storing archives in an accessible and central location, as challenges occur when new directors lack knowledge of their centers' histories and have other, more pressing priorities than investigating and reflecting upon their institutional records. Were the materials I gathered already stored in the "official" writing center archive, I would not have had to do the additional groundwork to construct a more expansive repository.
Expanding the Archive
Recognizing the immediate pressures of writing centers to respond to higher administrative demands by proving in sound bites their center's worth, I suggest that WCDs supplement the documents writing centers most often archive--specifically annual reports and other publicity written for an external audience--with qualitative, more nuanced details about writing center programs. These details might currently be transmitted in e-mail correspondence, meetings, informal staff conversations, and a number of other sites of memory that are transient and often forgotten if not documented. Some of these sites, like e-mail correspondence, might be archived and organized for future staff to inherit, while others, like conversations, would need to be translated into documented form. (2) Additionally, I suggest that WCDs consider supplementing the quantitative, concise language of annual reports with polyvocal stories about programmatic successes as well as challenges, giving voice to those we serve--whether students, local community partners, or WAC collaborators. These stories can take various forms depending on the center's needs and capacities: oral histories, student research projects, graduate dissertations, or end-of-project reflections are just a few possibilities. By supplementing the mostly quantitative narratives told in annual reports and similar administrative documents, WCDs can construct an institutional repository that encourages continuity of organizational memory between generations of writing center directors, tutors, and other staff.
Envisioning writing center archives that include a range of administrative and scholarly materials, I turn to the Writing Center Research Project (WCRP), a "repository of historical, archival, and scholarly materials related to Writing Center Studies," which started as an IWCA project at the University of Louisville and is currently hosted by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The WCRP includes an online, searchable annotated bibliography of The Writing Center Journal (WCJ) articles as well as an on-site archive that includes a collection of oral histories. While the materials listed on the site are inaccessible to off-site researchers (except for back issues of WCJ), the WCRP is one model of the ways historical documents could contribute to expanded institutional repositories. Writing center archives adapted from this model might similarly include scholarship by tutors and other staff, including conference presentations, seminar papers, dissertations, and journal articles, as well as reflections, either written or spoken, by writing center staff, partners, and students served. By consistently archiving personal narratives and institution-based scholarship, WCDs can, I believe, better remember the relationships forged and the research conducted at their institutions.
In "Campus-Community Partnerships: The Terms of Engagement," Robert G. Bringle & Julie A. Hatcher describe how campus-community partnerships consist of interpersonal relationships among campus administrators, faculty, students, and community members. They apply the phases of relationships--initiation, development, maintenance, and dissolution--and the dynamics of relationships--exchanges, equity, and distribution of power--to the relationships between service-learning instructors and community partners, a metaphor that encourages writing centers to document these aspects of collaborative relationships. Yet the relationships involved in effective partnerships with institutions outside and within the university can be particularly difficult to sustain if partnerships are initiated and led by tutors or graduate student administrators or if the WCD is a rotating position. Creating an archive with detailed information on how these relationships were formed and sustained can encourage some continuity of institutional memory despite staff turnover.
Rather than being preserved in the archive, however, the dynamics of relationship building are usually discussed in informal, undocumented conversation. Making these conversations somehow more visible within writing center archives, through oral histories or internal reporting by writing center staff, is a potentially fruitful project that would minimize the loss of institutional memory when older generations of staff and their knowledge are no longer available to us. As Charlotte Linde explains, oral narratives are often forgotten when we consider institutional histories so that "history derived from written sources is the unmarked assumption in most thinking about institutional memory" (44-45). Seeking to incorporate oral histories into writing center documentation practices, Carey Smitherman points out that the collection of institutional narratives provides personalized accounts that "get beyond the surface dates and events in any field"--the kinds of information that "would otherwise be excluded or overlooked" (1-2). These oral histories can contribute not only to a writing center's knowledge of its past work but also to making these histories more visible to external audiences, including higher administration. This alternative to traditional programmatic documentation, like meeting minutes and annual reports, has the potential to provide an institutional memory of writing centers that includes a variety of voices, successes, and challenges. I therefore propose that writing centers collect institutional oral histories in order to provide a more detailed, nuanced account of community engagement and WAC projects than is currently found in administrative documents like annual reports.
Writing centers produce scholarship by students, tutors, and staff that may never be preserved in their archives. As an example, the Purdue Writing Lab's Annual Reports list titles of scholarship produced within the center, including conference presentations, doctoral dissertations, and journal articles, though the complete texts of this scholarship are not included. If they were, the Writing Lab would have a rich repository of research to benefit future students and staff. (3) Additional documents that could be added to this repository include research produced in the English department's graduate seminars on writing center and writing program administration, some of which has used the Writing Lab as a research site. Collecting and inventorying this unpublished writing center scholarship would not only strengthen institutional memory of writing center collaborations but also present the Writing Lab as a producer of scholarly knowledge. Other writing centers might similarly collect student writing on topics related to their centers' histories and then create searchable inventories similar to the archive of scholarship housed at the WCRP. In addition to collecting and archiving existing scholarship, WCDs might also encourage both undergraduate and graduate tutors to conduct research projects on their centers and submit these writings to their centers' archives. Preserving this scholarly knowledge in a central, accessible location--along with conference presentations and published dissertations and articles--would make this work more visible and usable for current and future writing center staff.
The archiving of relational histories need not end with existing documentation practices, however. In order to further incorporate multiple voices into the documents held in their archives, WCDs, graduate students, and writing center tutors might conduct local research that collects a range of perspectives on writing center collaborations. One model of such research is Michelle LaFrance & Melissa Nicolas's Faculty-Staff Standpoints Project, an institutional ethnography that began when they realized "how differently the three unique individuals involved approached a shared element of our work" (131). With the goal of understanding how institutions shape these differing individual experiences and practices within their writing center, the coauthors use institutional ethnography research methodologies to shift their "gaze from the 'site' (the writing center, the classroom, the writing program) to the ways people in or at a site co-create the very space under investigation" (134). Institution-based research that explores how multiple individuals approach similar administrative work differently due to their unique standpoints can provide a way to document collaborative writing center work, especially the work of local community and WAC collaborations. While LaFrance & Nicolas's research was limited to conversations with writing center faculty and staff, the research on partnerships I propose here would also engage with participants beyond the writing center. For example, a research project on a WAC or WID partnership might involve interviews and focus groups with the faculty and student participants in order to gather a variety of perspectives on the program's successes and challenges.
Another coauthored piece on writing program collaboration, this one based at Purdue University, is Michael Salvo, Jingfan Ren, Tammy Conard-Salvo, & Allen Brizee's history of their OWL usability study, a collection of narratives foregrounding the processes and challenges of intradepartmental collaboration. As the coauthors explain, in this collaborative project, technical knowledge "was secondary to maintaining effective dialogic relationships among stakeholders on the team," with the OWL serving as an "informational architecture constituting and constituted by collaboration and competition" among diverse interests, the success of which depended upon "intangible assets, particularly stakeholder relationships" (108). As modeled by this article, those involved in community or WAC partnerships could convene to coauthor descriptions of their projects, sharing both the successes and challenges of those partnerships and, if these descriptions are intended for an audience of future coordinators, recommendations for future improvements.
Of course, the collaborators in these publications were departmental colleagues. Writing center partnerships across the disciplines or with local communities may join stakeholders with more marked differences; how writing centers document challenges and negotiations that arise during these collaborations is difficult to capture, with few existing models in most writing program research. To facilitate documentation, staff and tutors involved in these partnerships could ask their partners to prepare recommendation reports so those later assigned to the projects would inherit a set of best practices and lessons learned. Yet we also need to think about the logistics of recommendation reports so they are taken seriously and not filled out perfunctorily, as comment cards often are. Whether oral histories or evaluation forms, memory and materiality are intertwined; the format in which memories are solicited shapes the response. To elicit detailed reflections and feedback, then, WCDs might create end-of-year or end-of-partnership reports that ask for extended narratives more than numerical rankings and brief comments. Alternatively, WCDs might meet with WAC or community partners to gather narratives about the partnerships' successes, challenges, and areas for future growth or improvement. Meeting in person would allow all participants to ask each other clarifying questions in order to write as detailed a narrative as possible.
Instead of soliciting feedback through traditional methods like evaluation forms, then, writing centers might develop a means of fostering the documentation of multifaceted narratives, as well as include a mechanism to ensure that challenges are discussed outside of an accountability paradigm. In other words, an important issue to consider is whether--or how much--these sorts of reflections should be made public. If the reports contain sensitive issues about the partners, for example, would the partners want these to be recorded? Collaboratively writing the reports is one way to help ensure that both the partner and the writing center approve of and have contributed to its contents.
Once these reports are written, they must be made accessible through a centralized archive. As Rose emphasizes, to have value for administrative decision making, archives must be functional and usable. Where should the archive be located? In what form should it be preserved: print, digital, or both? Who will ensure its maintenance? As my research on Purdue's WAC program indicates, writing centers' "archives" may already exist in the personal repositories of past and present staff rather than in a central, shared site. Collecting the individual archives of current and recent staff, adding them to the shared archive, and then creating an inventory of these materials would encourage access to a center's institutional memory. The specific documentation and archival strategies WCDs implement will of course vary based on their centers' programming as well as physical capacity, priorities, and time constraints. Even with limited time, space, and staff, however, writing centers can make modest efforts towards a more comprehensive and centralized archive. To that end, I offer three phases of archival strategies that individual writing centers can amend and further develop based on their local needs and priorities.
Phase 1: Create and Centralize
* Select a centralized, easily accessible location in which to archive your writing center's historical documents.
* Archive programmatic materials currently inaccessible to other writing center staff. These may include meeting notes you would like to share with current and future staff. If these materials are in e-mail correspondence, organize them in folders based on program or project.
* Create an inventory of these materials and make it available in both print and digital form.
Phase 2: Collect and Expand
* Collect publications, seminar papers, and conference papers on your writing center; if you do not already, require that any research conducted in your center be submitted for the archive. Organize and inventory this research for ease of searchability.
* Encourage previous partnership coordinators, other writing center staff, and partners to submit their correspondences, handouts, lectures, and other materials currently kept in their individual "archives."
Phase 3: Develop New Documentation
* Conduct and archive exit interviews with collaborators that encourage them to share successes, challenges, shortcomings, and suggestions for improving future collaborations.
* Write oral histories of tutors, staff, faculty, and community organizations that have partnered with your writing center.
* Encourage your institution's graduate students and tutors to conduct writing center-based ethnographies in order to document the voices of various partners.
* Include stories about successful collaborations and partnerships in annual reports, websites, and other highly visible locations. While stories shared publicly would best adhere to a success narrative, they are likely to provide a more nuanced portrait of partnerships than those generally found in writing centers' annual reports and other common forms of documentation.
L'Eplattenier & Mastrangelo state that the traces of administrative histories "are often destroyed or hidden in a multitude of files" and that "informal decision-making, trade-offs, and unexpected accommodations are common ... but are not always significantly explained within documents" (xx). Accommodations, trade-offs, informal decisions--these events are integral to writing center partnerships. Because these interactions are rarely documented, they are likely occluded by writing center archives and thus risk being omitted from the body of knowledge transferred from one cycle of staff to the next and from research on writing center histories.
When WCDs prioritize the archiving of annual reports and other public documents, they construct an institutional memory that privileges quantitative evidence and superficial success narratives. As emphasized in writing center scholarship, these documents are necessary for writing centers' institutional livelihood. For the purposes of partnership planning, however, more multifaceted narratives can help us to better understand how to support and sustain our relationships with the local and university communities. In my localized research in the Purdue Writing Lab's print archives, I found that a detailed, qualitative history of the Lab's partnerships is largely unavailable to current and future staff. Meanwhile, information in the Lab's written records privileges a quantitative success narrative, eliding the relationship building involved in writing center partnerships.
By reflecting on their current documentation strategies, writing center directors can provide an antidote to the lack of institutional memory confronted all too often by incoming WCDs. Through providing occasions for storytelling about engagement work--and, of great importance, documenting the stories told there--the nuances of community engagement and WAC work can be better preserved. The implications are far reaching for both program planning and for archival research. In thoroughly documenting partnerships across their local and university communities, WCDs can help ensure informed work with future partners, greater visibility for this work, and a storehouse of research materials on writing center collaborations.
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(1) In "The Writing Center as a Site of Engagement," Linda Bergmann describes Brizee's and Wells's then in-progress dissertations as examples of research rooted in engagement projects.
(2) Introducing such documents into an institutional repository may present additional constraints, some of which Brad E. Lucas & Margaret M. Strain helpfully address in their article on the archiving of interviews and oral histories, "Keeping the Conversation Going: The Archive Thrives on Interviews and Oral History." For guidance on IRB approval for interviews and oral histories, see pages 264-65. For information on copyright, including legal considerations when archiving student work, see Veronica Pantoja, Nancy Tribbensee, & Duane Roen's "Legal Considerations for Writing Program Administrators" (141-42).
(3) At the time of publication, graduate student colleagues and I are developing a digital repository of research produced at the Writing Lab, tentatively to be located on the Purdue Libraries site.
Stacy Nall is a doctoral student in the rhetoric and composition program at Purdue University, where she teaches introductory composition, professional writing, and WAC courses. She is also a graduate writing consultant and online content developer for the Purdue Writing Lab. Her work has been published in Reflections: A Journal of Public Rhetoric, Civic Writing, and Service Learning. She would like to acknowledge the contributions of Linda S. Bergmann, who guided her in the writing of this article and served as a mentor and role model for all of her students.
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|Publication:||Writing Center Journal|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
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