locked Re: Materials from the SRHA Archives

A&Y Dave in MD

Ike and others,

My view is fairly simple.  There is no free lunch.  The SRHA and/or the archives might be non-profit educational entities, but non-profit does not mean there is no budget or income with a plan to sustain it.  After that, my ideas get complicated.

There are LOTS of models for making materials in archives available as non-profits.  None of them give it all away for free unless they are endowed by a benefactor with that mission.  The SRHA doesn't have that yet, but that is something I learned after being a member of a museum BOD--a Board of Directors should have as their functions---developing a plan,  fund raising and cultivation of donors and/or grants.   Boards of Directors shouldn't all be the busiest or most depended upon volunteers because they are too busy doing things like keeping the materials safe, maintaining the website, or mailing out materials to think very far into the future to develop a plan or to spend a lot of time writing grant proposals or glad-handing big money donors.  You need some people with expertise and a willingness to figure out a business plan for the archives (and while you're at it, one for TIES magazine and another one for the annual meetings because each of those provides different value to different groups of individuals and might need to be valued/priced differently).  Let's stick with the archives question for now:

For just the archives, the first question is what is the mission?

  • Archives can have a simple preservation mission (if not for us, the contents are lost for any purpose, but we will preserve it but not provide access).  That's minimal value for any potential member, so the membership fee better be low.
  • Archives can have a distributional mission (we want to share, and will share as much as feasible because the value is to have accurate information shared as widely as possible). The Barriger Museum seems to be of this sort.
  • Archives can have an educational mission (we want to explain what we have for some purpose, so we display it and provide educational programs or materials based upon the archive content, but we won't distribute the content).  A lot of museums (art, archeology, natural history, etc) display a limited amount of their collection and the rest is kept for professional researchers who pay using grants.

We need to be clear on the mission so that donors/members know what they are supposed to be getting for their contribution.  What is the value proposition for donors/members? And who are those potential donors/members?  To know the best mission, you need to have at least a core group of donor/members and know their needs.   For railroad materials, you probably have a core around those with interest in the materials or the subject matter of the materials for some purpose.  What are those purposes?  While those with a personal connection to a railroad might have strong, sustainable pride and interest in the company, if that railroad no longer exists, that is a limited and diminishing population over time. Likewise, collectors want to possess the materials, so unless you plan to sell things off, they are not a sustainable customer base either.  

If it is those interested in history, what is it they want to do?   Some are happy to look at materials (can you get them to the materials?  Make it a museum.  If not enough people can come visit, then you need to find a means of distribution--share it online?  mail facsimiles?  sell products based upon the materials? all are possible but have different business plans).  If it is those who want the information for use in other purposes, like modeling, then figure out again, how to distribute it in a way that protects the source and still makes it reasonable value for customers:  modelers want specific kinds of information about physical equipment (mostly) and about operations. They won't get value out of knowing the character of a president or the financial or legal relationships outlined by some archival material--that will only be interesting to those who are interested in history.  So how much info on the physical characteristics of cars, locomotives, structures and track infrastructure do you have that is uniquely available via the SRHA archive material?  THAT is what you develop and offer, first, then you can get to the "interesting" stuff that has less direct value.  You can have people with more than one interest, but you want to attract and get contributions from those with just a single interest too, so be specific.

In other words, someone needs to do some market analysis for the archival material and develop a business plan that focuses on providing value to a targeted population to generate the income necessary for anything above and beyond the minimal preservation based upon volunteer services model outlined above.   It's that simple. :-)     There are some business models where you give away something (google search engine) so that you can derive profit from another source (advertisers looking to connect to people using the search engine or use the information about what searches are made).   The direct fee-for-service is only one model, but you have to find at least one model that works.  One that has a viable and sustainable population, sustainable and adequate income, and services/products to link the population to the income stream in some way.

Giving away for free is only sustainable if  you have another income source.   Sounds to me like that is not the case. So no better time than now to come up with a business plan.

As for a membership model:  you have to balance between providing value that makes membership worthwhile and obtaining the funds necessary to provide any value.  No income means unsustainable with absolutely no maintenance and no service.  Income can be time or money, but even time needs to be managed and that management costs money.      Make it clear to those who think they are paying the bills.

Perhaps SRHA and the archives are the same and they have multiple missions and multiple purposes.  Is the SRHA primarily about the archives?  If not, is it primarily about TIES magazine and annual meetings?  Is it all those?  How do they relate then?  It's not completely clear on the relative priorities either.  Is publishing TIES the first priority?  Is maintaining the archive?  Is arranging and holding an annual meeting? Perhaps membership needs to be separated out and tied to specific purposes--general history, modeling, archives, or various combinations.  And the combinations all have different price points.

So what needs to be done for the archives (and each other purpose) is to obtain estimates (2-3 from different estimators is best) on a set of operating expenses related to the purpose. For the archives that would be for maintenance, acquisition, and services to members.  For example, you might have (in increasing monetary requirement):
  1) minimal maintenance for preservation of existing materials, no acquisitions except donations, no services outside those of volunteers;
  2) maintenance to preserve plus enhance the collection's accessibility, no acquisitions except donations, overhead costs to provide paid staff to provide services on a fee-for-service basis, and
  3) "the full monty"  enhanced maintenance, paid acquisition staff to seek out donations or expand collection, paid staff to provide all the services that can be provided on a per paid member budget.
 There are multiple income scenarios too.  You can have a "sugar daddy" benefactor, either individual or corporate, that endows the non-profit (and gets a say in the mission and credit for the donation).  You can have a scaled or tiered membership with clearly defined benefits for higher payments.  You can have a capitated membership where all the expenses for a year's set of determined services is estimated and all members pay the same fee, regardless of how often they use the services.  
 No matter what the key is the balance between value provided for the given price point for EACH purpose and for the combination of purposes.  Create options to donate for the specific purpose of a member, report the amount donated for each purpose and then explain what was done with that amount.  If the amounts weren't enough for a given purpose, ask members whether they are willing to give more or have that purpose eliminated as a priority.  SRHA can then evolve as the membership has interest.
  So while it is simple to say "there is no free lunch," it is complicated to create a sustainable plan for an organization with many purposes and stakeholders.  Complexity makes for a big task and you wonder where to start.
  Best way to eat an elephant (that is a big complex project)?  One bite at a time.  
 The first bite: What is the primary mission of the archives and what population is interested in supporting or benefiting from that mission?
 Dave Bott

Friday, May 8, 2020, 9:37:44 AM, you wrote:

Posted to both the SouthernRailway and SRS.io groups.

I will post a higher resolution version of the horse car scan shortly. The stencil has several really interesting aspects folks may want to discuss.

Before I do, and not because of this request, let me take this opportunity to ask some honest questions that are almost sure to create a “pile” of comments.

I am fully aware that the general thought is that “everything on the Internet is free”. I have seen where people post material with an obvious copyright or fail to ask an owner’s permission before posting something. I get it…. but there is a problem…

Using SRHA as the example:
For the past 25 or 30 years SRHA has been accumulating, storing, buying, paying to move and using volunteer hours there has always been people willing to help with the time, effort and hard cash needed to make those things happen. ALL of that for so many years has been done by people that simply want to preserve the history of the Southern Railway System, most have also been SRHA members.

SRHA does not receive any public financing that requires us to make our materials available to the public. Although NO SRHA membership fees are used for the archives, the logic has always been to make the archives accessible to SRHA members because of their demonstrated interest in the Southern. I doubt any request for a copy of a drawing or photo or permission to scan something has ever been denied to anyone that volunteers at the archives or is serious about writing an article for TIES or another magazine.

So, my question: How should the SRHA archives handle requests for copies of material?

A. Should SRHA simply understand that archives and library material should be free to anyone?

B. If so, how are collections to be purchased, housed, etc? (The SRHA archives cash investment over the years is well over $500,000.) Should there be some form of archives membership fee?

C. Should archives volunteers be willing to do research upon request? Should there be a cost to the requestor?

D. What should be charged for research or copies?

E. Should people sign a “Right to Use” agreement. Items would only be for personal, non commercial use and not to be distributed?

F. Should there be a fee for non-SRHA members to visit the archives?


David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC

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