End of Year Report: 2009

Written by Holly Mengel on January 13th, 2010

PACSCL/CLIR “Hidden Collections” Project
July to December 2009
Well, the first six months of the “Hidden Collections” Project have come and gone and it has been a whirlwind! The entire project team was assembled, manuals and standards were created, student processors were trained, 18 collections were processed at the rate of 2.84 hours per linear foot, and we learned that minimal processing works for almost all collections, not just late 20th century institutional records!

The project team consists of Project Archivist, Courtney Smerz; Student Processors Leslie O’Neill, Laurie Rizzo, Eric Rosenzweig and Forrest Wright; and me, the Project Manager. We worked with a wide variety of collections which span the 18th to 20th centuries and cover, at the broadest level, the topics of Quakerism, colleges and universities, and medicine. These collections include institutional, family, and personal papers.

As proposed in More Product, Less Process by Greene and Meissner, institutional records do work best. On average, these collections, largely at Drexel University, were processed at an average of 2.18 hours per linear foot. Personal papers, at Drexel University College of Medicine and Haverford College, were the next easiest, and these were processed at an average of 2.25 hours per linear foot. Family papers are, by far, the hardest, taking significantly more time per collection. Our average for processing family records is 4 hours per linear foot (which is still in the minimal processing range, as suggested by MPLP). The issues that make family papers difficult, to name just a few, are the number of family members contributing to the collection, the time span of the collection which often crosses several generations, and the fact that a good deal of the correspondence is not actually addressed or signed with a person’s name. Quite frequently, letters are sent to “Dear son,” or signed “Your loving mother.” When working with one person’s records, this is not quite as daunting as when you have 4 or 5 potentials for the “mother” and an endless number of possible “sons.” The 19th and 20th century Quakers, the main source of our family collections in this first semester, have a few truly delightful quirks which made processing their collections just a tiny bit trickier. For example, they consistently name their children after relatives … so it is entirely possible to have several Jane Rhoads in one collection. Moreover, in these collections, once they married, in-laws became “mother,” “father,” “sister,” and “brother,” making even the most general identification of senders and recipients virtually impossible in the minimal processing world.

We also discovered that there are some downsides to minimal processing, particularly in the description of collections. Moving through a collection at the rate this project demands means that absorbing content is really difficult. For the first semester, I created processing plans (Courtney is taking over for the rest of the project) for the collections on our list and wrote biographical/historical notes. I think minimal processing at 2 hours per linear foot without the processing plans and rough notes would be absolutely impossible–sometimes the physical processing cannot be done in that time frame.

At this point in the project, I am not sure that I would recommend minimal processing at 2 hours per linear foot–it is just too fast. 4 hours per linear foot, I think, would be a completely different story. Minimal processing, of which I am a fan, really does work and more importantly, it makes the collection available to the researchers long before it could be if we demanded full processing. Although I have not had the luxury of trying minimal processing at 4 hours per linear foot, I am convinced those additional two hours would result in more content and more thorough and accurate biography/history notes and scope and contents notes. My biggest fear with our notes is that we don’t know enough to let the researchers know that the collection contains the material they are seeking. Time will tell once researcher discover these previously hidden, and now “unhidden” collections!

Following, a list of collections processed, the project timeline from June to December, and looking forward:

Collections Processed
18 Collections
255.5 linear feet at an average of 2.84 hours per linear foot

Drexel University

  • College of Engineering Records
  • Evening College Records
  • Library Records
  • Drexel University College of Medicine

  • American Women’s Hospital Service Records
  • Anny Elston Papers
  • Bertha Van Hoosen Papers
  • Bradford Collection
  • Knerr/Hering Collection
  • Haverford College

  • Bowles Family Correspondence
  • Douglas and Dorothy Steere Papers
  • Harold Chance Papers
  • Hilles Family Papers
  • James Wood Family Papers
  • John Davison Papers
  • Nicholson and Taylor Family Papers
  • Reinhardt, Hawley and Hewes Family Papers
  • Sarah Wistar Rhoads Family Papers
  • Vaux Family Papers
  • Project Time line: July to December 2009
  • July 8, 2009: Holly Mengel starts work as Project Manager
  • September 28, 2009: Courtney Smerz starts work as Project Archivist
  • October 2, 2009: Leslie O’Neill, Laurie Rizzo, Eric Rosenzweig and Forrest Wright are hired as Student Processors
  • October 13-15, 2009: Processing Boot Camp
  • October 19, 2009: Laurie Rizzo and Eric Rosenzweig start processing collections at Drexel University and Drexel University College of Medicine
  • October 20, 2009: Leslie O’Neill and Forrest Wright start processing collections at Haverford College
  • November 10, 2009: Refresher training
  • December 11, 2009: Finish processing at Drexel University and Drexel University College of Medicine
  • December 15, 2009: Laurie Rizzo and Eric Rosenzweig start processing at the Wagner Free Institute of Science
  • December 23, 2009: Finish processing at Haverford College
  • Looking forward:

  • Currently processing at the Wagner Free Institute of Science (due for completion on January 19).
  • Begin processing at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (tentative start date: January 20).
  • Currently processing at Bryn Mawr College (due for completion on February 18).

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