Becky Koch

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Minimal Processing and Sensitive Materials: A Tricky Situation

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Unknown size: small.

At the College of Physicians we processed a collection of administrative records from the Office of the Executive Director of the College.  The collection almost entirely consisted of administrative records, and we came across everything from correspondence and memos, to meeting minutes and financial documents.

Unknown size: small.

Processing this collection went relatively smoothly.  Very little refoldering had to be completed, and most files were already labeled and in some kind of order.  The records were in good condition so there was no major conservation or preservation issues to be concerned about.  We did need to go through an extensive process of reorganization though, as this collection was accessioned at different times and many records needed to be interfiled.  We also came across several boxes of files that were unlabeled, or not in files whatsoever.  Yet perhaps our most pressing problem concerned restricted records.  This collection contained donor information, financial and budget information, and copies of resumes and cover letters for applicants of past job searches.   As we processed this collection we marked anything we thought might be sensitive information as “restricted,” erring on the side of caution, thinking that it was best for librarians at the College to know that these documents exist and then decide for themselves the proper access policies.  Although we felt this was a good solution for restricting these records, in practice this policy was not entirely effective.   While some folders were obviously full of sensitive information (such as budget sheets etc) and were clearly to be restricted, we found other restricted documents mixed in with regular, non sensitive materials.  This fact brings up two issues: due to time restraints we could not take the time to separate these mixed folders into restricted and non restricted materials so we had to restrict access to entire folders, even if there was only one page of sensitive information.  This means that a significant amount of should-be accessible information has become inaccessible.  Secondly, there’s a very good chance that we did not see some sensitive information that was mixed in with regular records, and therefore this information will not be labeled as restricted.  Due to the mixed nature of these records and the guidelines of minimal processing, this was sadly unavoidable.  Using minimal processing techniques, it would have been impossible to examine every record in every folder, so some restricted information is bound to have slipped through the cracks.

After discussing the situation with the head librarian, it was decided that folders labeled as restricted will be examined by the librarian or archivist when a researcher requests access.  It will then be decided whether the documents are truly sensitive, or how much of the file is accessible.