Efficiencies and Access at Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections

Written by Guest Blogger on August 1st, 2011

Written by John Anderies, Head of Special Collections, Haverford College

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Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections was one of the first institutions to be treated to the excellent work of Holly, Courtney and the fabulous student processors (hi, Forrest and Leslie!) hired for the Hidden Collections project. As a semi-official Guinea Pig, we really benefited from the extra time and attention given us by the PACSCL processing team.  All involved did first-rate work and brought some much needed order to 10 of the high-research-value collections in our backlog.  Participating in the project also jumpstarted our adoption of Archivists Toolkit to process new collections, has inspired us to find additional ways to open our holdings to researchers, and has provided our staff with ample opportunities to debate the pros and cons of minimal processing!

Today, we now record all accessions and process all new collections in Archivists Toolkit.

For accessions we record all gifts no matter the format (manuscripts, archives, books, photography and fine art) and any purchases that are not reflected in the acquisitions module of our ILS (such as manuscripts and photography).  Eventually we hope to include retrospective accessions in AT too.  In addition to the original 10 finding aids produced by PACSCL, we have completed 19 more in AT, all of which now reside on the PACSCL EAD Repository hosted at Penn, in addition to our local web server.

Our instance of Archivists Toolkit is installed on a Tri-College server located at Bryn Mawr College and serves the needs of four individual repositories across the consortia: Bryn Mawr Special Collections, Haverford Quaker & Special Collections, Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, and the Peace Collection at Swarthmore College.  Accessions and Resource (or collection) records for our four repositories are partitioned within AT.  However, we do share the tables for Subjects and People, which is very useful when the topics of our collections overlap, which they frequently do.

In addition to moving ahead on creating new finding aids in AT, we have spent the past year making our legacy finding aids more accessible.  Previous efforts at moving our finding aids into the 20th century had produced only a handful of fully searchable guides online and a mish-mash of Word files, PDFs, XML files, Excel files, ASCII text files, and Filemaker Pro databases living on a single staff computer, inaccessible to our researchers without the direct intervention of staff.  A decision to “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good” finally freed us from our paralysis and has produced extraordinary results.

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When the PACSCL crew left us in 2009 we had—in addition to their 10 finding aids created in AT—approximately 45 other finding aids online. By agreeing that it was better to supply our researchers with something “quick and dirty” than nothing at all and through the dedication of our students and staff, we turned all of the other finding aid formats into PDFs and mounted them on our web server.  These are listed on two web pages in both Collection Name and Collection Number order and the complete lot of nearly 250 finding aids is searchable using a Google Custom Search.  The results lists are not always pretty and neither are some of the finding aids, but for the first time the majority of our materials are discoverable online and our researchers seem pleased with the access.

As the work of the PACSCL team has discerned over the course of the grant, there are those collections which work well with minimal processing and there are those that do not.  Historically, we have never given the same level of attention to each of our collections.  Personal and family papers have often received more detailed processing than business papers and archival records.  While we have not adopted an MPLP approach at Haverford, we are interested in discerning ways of saving time and money while still providing rich access to our researchers and offering fulfilling and educational opportunities to our student employees and interns.  In the coming months we hope to try our hand at an “iterative” approach at enhancing collections by revisiting selected series within some of the collections processed to a minimal level under the PACSCL project.  And we aim to improve the remainder of our online finding aids bit by bit.

As one of the first institutions to dive into the PACSCL Hidden Collections project, we are pleased to see it wrapping up and hope that the other institutions who have participated have been as pleased and inspired as we have.

 

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