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Minimal Processing with Maximal Description

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  • 1. Minimal Processing with Maximal Description Holly Mengel, Project Manager and Courtney Smerz, Project Archivist PACSCL/CLIR “Hidden Collections” Processing Project
  • 2. “ Hidden Collections” Processing Project Mission
    • Process and make accessible to researchers approximately 200 currently “hidden collections” in PACSCL repositories
    • Provide a single access point for all of the region’s research collections, and therefore, present insight into the country’s political, economic, social, religious and cultural experiences, as well as Philadelphia’s role in shaping America and its citizens
  • 3. “ Hidden Collections” Processing Project
    • Minimally process 114 collections (roughly 4,000 linear feet) in roughly 2 hours per linear foot
    • Create EAD finding aids for 82 additional collections (roughly 6,000 linear feet)
    • Use the Archivists’ Toolkit and Describing Archives: A Content Standard to create “standardized” and compatible finding aids across 23 repositories in the Philadelphia Area
  • 4.
    • Experiment with large scale minimal processing for collections ranging from the 15 th the 21 st centuries
    • Develop new workflows for repositories who need help with backlog
    • Build consortial cooperation in order to reveal Philadelphia’s papery treasures to researchers across the country and the globe
  • 5. The Standards Committee
    • Composed of several archivists, librarians and catalogers who gave their time to create a group of standards that all project participants accepted
    • Met regularly to address questions as they arose and to oversee my work in relation to a cross repository acceptance
  • 6. Q: What does minimal processing mean in a large processing project with pre 20 th century non-institutional records?
    • Much of this work was completed by Matthew Lyons and Carey Majewicz of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
      • Guidelines for minimal processing (available in Processing Manual on-line) which include dealing with folded material, paper clips, rubber bands, mold, damaged items, volumes, binders, etc.
  • 7. Minimal Processing at 2 hours per linear foot
    • Main guidelines for minimally processing pre-20 th century materials
      • Place loose items in archival folders, otherwise, do not re-folder.
      • In each folder:
        • DO NOT organize the material
        • DO NOT unfold papers
        • DO NOT remove letters from envelopes
        • DO NOT remove paper clips or metal fasteners, etc.
      • Place all materials in archival boxes.
      • Make notes of damaged materials and other concerns.
  • 8. Q: How do we create standards that the project AND 23 repositories can agree on and will result in consistent finding aids?
    • Require all repositories to install and use the Archivists’ Toolkit throughout the project (and hopefully in future)
    • Use Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
    • Develop a standardized group of authorities for all collections processed during the project (AAT for genre forms; LOC for other subjects)
  • 9. Other Efforts for Standardization
    • Create a manual for the Archivists’ Toolkit
    • Create a Processing Manual for student processors
    • Address issues such as writing effective folder titles and notes
  • 10. Put it into Action: Process a Collection using the Manuals Post-Processing Pre-Processing Anny Elston papers at Drexel University College of Medicine
  • 11. Lesson Learned:
    • 2 hours per linear foot is FAST!
    • (too fast)
  • 12. Solutions:
    • Develop a structure of providing information so that the 2 hours per linear foot allotted to the students could be used for processing, not discovering what a collection contains or is about …
      • Create processing plans
    • Use this newly discovered problem to determine what parts of processing take the most time and then make realistic recommendations for funding of future processing projects.
      • Create a processing worksheet to track what works and what does not in a minimal processing world
  • 13. Project Archivist, Courtney Smerz
    • In her first two weeks, we:
      • Reviewed the processing manual and the Archivists’ Toolkit manual
      • Developed training manual and training exercises
      • Selected candidates for student processors
      • Interviewed and hired student processors
  • 14. In her third week …
    • We trained our first set of workers:
      • Classroom instruction at the University of Pennsylvania
      • Hands on training with a collection at Drexel University College of Medicine
    Hands-on Processing at DUCOM
  • 15. The Initial Project Team and our Guinea Pig Repositories Leslie O’Neill, Forrest Wright, Eric Rosenzweig and Laurie Rizzo: Processors Extraordinaire Drexel University, Drexel University College of Medicine and Haverford College: Repositories of Much Faith
  • 16. Initial Lessons Learned
    • Each Repository has its own unique concerns regarding the project and the final product
    • Technology is a many-headed beast
    • Space is hard to come by
    • 10% of staff time is not an easy request
  • 17. October to December 2009
    • 23 collections processed at:
      • Drexel University
      • Drexel University College of Medicine
      • Haverford College
      • Wagner Free Institute of Science
  • 18. January to May 2010
    • 19 collections processed at:
      • Bryn Mawr College
      • Academy of Natural Sciences
      • College of Physicians of Philadelphia
  • 19. 2nd Project Team Forrest Wright Megan Good Jennifer Duli Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe Megan Atkinson Becky Koch
  • 20. Legacy Finding Aids
    • 55 “finding aids” entered into the Archivists Toolkit from:
      • University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Library
      • Drexel University College of Medicine
      • City of Philadelphia
      • Chester County Historical Society
      • Historical Society of Pennsylvania
      • Haverford College
      • Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
    Garrett Boos
  • 21. May 2010 to present
    • 32 collections processed at:
      • College of Physicians of Philadelphia
      • Free Library of Philadelphia
      • Independence Seaport Museum
      • Library Company of Philadelphia
      • Temple University Urban Archives
      • Chester County Historical Society
      • Lutheran Theological Society
      • Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
  • 22. Processing Lessons Learned
    • #1: This project could not be accomplished without the preceding PACSCL Survey Project
      • The research value rating allows for a systematic and fair approach for prioritizing the thousands of “hidden collections” in Philadelphia for inclusion in this project
      • The survey records are critical for the creation of processing plans in a project with a limited time frame.
  • 23. Processing Lessons Learned
    • #2: More Product, Less Process Works!
      • It is not just for 20 th century institutional records anymore
      • It can effectively be used for collections of any age and any type
        • NOT ALL, HOWEVER, ARE GOOD CANDIDATES!
    Good Not Good
  • 24. Processing Lessons Learned
    • #3: Standardization is VITAL to the success of a project (particularly this one which crosses repositories)
      • Methods of processing
      • Methods of data entry
      • Methods of editing
      • Authority control
  • 25. Processing Lessons Learned
    • #4: Up-sides to Minimal Processing
      • Awareness of the content of collection can result in further processing initiatives of entire collections or even just series
      • Collections are available to researchers MUCH more quickly than if processed traditionally (generally 8 hours per linear foot)
  • 26.
    • #5: Down-sides to Minimal Processing
      • 2 hours per linear foot is entirely too fast (we think 4 would be more realistic)
      • If collections are shortchanged, it is generally in terms of description—making certain that researchers can find the collection is more than half the battle
      • It is not possible to create acceptable finding aids at this speed without first developing the processing plan, biographical/historical note, and authorities
  • 27. Legacy Finding Aids Lessons Learned
    • Due to lack of standards in the archival field, each repository’s finding aids were as unique as their collections
    • The project promised to upgrade any “substandard” finding aid, but many of these guides are not finding aids at all …
      • If an original finding aid is not good, the EAD finding aid will not be very good either.
    • Many complications due to varying degrees of completeness and OVER completeness.
  • 28. Our Community of Support Grows
    • Group of staff from repositories where project processing has been completed meet to discuss future of minimal processing in PACSCL and will continue to meet and grow
    • Plans to develop an Archivists’ Toolkit Support Network for the Philadelphia area
    • Plans to develop system for training the trainers and processors
  • 29. Consortial Work Gives Back:
    • To date (one year the into project), 74 collections from:
      • have been “unhidden” and are now available for researchers
      •  Academy of Natural Sciences
      •  Bryn Mawr College
      •  Chester County Historical Society
      •  College of Physicians of Philadelphia
      •  Drexel University Archives & Special
      • Collections
      •  Drexel University College of Medicine
      •  Free Library of Philadelphia
      •  Haverford College
      •  Independence Seaport Museum
      •  Library Company of Philadelphia
      •  Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia
      •  Temple University Urban Archives
      •  Wagner Free Institute of Science
  • 30. Creating an EAD Repository
    • Researchers and archivists have access to PACSCL’s central EAD repository allowing for cross-repository searching of finding aids
    • findingaids.pacscl.org
  • 31. Implementing the Archivists’ Toolkit
    • By the end of the project (October 2011), the 23 participating repositories will be using the Archivists’ Toolkit and will be able to continually add to the Penn-hosted EAD repository, creating an ever-growing, rich resource for world wide researchers
  • 32. Reducing Backlog through Minimal Processing
    • Tactics that can work for all repositories:
      • Survey and create processing plans for collections at time of accession
      • Create brief notes and some arrangement—anything is better than nothing
      • Use Archivists’ Toolkit or another database system to make the finding aid or even collection level record available to researchers
      • Note preservation concerns, potential restrictions, and highlights so that they can be addressed sooner rather than later
  • 33. Developing a Community of Archivists and Users Bellefield Collection at Historical Society of Pennsylvania Sarah Wistar Rhoads papers at Haverford College George Hay Collection at Drexel University College of Medicine The Wistars are EVERYWHERE!
  • 34. “ Unhiding” Collections http://clir.pacscl.org
  • 35. Putting Theory into Practice: How we have a ctually implemented our cross-repository Minimal Processing Program
    • Processing Plans
    • Training Students
    • Supervising Students
    • Quality Control
    • Consortial Benefits
  • 36. The Processing Plan
    • Essential to our success
      • Enables Holly and me to plan ahead
      • It serves as a starting point and guide to our inexperienced student processors
      • Makes it possible for our students to process a collection in the 2 hours per linear foot timeframe
  • 37. The Processing Plan
    • Gathers collection information in one place
    • Identifies vital information about a collection:
      • date span
      • linear footage and number of containers
    • Identifies obvious preservation concerns
    • Lists supplies needed for processing,
      • Approximate number of boxes and folders
    • Suggested time frame needed for processing
    • Proposes a list of series and/or an arrangement scheme
    • Includes preliminary biographical or historical note
      • We also add copies of relevant historical articles, book chapters, etc., to help provide additional historical context
    • Includes list of authorized terms
    • Identifies potential processing issues and offers suggested solutions 
      • Example – ISM’s Mathis Collection
  • 38. Our processing plans are simple word documents, designed to guide any person with just a little archival know-how, in processing a collection in accordance with current archival standards for minimal processing and with little supervision.
  • 39. Creating Processing Plans
    • We rely heavily on the existing survey record
    • BUT we do need to see the physical collection in order to
      • Make confident recommendations for collection arrangement
      • Determine housing/supply needs
      • Determine whether or not we believe the collection can be processed to our standards within our 2 hours-per-linear-foot time-frame.
    • Time and effort required to complete processing plans varies greatly
      • Researching and writing the historical note is very time consuming
      • Identifying authorized terms is also time consuming
  • 40. Training
    • We consider student training to be on-going and a work in progress.  However, we do have a required formal training program for our project team.
    • Minimal Processing Manual
    • Archivist’s Toolkit Manual
    • Archival “Boot Camp”
    • Supervision and Quality Control
  • 41. Minimal Processing Manual
    • Designed to be a general source of reference
    • The manuals have already evolved and will probably continue to be refined until the end of the project.
    • 26 pages
    • Explains archival basics
      • Original order and provenance
      • Series, subseries
      • Finding aid
    • Provides step by step instructions on how to arrange and describe a collection in a minimal processing environment.
      • specifies the “DOs” and “DON'Ts” of minimal processing.
      • Suggests solutions for problematic situations.
    • Also included is a glossary and copies of our processing worksheets
  • 42. Archivist’s Toolkit Manual
    • 7 page manual
    • Simply step by step instructions for entering collection level information, series, sub-series, folders and box and folder numbers into the database in a standardized manner
    • Instructions on how to edit the finding aid
  • 43. Archival Boot Camp
    • 3-day-long training workshop
    • Required for all project staff
    • 3 main components
      • Lecture on archival theory, esp. MPLP
      • Introduction and training in AT
      • Hands-on processing at participating repository
        • * Supposed to result in a processed collection
  • 44. Boot Camp
    • We have held three boot camps
      • Each one has been a little different…
    • Our next boot camp is January 4 to 6
      • One day of “lecture”
      • Two days of hands-on training
        • Day 1 – Arrangement and re-housing
        • Day 2 – Description and data entry
        • We want this to be a team exercise with plenty of time for questions and discussion
  • 45. On-going training and supervision
    • We spent the first two weeks on site with our teams
    • Once our teams started to work independently, it became apparent that follow-up training was necessary
    • We had one formal follow-up training
      • Writing and formatting abstracts and scope and content notes – take a more formulaic approach
      • Constructing folder titles
    • We amended our training manual and boot camp to hopefully avoid this in the future
  • 46. Quality Control
    • Finding Aids are our primary tangible product
    • Rigorous editing for each finding aid
      • Looking for clarity and readability, quality of information, spelling and grammar, and general errors
    • Four editing cycles
      • Peer review, Review by Courtney, Review by Holly, Repository review
  • 47. Benefits to the Consortium
    • Processing Plan creation
      • Can be incorporated into regular accessioning work flow
      • Easy to do in Archivist’s Toolkit OR simple word document
      • Theoretically you can create this document today and in five years someone else can pick it up and know exactly what to do
      • We DO recommend combining the survey and processing plan step
    • Repository staff are welcome and encouraged to attend boot camp
      • Offered every semester
      • Training in MPLP
      • Training in the use of Archivist’s Toolkit
    • Learn from the successes and failures of our student processing program
      • Adapt our program to fit institutional needs and maximize the potential of student workers and interns.
  • 48. “ Unhiding” Collections http://clir.pacscl.org

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