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PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project » Blog Archive » Keeping the minimal processing dialog going: The views of a student processor

Keeping the minimal processing dialog going: The views of a student processor

Written by Forrest Wright on June 30th, 2010

(In response to:  Keeping the Minimal Processing Dialog going, by Courtney Smerz and Reflections on Training and the PACSCL/CLIR Project, by Jack McCarthy, CA, Archival Consultant.)

Mr. McCarthy’s concern over dealing with separated materials within the “More Product, Less Process” methodology is certainly valid. When faced with a folder containing seemingly unrelated or miscellaneous material, it is extremely difficult to know which course of action is appropriate.  As a processor in these situations, you must ask yourself “should these items be separated or maintained,” and as importantly, “how will slowing my pace here impact how I treat the rest of the collection?”

Unknown size: small.

The best approach to take really depends on the situation. For example one of our first collections, the Douglas and Dorothy Steere papers, included a box that has attained special status within our project; the “box of despair.” Inside the box was a mound of loose papers, with no apparent order.

Holly recommended that as a team we separate the materials within this box, grouping the material by general categories such as correspondence, notes, photographs, etc.  From there we were able to integrate that material into pre-existing series as we further processed the collection. This approach was necessary for the “box of despair” because if the box was left in its current state, it would never have been accessible to researchers. Additionally, original order in the Steere collection had been compromised throughout the years as a result of so many processors working on small parts of the collection. Therefore, in order to complete processing, we had to integrate boxes of separated material based on what we thought made appropriate intellectual sense. As a team we continued to use this approach when faced with similarly daunting piles of disorganized materials.

Unknown size: small.

In other instances, we have been advised by Holly and Courtney not to separate material from folders if it appears that original order would suffer as a result. Instead, they have recommended that we keep the folder in its current state and make a correlating “scope and content” note in the finding aid. In a recent collection, The Thornton Oakley collection of Howard Pyle and his Students, this approach was implemented. In one folder there were several magazine clippings that could have potentially been separated individually and placed elsewhere in the series. Yet because original order had been maintained throughout most of the collection, we decided to leave the folder in its current state and label it “Assorted Tearsheets collected by Thornton Oakley 1887-1911.” Within the finding aid we added a note stating, “this box contains tear sheets from Scribner’s, Harper’s, and The Literary Digest.” This maintains original order, while at the same time highlighting content that a researcher may find valuable.

The situational approach is our best hope for reconciling the dilemma of separated materials.  While it is difficult to ensure that every decision we make is correct, over time we are improving the methods used deal with “grey area” issues such as this one.


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