I learned a great new phrase at Blake Camp this year: ‘Bus Project’. This is a project that you are in charge of, but that anybody else could take over in the unlikely (and of course, tragic) event that you get squashed by a bus. Usually, this means that you keep comprehensive notes, talk to your colleagues and generally leave a long and detailed paper trail everywhere you go.
As those of you who work on projects that are staffed by graduate students know, there is a huge amount of turnover as people graduate/take on other commitments/disappear off the face of the earth while they write their dissertations, so the concept of the Bus Project is incredibly relevant to the Blake Archive. When they leave us, our Assistants take a great deal of knowledge and skills with them. While we work hard to keep each other updated through meetings and notes, the truth is that it is impossible to record every step or decision we take. In the last few months, for example, I’ve had to get in touch with two much-missed former Blake Archive employees with questions. If they hadn’t had the time and generosity to respond, then that information would have been lost.
I found myself thinking about this recently because two new assistants have joined us at BAND. As I met with them both to give them an introduction to working for the Archive, I realised (once again!) just how many acronyms and esoteric vocabulary we use round here. Phrases like ‘Is anyone using Bentley this afternoon’ or ‘My BAD was on the desktop but now its disappeared’ mean precisely nothing to anyone outside the Archive and I started to wonder if this was a problem. As someone who spends a lot of time extolling the virtues of transparency in DH – sorry! Digital Humanities – shouldn’t my language reflect that?
In an attempt to mend my ways, I sought inspiration from my favourite Enlightenment thinkers and decided to write a Blake Archive Encyclopédie. Ha. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that my pet project was doomed to failure because the list of words that needed definitions quickly grew out of control. Basically, it just kept getting longer and longer as I tried to anticipate all the different things that new assistants would need to understand. Once I’d got through the Blake Archive vocabulary, I started wondering whether wider DH terminology had a place in my list? Or terms from Computer Science? And how about the words and phrases we use due to our affiliation with the University of Rochester? My Bus Project never got to the next stop.
So the question is, how can we create good Bus Projects? We need to ensure that we don’t suffer from Blake Archive brain drain but at the same time, we don’t want to get buried under a mountain of paperwork. There is a real danger that if we spend all of our time documenting our processes, no real work will ever get done. Moreover, as Jarrod and Katherine have noted in recent posts, we all approach projects differently, and often those multiple perspectives help us to create better work and more accurate transcriptions or markup. If we go overboard with recording and standardising our working habits, something important could be lost.