Doing It Yourself (Almost): The Dreaded Move (Insights on Moving Records from the Smithsonian Institution Archives)

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Between 2006 and 2009 the Smithsonian Institution Archives moved approximately 26,000 cubic feet of records into three new facilities, relying almost entirely on existing resources. The Archives used …

Between 2006 and 2009 the Smithsonian Institution Archives moved approximately 26,000 cubic feet of records into three new facilities, relying almost entirely on existing resources. The Archives used this opportunity to improve the physical condition and intellectual control of its collections. This poster presentation demonstrates the workflow created to minimally process and ensure the safe movement of collections being sent to remote storage as well as the logistics of physically moving archival holdings. Given at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, 2009, by Smithsonian Institution Archives archivists, Tammy Peters, Jennifer Wright, and Ginger Yowell.

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  • 1. Before
    Doing it Yourself (Almost): The Dreaded Move
    Jennifer Wright, Tammy Peters, and Ginger Yowell
    Society of American Archivists, August 2009
    Minimal Processing
    Between 2006 and 2009, the Smithsonian Institution Archives moved approximately 26,000 cubic feet of permanent and temporary records (about 70% of its total collections) from three existing facilities into two new facilities and commercial storage. During this process, the Archives was chiefly concerned with two issues: 1) materials were housed in such a way that they can safely be transported by movers; and 2) materials being sent to commercial storage are described at a level that allows staff and researchers to identify individual boxes for retrieval. Since funding was only appropriated for the facilities and the physical move of the records from one facility to another, the Archives had to leverage its existing resources for move planning and collections preparation. The supervisory archivist and the four-person Archives and Information Management (AIM) Team spearheaded the effort, spending 60-80% of their time preparing for the moves; however, instructions for minimal processing and description were developed so that interns, archivists from other teams, other professional staff, and even administrative staff could contribute to the project by working on carefully selected collections as time allowed. The charts below highlight three aspects of the move. “Collections to Commercial Storage” demonstrates the steps taken to prepare each collection, physically and intellectually, to be transported to an Iron Mountain storage facility in Boyers, PA. “Oversized Materials” focuses on the unique preparations required for maps, blueprints, and other items found in map cases, some of which had lost their identifying information during a previous move, as well as the actual transportation of these materials. “Collections to Smithsonian Storage” encompasses procedures followed for both the move of permanent collections to new on-site storage as well as the move of the Records Center, and emphasizes space planning and logistics.
    3.5 years spent planning and preparing for moves, including 8471.83 hours (the equivalent of 211 work weeks) minimally processing collections
    10,093.43 cubic feet of permanent records received physical interventions such as acid-free boxes, acid-free folders, spacers, sleeves, or reorientation
    50.4 minutes was the average time spent minimally processing and creating/revising the finding aid per cubic foot
    90% of permanent collections have finding aids with folder-level detail or greater
    68% of permanent collections (and counting) have online finding aids with full-text search capabilities
    5% decrease (on average) in the size of collections that were rehoused
    472.25 cubic feet of non-archival materials were removed from the permanent records and deaccessioned
    Lessons Learned/Advice to Other Archives
    Minimally process all collections at time of transfer. We began moving towards what is now known as “minimal processing” in 2000, requiring all new transfers of records to be in folders in acid-free boxes with a folder-level finding aid at the time of the acquisition. Materials accessioned since then generally only required spot-checking prior to moves. Even if you will not be moving, minimally processing collections at time of transfer will prevent large backlogs, allow for more timely access to the records, and identify preservation problems before they worsen. All of this ultimately saves time.
    Plan, coordinate, and make the right friends. Plan as early and as obsessively as possible, but be flexible to allow for circumstances outside of your control. With the amount of detail that needs to be checked, a third or even fourth set of eyes may find an error that could create problems during the move itself. Write instructions for everything and be sure they are available to everyone. Coordinate with all staff who will be involved with the move so that everyone knows what needs to happen and when. Don’t forget other departments, facilities staff, loading dock staff, security, and the movers. Lack of coordination could result in unnecessary downtime, “traffic jams,” or even total chaos. Making friends with the support staff such as facilities or security will not only make the move more pleasant, but you may be able to call on them for favors to help the process run more smoothly. Instead of just giving orders, particularly to the movers, explain why it is important that a task be performed in a particular way. They’ll appreciate why you want it done that way and be more likely to perform the task correctly.
    Maximize the utility of your collections management system. Without our collections management system (CMS), we could not have performed the preparations or the moves as efficiently or quickly as we did. It allowed us to track where every box was at any given moment, who worked on each collection, how each collection was physically improved, what still needed to be done to each collection, and where the most current version of each finding aid could be found. Since all of these tables and forms were built into CMS years ago, there was no need to retroactively enter the necessary data to create the reports and statistics we needed.
    Former Off-site Storage
    Former On-site Storage
    On-site Storage
    Records Center
    Commercial Storage
    Former Records Center