Monday, October 20, 2008

Processing: Behind the Scenes (Part III)

Labeling a collection is the easy part. When we get to this point, everything has been sorted, arranged, and put into its individual folders. Every folder needs to have a few things on it:

1) Title. What is in this folder? Who/What is it about? What time period is it from?
2) Collection Name. For example, “Dave Wallis Papers.”
3) Collection Number. For example, MSS 05-14.
4) Series Number, Subseries Number, Box Number, File Number.

Okay, let me explain that last one. Box and File are easy; each file is a particular number in a particular box (i.e. File 10 in Box 2). Series and Subseries can be a bit more complicated and not every collection will have these numbers. If a collection is fairly straightforward it might just be Box 1, Box 2, Box 3. But if a collection is more complicated or larger, it can be broken down into series and even subseries.

For example, this imaginary collection is a set of Smith Family papers and we have decided to organize it by family member. Mama Smith is Series I. Papa Smith is Series II. Baby Smith is Series III. Second-Cousin-Twice-Removed Smith is Series IV. If we thought this organization was enough, we could continue on to number boxes within the different series (Series I, Box 1; Series II, Box 1). But let’s pretend that Baby Smith was a pack rat who kept copies of every piece of paper he came into contact with. In that case, we might want to break Series III down even further. We could end up with something like this: Series III Baby Smith, Subseries I Correspondence, Subseries II Photographs.

All of this Series and Subseries mumbo-jumbo comes into play on the finding aid to make it easier for a researcher to find the information they need. I’ll talk about the finding aid in just a moment.

When we have labeled all of the files, we end up with something that looks a lot like this:

Pretty nice, huh?

Earlier I mentioned the finding aid. If you have ever researched in an archive, you have probably had some contact with a finding aid. The Butler Center manuscript finding aids are online. All of our finding aids contain some of the same information:

1) Collection name, number, and inclusive dates.
2) Donor name and date.
3) Size of the collection.
4) Processing completion date and processor name.
5) Biographical Sketch/Collection Description (to explain who/what the collection is about and what kind of documents it contains).
6) Description of arrangement.

After this information, the finding aid has what we call a “container list.” Basically, it lists file by file what is contained in the collection. So, going back to our above example, you might see something like this:

SERIES III – Baby Smith
SUBSERIES I – Correspondence
File 1: Correspondence to Jane Smith, 1905.


Using the finding aids, researchers can find exactly what files they need to look at and not waste time digging through a lot of information not useful to their project.

Now all that is left is to stand back and savor the finished product . . . next week.

Contributed by Stephanie Bayless, Manuscripts Department


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