Ringing in the New Year … end of year report and future plans

Written by Holly Mengel on January 7th, 2011

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With the end of 2010, the PACSCL/CLIR Hidden Collections Processing Project has successfully processed 83 incredible collections! The project also had to say goodbye to 3 outstanding processors who graduated with their Library Science degrees and are therefore no longer able to work with us. We will very much miss Megan Atkinson, Megan Good and Forrest Wright (our longest-serving processor of 1 year & 2 months) and we wish them luck as they begin their “real” careers as archivists!

With the help of these three processors, current processor Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe, and former processors Leslie O’Neill, Laurie Rizzo, Eric Rosenzweig and Becky Koch, during the first 15 months of the project we’ve processed more than 1500 linear feet at an average of 2.8 hours per linear foot. Many of these finding aids are available on the PACSCL Finding Aids website, and processing at 13 repositories is complete. Garrett Boos, our Archivists’ Toolkit cataloger, has been busy too! So far he has converted 53 finding aids from paper, database or some form of Word into EAD. These finding aids are under revision and should soon be available for research!

While we feel pretty good about these numbers, there is still much to be done … starting January 11, we will begin processing again. We will be at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Historical Society, Temple University Special Collections (we are nearly finished with Temple’s Urban Archives), and the University of Delaware. We still have more than 2500 linear feet to process. (Yes, that number makes me a little sweaty—and my heart is pounding!)

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However, to help us with all this work, we have hired 7 new processors. We are happy to welcome Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, Dan Cavanaugh, Michael Gubicza, Devin Manzullo-Thomas, Jenna Marrone, Sarah Newhouse, and Brian Stewart who will join our returning processor Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe. We trained these talented (and excited) processors from January 4 to 6 at the Presbyterian Historical Society, and they will jump right into the processing of collections next week … as the numbers above indicate, we do not have a moment to lose. Processing of all collections needs to be completed by August!

So, do we think that minimal processing works? YES! Absolutely—it makes collections available to researchers sooner and faster. Does minimal processing have its drawbacks? YES! Absolutely—while the task of arrangement is frequently not too tricky, thorough description is much more difficult in a minimal processing environment. To be fair, we are working with collections ranging in date from the 17th to 21st centuries—and collections with hand-written documents suffer, in minimal processing, far more than collections with typed documents. We also have a goal of processing twice as fast as minimal processing often recommends. It is very important to note that these collections are “physically processed” in 2.8 hours per linear foot, which does not include the work that was completed by the survey, or the creation of processing plans by Courtney and/or myself. It also does not include the significant amount of time Courtney and I take to edit the finding aids. Without these efforts, collections absolutely could not be processed in the time frame, and regardless, Courtney and I feel strongly that 4 hours per linear foot is a far more realistic time frame than 2 hours per linear foot—but the bigger the collection, the bigger the payoff of processing at this speed.

If two years ago someone showed me the finding aids we’ve created and told me they came from processing at a rate of 3-ish hours per linear foot, I would not have believed it. Our project—and specifically, our processors—have not only adopted the spirit of minimal processing, but have also been working at breakneck speed. Courtney’s and my role has been to provide double (and triple) checks to the process, guaranteeing the highest-quality product in the time allotted. I cannot express how incredibly proud and appreciative I am of every member of the project team for their hard-work, dedication and excitement in the process of making collections ready for research.

Overall, I am happy to say that, with only one or two exceptions, every collection has significantly benefited from our work. If these collections had been traditionally processed, many of them would still be sitting on shelves untouched and unavailable to researchers. At the end of training yesterday, we asked our new processors if they felt that the collections on which they worked had been minimally processed and they all answered yes–they had not had the time to look at every item in the collection and did not feel that they had absolute control over the contents of the collection. However, when asked if their collections were more intellectually and physically accessible after processing, they all responded with a resounding, “Yes!” I am absolutely confident that researchers will be able to use these collections in their minimally processed state, and since making hidden collections accessible to researchers is the goal of this project, I am happily claiming this project as a success!

 

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