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My students’ brilliant MPLP debate points

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

I teach SLIS 440 (Archives Access and Use) as adjunct faculty at Simmons College in Boston. Today we had the great debate: Pro- and con-MPLP. The brilliant Kathy Wisser, the “real” professor at Simmons who designed the 440 syllabus and teaches 440 to many, many more students than I, invented this classroom exercise. I’ve always been enormously impressed by how effective it is in getting the students to think deeply and thoroughly discuss MPLP.  Here’s a table of the issues and main points that the students raised during the exercise.

I’m so impressed with these students!





  • Climate control is not everywhere
  • MPLP includes “no look” scenarios in which preservation issues are not identified
  • Failing to do simple preservation tasks risks collection damage
  • Climate control is in wide use
  • Any look at a backlogged fonds is better than no look, which is what you get when backlogs remain entirely untouched
  • Preservation tasks are hugely time-consuming
  • MPLP leaves no way to know something has gone missing
  • Reading room security is an alternative way of dealing with security issues raised by MPLP
  • Only determined researchers will put in the effort needed to go through minimally described collections
  • Some access is better than no access
  • Opens archives to risk of release of confidential information, which can also risk the archives’ reputation
  • Consideration of confidentiality can be addressed in deeds of gifts and other interactions with donors, in fact, implementing MPLP may prompt archival repositories to produce better deeds of gift
  • Could reduces perceived need for and funding for work of professional archivists
  • If only determined researchers use the collections, the overall use of the archives is diminished, making the archive appear to have less impact and be less deserving of funding
Funding impact
  • As greater access for formerly backlogged collections is available, the impact and utility of the archives will demonstrate it is more deserving of funding
  • Accessing MPLP collections places more burden on the researcher
  • Time to use these collections is much longer
  • Some users may simply give up
Impact on users
  • Some access is better than none
  • Give the researcher an opportunity to find out if they want to take on the burden of accessing the collection
  • MPLP is open to misinterpretation by archivists, leading to poor implementation and poor practice
Firm definition of MPLP elusive
  • MPLP empowers the archivist to choose how to implement it for their unique circumstances or selectively (for some collections, not others)
  • It may appear the work of description is not valued
  • MPLP places a large burden on reference archivists, who have to assist users to navigate under-described collections and may end up retrieving boxes in which nothing of use to the researcher is stored
Impact on archivists
  • MPLP allows archivists to get on with the work needed under a model of overall prioritization, rather than a one-treatment-fits-all-situations scenario
  • MPLP is an inadequate solution, alternatives include more focused collection development and advocacy
  • MPLP addresses and reduces an otherwise intractable problem