Monday, October 13, 2008

Processing: Behind the Scenes (Part II)

To begin processing a collection we really just have to jump right into it. We already have some idea of what is waiting in the boxes; we might even have a detailed inventory. The point is there is nothing left to do except start.
So, we open the first box and start sorting. If we are lucky, the items already have some sort of useable organization or grouping that we can work with. If not, we just have to start making piles (topically, chronologically, alphabetically, color-coordinated . . . whatever suits our fancy).

Carolyn processing a collection.

As we sort through these documents, we do a number of things to help insure their preservation. For example, this is a good time to remove staples, rubber bands, tape, etc. We can clean the documents by removing dirt with a brush or pad or even wash the documents if safe to do so (WARNING: Do not try this at home. Seriously). This is also the time to identify any documents that might need to be repaired or might need more extensive conservation work.

We do all of this while we sort through the boxes and after a while, it becomes apparent how the collection should be arranged for researchers. No, really; I’m serious. We have all done our fair share of research projects and can approach the collection from both the researchers and the archivists’ point of view. It usually doesn’t take us very long to see what should go where.

When we get to this point, we start putting the documents into their folders (if we hadn’t started that earlier) and into their boxes. Photographs are matched up with negatives if possible and tucked away in their own cozy sleeves. Any objects that might have come in with the collection (being a archive we don’t actively solicit objects, but sometimes it make sense to accept them with the collection) get boxed up in their own special boxes too. Basically, everything gets tucked away.

Usually we don’t label the folders until the very end when we have seen all of the collection. Who wants to have to keep erasing and relabeling the entire time? Sticky notes help us keep track of everything. After we finish the sorting, cleaning, and arranging, we are left with something like this:

And we are ready to move on to the next step—labeling the folders/boxes and creating the finding aid. Stay tuned.

Contributed by Stephanie Bayless, Manuscripts Department.


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