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Minimal deaccessioning

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The parameters of our Hidden Collections project generally preclude any deaccessioning efforts from being part of the process. We’re tasked with moving at a relatively swift pace – roughly twice the speed of “traditional” archival processing – and this doesn’t leave a lot of time to go through and check to see if some items could or should be removed from the collections. Additionally, being archival interlopers, fairly unfamiliar with the collections and procedures of our temporary homes, leads us to err on the side of caution and leave the task of deaccessioning for another time and, usually, another archivist. However, I’ve found that from time to time, some deaccessioning can take place with relatively no additional time taken for the process.

Folders of publications.

Folders of publications.

A prime example of this came in the past couple of weeks with our collection at the Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCOM) Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections. At DUCOM, we are processing about 250 feet of materials in the Academic Affairs records group of Hahnemann University. This group is made up of many smaller collections of papers from administrators and faculty, as well as broader collections from academic units, assorted publications, and more. While processing each of these collections, we often noted files that we knew we had seen before and were obviously duplications, but due to time constraints and issues of provenance, we let this fact bother us momentarily and then moved on. But when it came to the series of publications, the rules changed a bit.

As the materials in the series came from a variety of smaller collections of publications, the aim was to file them all together, leaving issues of provenance out of the picture. And, as we decided to file them chronologically within four subseries, picking out the duplicates became quite simple during the final process of arranging and boxing. As can be seen in the accompanying pictures, duplicated publications were blatantly obvious.

Deaccessioned publications.

Deaccessioned publications.

After a quick glance through each set of duplicates, three copies of each were retained, consisting of the versions in the best condition or any annotated copies. The excess duplicates were removed from the collection and given to the main archivists who will decide upon their ultimate fate. Though it may not seem like much in a collection of roughly 250 feet, we were able to remove over a foot of redundant material in this manner without slowing down our process. We consider this a win-win situation and recommend using this idea of minimal deaccessioning when possible with future collections.

Surprise! The Marion Turner Stubbs Collection is…probably not what you expected.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Many times, in archives, we come across collections that do not turn out the way we expect. Perhaps the processing time takes far longer than we anticipated due to a box full of deconstructed file folders with no arrangement. Perhaps someone has come in before the archivists and “preprocessed” without letting anyone know, and with their own idiosyncratic system. These kinds of challenges are common in the archives and add to the flavor of processing, so even when they make you want to tear some hair out, in the end, you find you’ve grown as an archivist.

The squirrel's tale. Provenance unknown.

The squirrel’s tale. Provenance unknown.

And then, there are the collections that, simply put, turn out to be a little different. Not at all what we anticipated. Revealing in ways that make the job as exciting as it truly is. I’m talking, of course, about collections where you open up an envelope and find a severed squirrel’s tail in the middle of a box of financial records.

The Marion Turner Stubbs collection at Temple University was one of these collections, and remains one of my favorites processed to date. Some of the materials were so unexpected and painted such an interesting snapshot of the time from which they came that this small and at times vague collection ended up being uniquely exciting.

These papers came from Marion Turner Stubbs, a founding member of Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated. The papers are mostly her husband’s, Dr. Frederick Douglass Stubbs, an extremely gifted chest surgeon in Philadelphia, and from her father, Dr. John Patrick Turner, a respected physician, police surgeon, and first African American serving on the Philadelphia Board of Education. TheseDiureticTherapy three people led enormously influential lives in Philadelphia, and were prominent, well-respected members of the community, so I went into the project hoping for some interesting background on their lives. I was not expecting…a squirrel’s tail. Nor was I expecting the records to mostly come from Dr. Stubbs’ research files, which at first, was a disappointment, if only because I wanted to learn more about these remarkable people and how they kept records of their many accomplishments. Honestly, the answer, based on this collection, seems to be that they didn’t keep very many. Most of the collection (aside from the research) consisted of plaques and certificates from the many awards these three received throughout their lives. Fun to look at, but not really helpful for providing some context about who they were as people, one of the best parts about working in archives.

Important questions.

Important questions.

However, these research files provided an amazing look at 1930s medicine and thought, especially with a focus on tuberculosis and even prohibition-era philosophies. Dr. Stubbs was, for much of his career, focused on the treatment of tuberculosis, and so most of the research pertains to new medicines and surgical options, even treatments centers for children. But there was also information debating the socialization of medicine, the effects of alcohol, and the emerging “Negro Medicine” field.

Here were research files placed in Stubbs’ own particular order (not always the easiest to understand, until we realized he worked both alphabetically and often by subjects, like “Hospitals”) and which included a variety of materials like pamphlets, correspondence, and article reprints. I did not expect these materials to shed as much light on the philosophies of the time period from which they came, considering they were from a fairly narrow subject area.

To be fair, this was one of my first collections processed, and was a lot smaller than the others, so my AcmeColorsexpectations probably weren’t as high as they could have been. However, the important thing I got out of this collection was that keeping this collection intact, and preserving the original order as much as possible really provided the true value of the collection. Separating out all of those medical journals from the correspondence could have been an option. But seeing some of the letters Stubbs wrote to other doctors in conjunction with this research painted a much richer picture. I did not expect to walk out of this collection with information about the uses of whiskey in therapeutic treatment, or the stance of the Philadelphia medical community on socialized medicine, or the colors available on Acme appliances for a particular year.

Part of the excitement of this collection, too, was the fact that despite my complete lack of subject knowledge on any of these topics, I was able to get the information I needed, even with minimal processing, to properly describe the files and create a finding aid that I felt touched on all the important aspects of the collection. Additionally, since the collection did not have as much information about the family, I had the chance to do some of my own research to find out more about what they accomplished and who they were. It was exciting to use some of the clippings in the collection to piece together important moments in their lives and fill in the gaps with information I had to go track down on my own. In fact, I was thrilled to find a variety of clippings available on flickr that documented some of Marion Turner Stubbs’ life.

So while this collection did not turn out the way I expected, I got to immerse myself in a time period that I had previously never explored, from a perspective that made it all the more fascinating. Also, I got to see the reaction of my Project Manager to opening an envelope expecting a letter, or perhaps a piece of cloth, and instead finding that squirrel’s tail. Truly one of the finest moments of my very short career.

Why is a Museum Director like Indiana Jones?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

While working with the records of Langdon Warner (Director of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts, 1917 to 1923), we were struck first by the fact that Mr. Warner was far away from the Museum a good deal of the time: December 1917 through January 1919. And struck next by the interesting places that some of his correspondence was from. When in residence at the museum, his correspondence reveals that he wandered still: scattered amidst his administrative correspondence at the Museum are reports of archeological expeditions in the Middle East and Asia, photos of artifacts from far flung locations and reports of Bolshevik activity in Siberia.

With some time left the following week, we became curious enough to do a little exploring ourselves. If you Google Langdon Warner the first thing you find out is that almost everyone mentions him as a model for the character of Indiana Jones. We had to admit, the photos bear a distinct resemblance …

Langdon Warner and Indiana Jones. Striking, no?

Langdon Warner and Indiana Jones. Striking, no?

Warner became the Museum’s Director while relatively young, but his interests in Asian art and archaeology were already well established. While a student at Harvard University he traveled to Russian Turkestan with the Pumpelly-Carnegie Expedition in 1903. He traveled to Japan in prior to becoming the associate curator of Asian art at the Boston Museum of Art (1906 to 1913), and he was Director of the American School of Archeology, Peking, directly before coming to Philadelphia. While on leave of absence as the Museum’s director, his travels with a Smithsonian expedition were interrupted by the Russian Revolution and he was recruited as the United States Vice Council in Harbin, traveling extensively as the liaison between the State Department and Czechoslovakian exiles.

After leaving the Museum, he taught at Harvard University, became the Curator of Oriental Art at the Fogg Museum of Art and he participated in many other projects related to Asian arts and traveled an estimated 18 times to Asia.  Apparently quite modest, he was, however, highly influential as an educator and scholar, very well respected, and an entertaining and dedicated correspondent.

Photographs of artifact acquired and excursions made by Warner.

Photographs of artifacts acquired and excursions made by Warner.

Warner has not escaped controversy. Early discovery and collection of artifacts by Western scholars and archeologists has come under scrutiny and many now consider the actions taken by these early collectors as damaging, as well as ethically questionable. If Warner was indeed involved in such activities, it would certainly be balanced by his later work during World War II; as a “monuments man” –one of over three hundred other museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, and educators–he was tasked with the mission of protecting cultural treasures in harm’s way. Warner is specifically credited with taking actions that protected the cities of Nara and Kyoto during the Allied bombings of Japan in 1946 and this work reflects his very real concern for the preservation of cultural heritage sites. Warner died in Cambridge, MA, in 1955; after his death Japan awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasures.

All in all, maybe better than a movie…

“Two Gun” Bessie and the case for better folder titles

Monday, April 14th, 2014

One of the issues with working with a legacy finding aid is that previous descriptions can easily fall short. Such is the case with the MOLLUS collection, and we tried to go back through folders with unclear titles to fix this problem. One such folder, titled “Front, 1941”, provides an excellent example of why accurate folder description is important.

Jessica and Evan process MOLLUS.

Jessica and Evan process MOLLUS.

Upon further inspection, “Front, 1941” contains a series of newspaper clippings related to the sudden resignation of Dr. Bessie Burchett. Dr. Burchett, known as “Two gun Bessie” for her tendency to carry two pistols to defend herself, was a Latin teacher at West Philadelphia High School who strongly opposed communism. She even wrote a book on the communist infiltration of American schools: Education for Destruction. In fact, Burchett was so strongly against communism that she was revealed to have Nazi sympathies. When news of her political extremism broke, there was a cry of public outrage against her, and rather than awaiting her inevitable dismissal, Burchett elected to resign.

The case of Dr. Bessie Burchett provides an interesting snapshot of Philadelphia and the United States during an era of extreme political movements. But if a researcher were to come across the title “Front, 1941”, the researcher could never be aware of the treasures in the folder unless they opened it because the folder title provides so little useful information.

Processed MOLLUS at home in the new Union League secure vault.

Processed MOLLUS at home in the new Union League vault.

This means that an archivist must choose between properly titled folders or item level description, and when using MPLP the latter is out of the question. Folder titles should thus properly identify contents, and it is important to conscientiously consider such titles. For “Front, 1941” we had some difficulty coming up with a title that adequately captured the contents, but after a while we settled on “’Front:’ Clippings regarding Philadelphia school teacher Bessie Burchett, especially regarding anti-communism and Nazi sympathy, 1941”. This title is a much more accurate description of the folder contents.

So much for this folder, but how many other folders are out there that fail to describe their contents? How many more stories like Dr. Burchett’s are hiding in the crevices of archives, waiting to be discovered?

Saint Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church records

Friday, April 11th, 2014

The records of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church of Philadelphia, one of the collections held at Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center, sheds light on a unique aspect of Philadelphia history. The church was started in 1886 when African American Catholics in the region grew tired of the discrimination they faced at Catholic Churches of the day (if they were allowed in at all). Members of three parishes united together to form the Peter Claver Union with the goal of creating a “Church for Colored Catholics” in Philadelphia.

In 1889, they were officially recognized by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and in 1892, they moved into their new home at 12th and Lombard Streets (a former Presbyterian church). The church continued to function for almost a century until the Archdiocese suppressed the church in 1985, stating that due to the changing racial climate, a dedicated church for African Americans was no longer needed, thus removing their parish status, as well as all of their records. At this point, the church continued to function as a community, but could not offer most religious sacraments and services.

Steve processing at Temple University.

Steve processing at Temple University.

In processing the records of this collection, one obvious drawback is the lack of most records from before 1985 (outside of the school records). Rather than finding records focused mainly on the administration and rituals of a church, this collection’s focus is found in the community outcry over the suppression of the parish, clippings and other subject files covering the African American community at the time, the church community’s struggle to remain vibrant in a neighborhood that had lost its African American majority, and many issues of racism (real or perceived) within the Catholic Church as a whole.

From a processing perspective, this was my favorite collection from our time at Temple and that comes from it not having been previously processed. It was quite rewarding to take a box full of papers and create a logical order to the contents, rather than just relabeling folders or trying to figure out why someone had deemed certain records appropriate to folder together.  This collection, though smaller than our previous ones, offered a chance to do some actual MPLP processing (a goal of this project), as well as learn more about Philadelphia history. And while I’ll not comment on my personal views of the acts of the Catholic Church regarding St. Peter Claver’s, it is quite eye opening to read about this time in Catholic history.

Star-spangled MOLLUS at the Union League

Thursday, April 10th, 2014
MOLLUS whiskey label.

MOLLUS whiskey label.

When I was told that I would be processing the collection of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, or MOLLUS, at the Union League, I expected this to be an interesting project. While the name of the organization is impressive, I was certainly not disappointed by the contents of their collection.  Founded on April 15, 1865 in response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, MOLLUS was established to preserve and celebrate the memories and camaraderie of Civil War veterans. MOLLUS membership was composed of Union officers that fought in the Civil War or their male descendants, and the organization has thus included and associated with many interesting characters throughout its 148 year history.

My first encounter with stardom occurred on my first day at work, when we discovered some letters MOLLUShandwritten by William Tecumseh Sherman. The moment of discovery when one suddenly realizes that they are holding a document written in the hand of someone so famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) is tremendous. A simple piece of paper can swiftly turn into an artifact of great intrinsic value upon brief examination of a signature, and the mundane thus transforms into the spectacular instantaneously. For a history-obsessed rookie archivist such as myself, it was a pretty great find, even though I couldn’t necessarily read Sherman’s handwriting.

The excitement certainly did not stop there, as we soon discovered some correspondence with General Douglas MacArthur. Documents signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, who served two terms as the Commander-in-Chief of MOLLUS, were also uncovered, as well as many more records of notable Civil War veterans.  In addition to written documents, we also chanced upon numerous photographs of MOLLUS members, with moustaches, beards, and sideburns as impressive as their names.

Stonewall Jackson, sans epic beard.

Stonewall Jackson, sans epic beard.

Robert E. Lee, sans beard.

Robert E. Lee, sans epic beard.

Another interesting find was the discovery of two Civil War scrapbooks, which contain contemporary newspaper clippings and other primary records of the war. The scrapbooks also contained a group of portraits of notable generals and admirals from both sides of the war. From amongst these I was delightfully surprised to find portraits of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson without their signature epic beards.

These many discoveries left me star struck, and I could not imagine that I would encounter another collection as interesting as MOLLUS. Nevertheless, this was only the beginning of my involvement with this great project, and I’m sure that I will continue to be pleasantly surprised by what the various local archives have to offer.

“Are not pond scum and pistache green somewhat similar?”

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Written by Carey Hedlund and Alina Josan.

Our first assignment for the Hidden Collections project brought us to the archives at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), where we worked for four months. We began by processing the Edwin Atlee Barber records. Barber was an early curator and director at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art while it was still located in Fairmount Part at Memorial Hall—only later called PMA with the move to the Museum’s current location.

A man of detail, wisdom and wit, Barber wore many different hats in his work and was a detailed and attentive correspondent. In a letter to Morris Carter of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Barber outlined his responsibilities:

DSCN2444“Secretary of the Corporation and various committees, Acting Curator of all the twelve departments of the Museum; arrange and install all of the collections, prepare all of the labels for printing; edit the Museum Bulletin and Annual Report, and prepare for publication all of the Guides, Handbooks, catalogues and Art Primers; conduct the Bureau of Identification of Art Objects; collect the annual Membership dues; act as Superintendent of the building and have direct charge of the guards and all other employees.”

As the Curator and Director of the Pennsylvania Museum Barber was directly involved in the minutiae of everyday operations, writing often to the Fairmount Park Commissioners of such things as leaking roofs and missing floor tiles, plumbing and heating malfunctions, and untamed landscaping.

From the files of the Commissioners of Fairmount Park:

Mr. Oglesby Paul, Landscape Gardener, November 19th, 1903

“My dear Mr. Paul:-

I hope you have not forgotten about the vines on Memorial Hall which were to be pruned at the proper time. If that time has arrived, I hope you will be able to give the matter your attention…”

No issue involving Museum staff was too insignificant for his attention:

Mr. Jesse Vogdes, Chief Engineer and Superintendent, December 4, 1907

“My Dear Sir:

Mrs. Hamilton, in the Woman’s room, needs a new uniform, as she appears to have had none for two years. Will you please send me an order on Wanamaker’s…as follows: Four collars, No. 14; four pairs cuffs, No. 8; four aprons; one dozen caps.”

Barber’s administrative correspondence is lively and occasionally divisive, and it documents the early formation of the Museum’s collections. His correspondence with John T. Morris, especially, reflects their shared passion to build a world class collection.

July, 29, 1911 

“My dear Mr. Morris:

I have your letter of the 28th…and I thoroughly agree with you in many of your statements, and I would be very glad indeed to buy modern work, provided it is as good or better than the ancient. To buy it simply because it is modern, however and is not in good workmanship as the old, does not appeal to me. I agree with you that the best and rarest pieces..should be procured for the Museum at any price…”

And, all the while, his negotiations with donors were carefully tended. After agreeing to exhibit a donkey cart, a handful of letters between Barber and the donor, trace a discussion about the option of also borrowing the donkey harness. Barber tactfully concedes that a donkey may not be necessary:

The donkey cart.

The donkey cart.

Mrs. Richard Waln Meirs, May 28, 1913 

“My dear Mrs. Meirs,

We would be very glad, indeed, to place on exhibition the harness belonging to the Sicilian cart which you kindly lent us recently. This has attracted so much attention that I think it would be greatly improved by using the harness also. To be sure, we have not a stuffed donkey to use it on, but our carpenter can make a frame which will show it to good advantage. If you care to lend this to us, we shall take the best care of it and it will, of course, be subject to you order anytime.”

While attending to the day-to-day management of a museum and school, and an active publication and exhibition schedule, he also maintained an active correspondence with scholars and collectors, particularly in his chosen specialty, ceramics:

Mr. Thomas Clarke, New York, September 24, 1910 DSCN2449

“My Dear Mr. Clarke:

On my return from Europe, I find the memorandum which you sent to Mr. Kent of the Metropolitan Museum…

Is wet tea leaf brown similar to the tea dust soufflé glaze? Can you tell me the difference between dragon’s blood and pigeon’s blood red? Are not pond scum and pistache green somewhat similar?

I hope to be able to get in to see you some time when in New York, in the meantime, I shall thank you for enlightenment on these points.”

Barber held several long, collegial exchanges with expert craftsmen, notably Henry Mercer Chapmen and Taxile Doat. Towards the end of his life, while preparing an exhibition and the publication of “Fakes” and Reproductions Barber corresponded with both men. With Mercer he debates the qualities of “legitimate reproductions” and he consults with Doat, drawing on Doat’s earlier experience as a master craftsman at Sevres:

December 29, 1911 IMG_5350

“My dear Mr. Doat:

I saw yesterday a large cylindrical jardinière…The dealer who owns this values it at $900, although in my estimation it would be dear at $9…Thanking you for any facts you may be able to send me…”

These are just a few of the things that we found as we processed this. Researchers with more time for discovery and examination would, no doubt, uncover many more interesting treasures.

Processing up

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

The Hebrew Sunday School Society (HSSS) collection at Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center contains roughly 35 linear feet of records that span two centuries (1802 to 2002) and document the history of the Society. HSSS was founded in 1838 by Rebecca Gratz (a Jewish philanthropist in Philadelphia and the basis for the character of Rebecca in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe) with the intention that all Jewish children could attend classes regardless of financial standing or synagogue affiliation. The collection consists of administrative records, papers and programs from school teachings and functions, some very cool artifacts (e.g., lantern slides, a large hand bell used for fire drills, books and other items originally belonging to Rebecca Gratz), and many photographs.

Hopping through the decades.

Hopping through the decades.

In working with the collection, my processing partner (Annalise Berdini) and I came across a somewhat frustrating issue – that of attempting to minimally process a collection that had been previously processed to a much more detailed level. This collection, which consists of no less than 17 different accessions, had been processed by various people, and to varying levels. Additionally, a number of the more ‘eye-catching’ items had been used in an exhibit, so they had been somewhat separated from their contextual homes. Many folders were found to contain just one document, or perhaps a few. Others had a slew of records stretching back many decades, but hopscotching through the years like a child at play. It’s not uncommon to find a date span such as “1877, 1882-1888, 1906, 1910-1913, 1930-1959, 1965-1985.”

Other folders seemed to be making a summary of the entire collection, with one or two examples of each type of document from each series we’d constructed, leaving us frequently asking, “How do I label this and where does this go?” (Personally, I’m planning to petition for the word hodgepodge to be added as acceptable terminology since miscellaneous is out of the question.) And then there were the occasional appearances of spotty preservation work (though I can’t be sure when that occurred).

Spotty preservation practices.

Spotty preservation practices.

The folder titles were sometimes helpful, but with any number of people having created the folders over those many many accessions, they were inconsistent. Some had specific titles (some VERY specific); some were quite vague (my favorite from the collection being “Miscellaneous, etc.”). Some had dates (often inaccurate); most did not. This all boiled down to a lot of folders being refoldered; all of which needed to be inspected for more accurate information; and this all slowed down the process considerably. One day, I spent close to five hours making my way through just one linear foot of folders.

The takeaway from the HSSS records is in highlighting the fact that MPLP (or maximal processing, really, which is closer to what we’re doing in this project) is not suited to every collection. This collection, though not done to our current standards, had been previously processed and some sort of inventory did exist. As such, it was most likely not the best choice for this processing project (though we all enjoyed the content of the collection quite a bit). If a collection has already gone past minimal processing, it’s rather difficult to back that process up.

The Abraham L. Freedman papers

Monday, April 7th, 2014

For our first project as student processors for the PACSCL/CLIR Hidden Collections Project at the Temple University Special Collections Research Center, my partner Steve Duckworth and I got to work with the Abraham Freedman Papers, a collection of business-related and personal documents from the Honorable Abraham L. Freedman, who notably served as Philadelphia’s City Solicitor and served as counsel in a landmark discrimination case against Girard College.

Freedman_Dilworth

Campaign materials for the Clark-Dilworth campaign.

This collection was, first of all, completely fascinating in ways I could not expect from papers that seemed mostly made up of case file documents and office memos. However, the fact that most of the order was Judge Freedman’s own made for a collection that was not only very well suited to MPLP, but also rich in contextual information that could not have been gleaned from the documents alone.  If anything, this collection was a case in proving how important that context can be to telling the whole story. These boxes were not simply filled with rusty legal bindings and onionskin, there was a whole life hiding in the spaces between the folders.

This isn’t the easiest concept to provide examples for, but one of the ways having this context helped us was when the original order filled in the gaps in our information. A folder full of bulletins from an event that didn’t seem to have to do with the rest of the box made sense when discovering the next folder was full of drafts of a speech Freedman gave there. Often, he kept his materials together so that searching wasn’t even necessary; everything was in its place with purpose. Each segment of his career was generally already together; his early private legal practice manuscripts in one section, his City Solicitor papers in another. Folder titles were clear and usually included accurate dates and descriptions; we were often able to tease out helpful research information without too much digging. There were often notes and edits on folder titles, clearly added when new documents were added; and often, not only were documents kept together by career, but often even by subject.

TU_Freedman_photo 2

Letter to Freedman signed by President John F. Kennedy.

Because we were able to use Freedman’s organization and order to figure out answers to our questions, this collection was quite easily minimally processed. Our only problems occurred when working with a smaller, separate accession within the collection, which had been previously processed and which unintentionally removed much of the context that Freedman’s order had provided. The stark contrast between processing those materials and Freedman’s original order highlighted how important it is to consider the shape of a collection before choosing MPLP as the processing method.

Aside from the ease of processing, learning about Freedman’s life was an experience in and of itself. Freedman was a huge advocate for equal rights and worked to end discrimination throughout his entire life. His correspondence with colleagues and friends is often beautiful and thoughtful, even for short notes. Some of his own personal writings, short stories and musings on his career, highlight his creativity and appreciation for the written word. For a first collection and foray into minimal processing, it’s hard to imagine a better place to have started.

We’re back! Bootcamp, processing, and progress so far…

Friday, April 4th, 2014
Training_Processing

New project team during minimal processing bootcamp at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hello again! Time has flown by, and we’re just getting the blog started again by recapping the current PACSCL/CLIR Hidden Collections Processing Project of 2013-2014. I assumed responsibilities of Project Manager in August 2013 and it’s been a whirlwind of activity from the very first day. I had to quickly assess and plan how we would minimally process 46 collections containing materials from the 18th to 21st centuries, all specifically related to Philadelphia history. Processing will require us to process at a rate of 4 hours per linear foot at 16 different repositories over the course of one year.  In addition to 12 veteran participating repositories, we welcome four new institutions to the project, including two non-PACSCL members. With this project, we hope to refine, confirm, and better establish guidelines for applying minimal processing to a wide range of collections and types of institutions and creating high-quality finding aids for our ever-expanding collaborative site.

Surveying at Germantown Historical Society.

Surveying at Germantown Historical Society.

As you may recall, this project builds upon the predecessor processing project lead by Holly Mengel and Courtney Smerz from 2009 to 2011. Having served as one of the processors on that project, I began my work as Project Manager already very familiar with the “PACSCL” methods and approaches established by the first team. My familiarity with these approaches, along with additional archives management experience, gave me a bit of a running start, but I immediately found that I have my work cut out for me. More about the challenges and lessons I’ve learned so far will be chronicled in later posts.

In August, I quickly got started by surveying the collections selected for the grant that had not been surveyed previously by the fabulous PACSCL Survey Initiative Project. I followed and expanded upon the guidelines already previously established in earlier projects to assess these new collections. In September and October, I was able to assemble a fabulous project team of six processors and one assistant, who all attended the bootcamp training week designed to establish a good overview of the PACSCL approaches to minimal processing and the Archivists’ Toolkit. After training, I assigned pairs of processors to our first three repositories (Temple University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Union League of Philadelphia) to kick off the year’s-worth of processing work ahead of us.

First day of processing at Temple University.

First day of processing at Temple University.

Already with many challenges and successes along the way that will be detailed further in the coming weeks on the blog, we hit our six-month mark this week right on track! At our halfway point in the project come mid-April, we will have processed an approximate total of 762 linear feet for 22 collections in 9 repositories, at an average rate of 3.45 hours per linear foot. Please stay tuned as we continue to add more frequent updates about our progress, lessons learned, and interesting finds!