Training Non-Archivists in the basics of surveying, minimal processing and the Archivists’ Toolkit

Written by Holly Mengel on November 5th, 2010

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The Archives for Non-Archivists training session funded by CLIR and IMLS was a success! On October 28 and 29, 2010, Courtney and I trained ten librarians from the Council of Independent Colleges, all of whom have responsibilities for special collections within their libraries, but no formal training. Our trainees traveled to the Bryn Mawr College Special Collections for two days of training from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Tennesee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh and Radnor, Pennsylvania.

Our goals included teaching our trainees to survey collections, create a processing plan, minimally process a collection, and create a finding aid in the Archivists’ Toolkit. It was a lot to accomplish in two days (and as usual, I am pretty sure that Courtney and I learned as much as the trainees), but they were troopers and they stuck with us through an intense “boot camp.” What was great was how excited they all were to learn! Courtney and I were equally excited to learn and were initially surprised to discover that their biggest concerns as non-trained archivists included destroying provenance and original order. I think they were empowered when they better understood the terminology and how to work with it practically.

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On the first day, we started with an overview of surveying, creating processing plans, and processing (focusing on minimal), and then moved on to hands-on practice. As always, it is the hands-on that makes all the theory click. Bryn Mawr College Special Collections provided us with four outstanding collections (and the use of their beautiful new facilities), which the trainees surveyed and processed over the two-day period. Courtney and I felt that the trainees were shorted time for surveying, but the processing seemed to be a bit more doable.

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On the second day, we started with a power point guide to the Archivists’ Toolkit. Pretty much immediately after absorbing the basics, our trainees started entering their collections into the database. This was exhilarating—everyone was so excited when they saw their work turn into a finding aid at the click of a button. The best response (ever!) to seeing a finding aid produced by AT was one trainee (who shall remain nameless) who said, “Wow, I feel like smoking a cigarette!” I LOVE IT!

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At the end of the second day, two teams had completely finished entering their finding aids into the Archivists’ Toolkit and had written their scope and content notes and abstracts. The other two teams were just minutes from being finished and Courtney and I will tidy up the loose ends (a benefit of having a local repository host the workshop).

We have encouraged the trainees to send us questions and we are really excited to see how they do implementing what they learned. We have already heard from one person who is installing the Archivists’ Toolkit on her library computers! We also asked the trainees to evaluate the workshop and their input has given Courtney and me a lot to think about as far as training non-archivists as well as our students.

Thanks to Lori Miller from CLIR who organized the workshop and accepted our application; Eric Pumroy, Lorett Treese, and Bryn Mawr College Special Collections staff who generously hosted the workshop and provided collections for practice; and all the trainees who are committed to providing access to their collections!


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