I’ve previously looked at archival work from the perspectives of tennis and football, so now in honor of Final Four weekend, I’m going to do the same thing for basketball.

Preparation.  Successful basketball coaches and players spend time before games studying their competition, looking for weaknesses and trying to diagnose the best ways to approach the strengths of the opponent.  While archivists don’t have exactly have opponents, it is vital that we approach our projects only after thorough preparation.  Identifying low-hanging fruit can generate early buy-in by giving people easy successes, and planning how to handle the difficult parts of the project can give people confidence that the project won’t founder due to unanticipated difficulties.

Specialization.  The game of basketball is in a bit of a transition period.  Traditionally, there were well-defined positions within each team, complete with numbers for ease of depicting on a chalkboard the places each player should be located on the court for a particular play:

  1. point guard
  2. shooting guard
  3. small forward
  4. power forward
  5. center

The advantage of this system is that everyone has clearly defined responsibilities — on offense, on defense, while boxing out for rebounds.  Until the 1970s, girls’ high school basketball was even more specialized, with three forwards playing on the offensive end of the court and three guards playing on the defensive end of the court and no one playing full court.

In recent years, coaches both at the college and professional levels have begun talking of positionless basketball.  The basic idea is to build a game plan around the strengths of individual players and not constrain their play with any notions of what a particular position player “should” or “should not” be doing.  The Golden State Warriors employ this style of play.

Archivists have certainly embraced the idea of specialization.  You need look no further than the 45 sections found within the Society of American Archivists to realize that we like to define our jobs clearly and assume there’s something to be gained from focusing on a very narrow slice of the archival world.  But I find myself wondering if the profession wouldn’t be better off with more cross-pollination and less working in independent silos.  Probably the most obvious example is that many repositories handle paper and digital records separately — especially with arrangement and description but sometimes also with other archival functions.  Perhaps the lone arrangers of our profession could help us all learn something about the agility that could come from having a more positionless profession.

Points of emphasis.  For the last number of years, the NCAA has identified points of emphasis for referees of the college basketball game.  These are the rules on which referees are expected to focus — for instance, in men’s college basketball this year, one point of emphasis was making sure that all screens were set legally.  Sometimes these points of emphasis accompany tweaks to the rules, and sometimes they are designed to make games more interesting or protect players from unnecessarily physical play.  Archivists do something similar by having a particular focus for annual meetings — but this emphasis only affects those who are able to attend the meeting.  Perhaps the “One Book, One Profession” initiative will catch on and we can begin having some dialogues across the profession about important issues.

Reflection.  Athletes in general embrace the concept of “next play” — the idea that while involved in competition, it’s important not to dwell on past mistakes but instead to focus on what’s coming next.  However, great basketball players also spend a lot of time away from the court reviewing their play — analyzing what things were successful and what things were problematic.  Archivists would do well to do the same — keeping an eye on what’s coming up next but also taking the time to debrief, especially at the conclusion of projects, to determine what worked well and could be replicated on other projects and what caused problems and should be avoided at all costs.  We could certainly benefit from acknowledging our mistakes so we can learn from them rather than repeating them.

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