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PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project » Independence Seaport Museum

Independence Seaport Museum

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Excel to EAD-XML to AT—the spreadsheet from heaven.

Monday, March 19th, 2012

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Although it seems like a million years, it actually was not so long ago that our students were processing at the Independence Seaport Museum.  While we were there, we were faced with one of the limitations of our minimal processing time frames.  The archivist there, Matt Herbison (now at Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center) had a few spreadsheets detailing information on ships’ plans—information that made the collections truly useful to researchers.  Problem was, there were thousands of entries in the spreadsheets and we knew that our processors could never re-key or copy/paste that information into the Archivists’ Toolkit in the time allotted for the processing.

Because we knew that this information would really make a difference for users, we thought and thought of ways to make this work, but our best solution involved saving the spreadsheet as a pdf and linking to it from the finding aid–not very elegant. And then Matt, who really is extraordinarily techie, created this amazing spreadsheet that solved the problem.  To sweeten the deal even more, he offered Courtney and me the use of the spreadsheet for the project.

I will now make a very bold statement:  this spreadsheet made it possible for us to finish the project within the time frame.  Not only did we use it at the Seaport, our processors used it for original data entry at repositories that had spotty internet connections, technical troubles, and/or did not adopt the Archivists’ Toolkit.  Our Archivists’ Toolkit cataloger used it as a starting point for almost all electronic legacy finding aids.

Matt has offered to share this spreadsheet with everyone.  It is available here and we have created a guide for using the spreadsheet.  In a nutshell, each column in the spreadsheet maps to specific field in the Archivists’ Toolkit.  It has three levels of hierarchy below the collection level, so it not the tool of choice if your finding aids has sub-sub series and items, but for most modern finding aids, it is the ticket.  I should say, though, that it is not necessarily a quick process if you are starting with existing data … time needs to be taken to combine columns, format data, and check for errors.  If you know how to use regular expressions, you can really streamline some of this work.  If you are doing original data entry, the use of the spreadsheet is incredibly efficient for getting container lists into the Archivists’ Toolkit.

This means that anyone with knowledge of MS Excel can create finding aids and take legacy information from an electronic format to xml.  Pretty awesome! I will say that a little knowledge of EAD is very useful and understanding the Archivists’ Toolkit will make decisions in data entry easier.  Many of our students preferred working with the spreadsheet rather than the Archivists’ Toolkit, but it is a matter of preference.  I think it is a little harder to see the hierarchy when using the spreadsheet, but it is a thousand times easier fix error in Excel than in the Archivists’ Toolkit.  Check it out, try it out and see if it changes your life.

Yes, I did say that … I think it could change your life!

Thanks SO much to Matt Herbison!

Art in the Archives: Doodles, Sketches, and Fine Art

Monday, January 24th, 2011

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People often think of archival collections as dusty boring boxes of papers, but even if the boxes are dusty and full of paper, they are rarely (never, in my opinion) boring.  Who knows what you will find when you pop open that liquor store or candy bar box ?  One of the things that I love finding is artwork, which is very prevalent in archival collections, in varying degrees of artistic quality.  Regardless, I love it because it really allows you to see the world through the creator’s eyes.  Textual material allows you to discover the way the creator thought , but art allows you to see what they saw (or maybe not … maybe it is what they wanted to see).  Fascinating!

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The kind of art that our project has revealed was created for lots of purposes:  work, clarity, creativity, and boredom (or perhaps nerves—I am a nervous doodler).  Workwise, we have found amazing sketches in the Academy of Natural Sciences Exhibit records reflecting the creation of the dioramas  with plans for the backgrounds, the foliage, and habitat.  A professional artist’s work is represented in the Thornton Oakley collection on Howard Pyle and his student.  The John H. Mathis Company records contains ship plans; and when we process the Armistead Browning, Jr. papers at the University of Delaware, we will be working with landscape plans.  Natural historians documented their scientific studies as well as amazing new things they discovered:  Pierre Eugene du Simitière and J. Percy Moore are notable examples.  The Logan family papers include some drawings that show James Logan’s interactions with the Native Americans in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s.

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We also have student artists who saved their work—this is evident in the Reinhardt, Hawley and Hewes family papers, the Marvin Rosefield Keck, the Vaux family papers and Nicholson and Taylor family papers.  The artwork in these collection is far beyond amateur and both William Nicholson Taylor and Mary Vaux Walcott studied art formally.  Taylor and Keck used their considerable talents to draw humorous cartoons of the world they observed.  Mary Vaux Walcott created beautiful paintings from her experiences with the United States Board of Indian Commissions.

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Others drew plans of their hopes … James Rush has amazing sketches of architectural features for a home he was building on Chestnut Street.  In John Dickinson’s papers, there are sketches of a bathtub (introduced by Benjamin Franklin) as well as plans for succeeding in a military battle.  I can only imagine how wonderful a bathtub seemed in a time when plumbing was scarce.  The Logan family papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania include tons of land surveys—quite beautiful … I don’t know if the Logan, Dickinson and Norris families were planning to buy land or or already owned it.

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Finally we have the doodlers … and I love the doodlers!  I cannot decide if I like the doodles on the inside covers of Benjamin Rush’s financial books or John Dickinson Logan’s doodles on the list of rules for officers serving in the Civil War.  Either way, these doodles are of a most decidedly human nature … I have a strong suspicion that I, and many of the readers of the blog post, would doodle in similar situations.  Hopefully, you have not been doodling during the perusal of this post!

Schuylkill Navy photographs at Independence Seaport Museum

Monday, November 1st, 2010

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There are some archival collections which one processes that are straight forward and standard. Then, there are those collections that the archivist or processor will always remember, for whatever reasons. For me, the Schuylkill Navy records at Independence Seaport Museum were the latter. I was able to spend over a month working with this fascinating collection and because of it, will always have great memories of the experience when thinking of it.

For those who have not heard of the Schuylkill Navy, it is an association of Philadelphia rowing clubs based on the Schuylkill River. The association has the distinction of being the oldest amateur athletic governing body in the United States, as it was founded in 1858. The Schuylkill Navy oversees all rowing clubs and activities on the landmark Boathouse Row, organizes major prep, collegiate and professional rowing regattas throughout the year and promotes the sport of rowing. In the past 152 years of its existence, the organization has produced numerous Olympic and World class rowers including Paul Costello, Jim Burk, John B. Kelly, Sr. and John B. Kelly, Jr. Currently, there are rowers training on the Schuylkill River in hopes of making the trials and finals for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.

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As I look back, there are many reasons why I enjoyed working with this collection. There were hundreds of old regatta programs and posters that were beautifully designed and well-crafted. Another highlight was finding the original documents that created the Schuylkill Navy organization and the like new condition of those records. However, the most enjoyable part of this collection for myself was processing the photographs series.

The series started off as a small, diminutive group with a few old photographs and a 1970s era scrapbook. However, we kept finding more photographs as Forrest and I processed the collection as a whole. When it came time to start arranging this series, there were over three boxes of photographs, of which the bulk were not previously organized. I would have never thought at the time that the abundance of newly found materials would prove to be so much fun to process.

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The photographs series ended up being memorable for a variety of reasons. First, the series showed an extensive, detailed visual history of men’s rowing from the late 1800s until the late 1960s. The photographs also showed such an array of rowing activities from regattas and Olympic races to social events and life on Boathouse Row. The series actively documented the lives of rowers over the course of an eighty year span, which is remarkable in my opinion.

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Another memorable aspect of the photographs series was doing investigative work to accurately describe the pictures. The majority of the photographs did not have any written inscriptions so there was a lot of matching photographs with negatives, internet exploration on possible rowers and research into what rowing crews wore what. Of course, this was actually made more challenging since more than half of the series featured topless rowers, which being a professional future archivist, did not deter me from my work for too long.

While all of the aforementioned reasons made this collection memorable, the photographs series also helped me to recognize access points in a collection. When we started processing the Schuylkill Navy collection, I assumed that the only potential users interested in this material would be those in the rowing community or members of the Schuylkill Navy. By the end of our processing, I realized how wrong I was to presume anything about the collection before I actually heavily worked with it.

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Now, I can see how many different users would be interested in the Schuylkill Navy collection. It could include people whose interests pertain to rowing, recreation, leisure sports, sporting associations and even physical change in athlete’s bodies. Maybe there is even a researcher somewhere that is writing a book on the evolution of sports training and needs photographs to supplement their work. Not only would they find the photographs of the Schuylkill Navy collection informative, I hope that the user would also enjoy the series as much as I did while working on it.

RTC Shipbuilding Company records

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

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Another interesting collection that we have processed at Independence Seaport Museum is the RTC Shipbuilding Company records. The collection covers the shipbuilding and repair history of the company’s work from 1934 to 1965. It contains a great number of design plans and photographs that help document the building process of many ships.

RTC was started by three men, whose initials stand for each letter in RTC. The company was based in Camden, New Jersey, right across the river from Philadelphia. One of the neat things is that you can see the area where RTC operated from outside of the museum. The heaviest building period for RTC occurred during World War II when they built oil barges, tug boats and oil tankers for the United States Navy. For their high quality of workmanship and fast rate of production, RTC received two Army-Navy “E” Pennant four star awards. Not only was this a proud achievement for the company, it also solidified their presence as a major shipbuilding corporation on the Delaware River.

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The best part of processing this collection had to be looking at all the images in the “Photographs” series. There are photographs of christenings and launchings, shipbuilding, the employees, company social events and the yard. Out of all the other collections we have worked on, I have never seen such a thorough collection of photographs that cover a wide extent of the supporting paper documents. It is a great benefit for researchers that I’m sure will be taken advantage of.

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Another interesting part of this collection are the J.J. Baugean glass negatives of French ship prints. All the glass slides are prints of engravings of various French and European ships from history. They are absolutely beautiful when seen and from some research that I’ve completed, they are also somewhat rare. It is a mystery as to whom they belonged or how they got to RTC. Dates written on their box indicate that the prints were made or purchased in the early 1920s, which is before RTC was created. Our best guess was that the slides were used to make large decorative prints to hang in the RTC offices, but we were just speculating for our own enjoyment!

Overall, the RTC Shipbuilding collection was a great collection to work with and a good candidate for minimal processing. The majority of the collection was foldered when we started, so the bulk of our time was spent arranging the material into series and entering in all the data into Archivists’ Toolkit. With the extra time that we saved, Forrest and I were able to research and analyze the ships more which helped us to have a better understanding of the company and the collection. RTC was a very active company in the shipbuilding and repair industry and I know that this collection will be extremely useful to anyone interested in their work.

Dirty Processing: The John H. Mathis Company records

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

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The John H. Mathis Company was a major shipbuilding firm based out of Camden, New Jersey. Founded in 1870, the company built and repaired yachts, river steamers, tugs, barges, car floats, and other varieties of shipping vessels. The impressive collection of Mathis Company records available at the Independence Seaport Museum includes the business papers, photographs, and measured drawings.

The drawings, which number in the thousands, arrived at the Seaport Museum covered in soot and other dirt.  Apparently they had been sitting for years in the former Mathis Shipyard (closed in 1960), and were “rescued” from certain “doom by disintegration.”

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While I have processed film reels, maps, and even medical instruments on this project, these measured drawings were a true test. We had to empty nearly 30 boxes of these plans, and sort them by design number. Just a few plans were enough to turn brand-new white gloves into the dirty mitts that looked like they belonged to a chimney sweep.  We ruined several pairs, but only after permission from the head archivist, of course!

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After hours of sorting, we were able to arrange every measured drawing by design number.  Though our process was hardly an exact science, we laid dozens of boxes across three huge tables and assigned each box with a range of design numbers.  We then removed each plan from its original container and placed it in the corresponding box. Of course we had to make several adjustments along the way, but our final product imposes at least some order on the thousands of previously loose drawings.

Despite the dirt and grease, this collection taught me a great deal about minimal processing. It is impossible to apply “More Product, Less Product” to this type of material.  Because each drawing contains minute details of complex ship designs, it would take countless hours to open each roll and record these details. Therefore, we elected to simply record the design number and box location. This is not ideal, but given our time constraints, it was our only option.  However, not all measured drawings are described at this level. Researchers will find a couple hundred select plans from a few different Mathis-built ships described in greater detail in the library vaults. These plans had been processed by a past volunteer with substantial knowledge of the Mathis Company, and are included in the collection.

Thomas D. Bowes M.E., Associates records

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

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At the Independence Seaport Museum, the first collection that Forrest and I processed was the Thomas D. Bowes M.E., Associates records. This collection contained design plans, measured drawings, photographs, printed materials, patents and records all relating to the naval architecture firm of Bowes. With 95 boxes and 4,123 rolled plans, it was also the largest collection that we worked on at the museum.

Known as “Tugboat Tom,” Bowes designed over 800 vessels during his sixty year career as a naval architect. He designed over eighty tug boats, several of Philadelphia’s fire boats and over 300 yachts. Bowes also held many different patents for various vessel designs, including the Bowes Drive, which reduced the speed between the engine and drive shafts in marine installations. He was known as a specialist in compressing maximum power and utility into minimum hull space for his clients that wanted compact crafts.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Bowes grew up sailing on the Jersey Shore at both Cape May and Atlantic City. His father not liking the seafaring lifestyle, encouraged Bowes to become a lawyer or bishop to which he replied: “I have neither the brains for law not the goodness for religion. I will be what I have to be.” So hoping to give his son a reality check, Bowes’ father sent him out on square-riggers during his summer vacations. Bowes would join the ship in Philadelphia or New Jersey, sail around the Horn of South America and arrive in California with just enough time to take a train back East to start school again. The rigorous voyages did not deter Bowes from his dream of working with ships and by the time that he entered Cornell University in 1901, he had earned the rank of second mate.

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An interesting aspect of this collection is how well it ties into the other collections that we are processing at ISM. Two other collections that we are working on, the John H. Mathis Company collection and RTC Shipbuilding Corporation records, actually built and repaired ships and yachts that Bowes designed. It is interesting to be able to track the history of some vessels through their different stages of life and use.

One of the most famous ships that Bowes designed was the diesel yacht Lenore II for Sewell L. Avery, the President of Montgomery Ward, Director of U.S. Steel and President of Gypsum. Finished in 1931, the yacht was Avery’s personal cruiser until the United States government loaned her during World War II as a patrol vessel. The Navy seized her in 1945 to become an escort and stand-in for the White House yacht Williamsburg for President Truman. However, when President Eisenhower came into office, he refurbished and rechristened the Lenore II as Barbara Ann and made the yacht the Presidential yacht. The next three Presidents renamed the yacht during their terms in office. President Kennedy named her Honey Fitz, which President Johnson kept in his honor, and President Nixon named her Patricia.

In 1970, the yacht was sold by President Nixon, who wanted a larger ship, to the Seaport Line in New York City where the yacht was used as a charter boat. For the next eighteen years, the ship bounced between owners and eventually was bought in 1998 by a business for $5.9 million dollars. The name Honey Fitz has been restored to the yacht and it is currently undergoing extensive repair and restoration, which you can watch here.   There are also great links to news stories and Kennedy home movies that feature the yacht.

When starting this collection, we had no idea how Bowes and his company influenced ship and boat design. Many of his ships are still used today in different ports around the country. This collection was a great way to get our feet wet in naval and maritime history at the Archives of the ISM.

Reflections on Training and the PACSCL/CLIR Project, by Jack McCarthy, CA, Archival Consultant

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

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I recently had the opportunity to participate in the PACSCL Hidden Collections project Archival Boot Camp, the training session for the student processing archivists that will be working on the next phase of the project. While not involved in the PACSCL project myself, I am developing a project with somewhat similar goals that focuses on the collections of small, primarily volunteer-run organizations such as local historical societies, small museums, and other collecting institutions. Since my project may involve training entry-level archivists in surveying and processing collections held by these small repositories, I wanted to observe the training sessions of the PACSCL project to see how it was done in that project.

Overall, I found the Boot Camp to be a well structured, well-presented session and an effective method for training young archivists in the minimal processing practices that they will be implementing in the PACSCL project. Project Manager Holly Mengel and Project Archivist Courtney Smerz did a good job of presenting the rationale and theory behind minimal processing, providing guidelines for the minimal processing practices that will be employed in the project, and supervising the hands-on sessions in which the participants had the opportunity put those guidelines into practice. I especially liked the fact that Holley and Courtney were more interested in determining what worked and what didn’t in their approach to minimal processing than in trying to “prove” that theirs was the best approach. As per one of the goals of the PACSCL project, they are seeking to develop a model for applying minimal processing techniques to different types of collections – not just the large late twentieth-century collections that minimal processing was initially developed to address – and so they want honest assessments of both the positive and negative aspects of the methodology they have developed for the project.

Which brings me to the one problem I had with that methodology: While I found the guidelines and minimal processing practices presented in the Boot Camp to be sound and workable for the most part, and while I believe that the project is achieving its goal of making previously hidden collections more accessible in a cost-effective manner, there is one specific practice that is part of the project’s processing approach that I was uncomfortable with from an archival standpoint. It involves separating materials into distinct series when it is not clear that they actually constitute separate series, specifically the practice of taking a file that consists of a mix of different types of materials lumped together and separating these materials out into discrete series, but – and this is the critical point – without the opportunity to examine the items sufficiently to determine how they relate to one another and if they really do constitute separate series. Essentially, I feel that this is asking the processor to make item-level decisions but in a minimal processing time frame, without having the time to work with the materials enough to make informed decisions.

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One of the key first steps in the processing procedure in which we were trained entails spreading a collection out and determining, fairly quickly, what series the materials should be divided into. Often, this is obvious – these diaries constitute one series, these photographs constitute another, etc. – but sometimes it is not so obvious and the decisions are more difficult. For the hands-on portion of the training, held at the Independence Seaport Museum, we broke into teams of two at one point and each team was given a small collection to process. My partner and I had the papers of George Sproule, a prominent figure in the Philadelphia maritime and shipping industry in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. We determined most of the series (diaries, scrapbooks, photo files) without much difficulty, but there was one group of materials consisting of several thick folders containing hundreds of different types of items – correspondence, reports and business records, clippings, writings and speeches, ephemera such as invitations and event programs, and other materials – all lumped together in no apparent order. Our instructions were to separate these materials out into different series by type – correspondence in one series, clippings in another, etc. As we started to do this, I began to get uncomfortable, realizing that I really couldn’t tell what belonged together and what did not, as there were several instances in which we ended up separating materials that actually related to each other: a piece of correspondence related to an event program, or a newspaper clipping related to a speech for which there was a copy in the file. These were just a couple of the inter-relationships we were able to discern in a quick review of the records; I am sure they were many more cases of related items that we didn’t catch. By separating these items from each other I felt that we were severing the ties between them and hampering future users’ ability to see the relationship between them. I didn’t think that we had enough time to make the kind of series determinations we were being asked to make, at least with this specific set of materials.

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In my opinion, when presented with such situations, it would be best to adopt a “first, do no harm” approach. Given the limited amount of time available in a minimal processing project, if there are materials about which there is some ambiguity as to their organization or interrelationships, it would be best to just leave them as is. I do not think that this approach would significantly inhibit access to a collection. A researcher using a collection would, I think, be well-served by having such materials left as they were, but with a series-level scope and content note in the finding aid providing the necessary descriptive detail about the contents of the series.

This one critique notwithstanding, I found the Boot Camp to be a very worthwhile experience and the overall approach to minimal processing employed in the project to be excellent. I think that the PACSCL Hidden Collections project is doing a great service to the archival community on several levels: the participating PACSCL repositories and their users are getting important but hidden collections arranged and described, a group of young archivists is getting excellent hands-on experience in archival processing, and the archival profession is getting a tested model for making collections available relatively quickly and cost-effectively.

Spring 2010 Boot Camp at Independence Seaport Museum

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

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Knowing that we will be losing 3 of 4 of our original student processors at the beginning of June, Courtney and I began planning for an almost entirely new team and revisited our training scheme armed with the knowledge and experience that comes from working with collections and our processors for eight months.  Needless to say, we approached this training session a little differently.

Courtney worked on our slide presentation, fine-tuning and further developing ideas and issues that we realized we had not covered fully enough in the first training session.  She also developed a training slide show on the Archivists’ Toolkit which I think will be useful not just to our student processors, but to the larger archival community.

One other thing we had decided immediately after the first training was that we really needed to find training collections that were small enough to complete in the two-days of hands-on training.  We asked Matt Herbison, Director of the  Independence Seaport Museum J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library, if he was willing to host the training, and he generously agreed and helped select collections for processing.  Our wish list for the collections included:  size (the collection needs to be small enough that a two person team can process the collection and enter the finding aid into the Archivists’ Toolkit in 2 days) and complexity (the collection needs to be complicated enough to serve as a real-life example of any collection that our processors may encounter in the next few months).  I made processing plans for six collections, all of which fulfilled our wish list.

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On May 18, we started our training at the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt – Dietrich Library Center in an electronic classroom and we covered the basics of the project as well as what minimal processing means for the project, and how to process collections for this project.  In the afternoon we addressed the Archivists’ Toolkit.  We hope that the classroom day provides a sound foundation for what our processors will need to know when they start working in repositories.

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So after spending a day talking ABOUT processing, we met on May 19 and 20 at the Independence Seaport Museum so that our processors could DO processing.  We started with the Marvin Rosefield Keck papers which we processed as a group.  This allowed our processors to really have a conversation about what was in the collection and how to move forward.  We followed the steps in our processing manual; we familiarized ourselves with the collection, we arranged the collection intellectually, we arranged the collection physically, and we talked about the description of the finding aid.

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After we finished the Keck papers, we divided our processors into teams of two and gave each team another collection.  Becky Koch and Jennifer Duli worked on the Independence Seaport Museum Collection on the New York Shipbuilding Corporation;  Megan Good and Megan Atkinson worked on the Pollack collection of Ocean Liner ephemera; Jack McCarthy, an archival consultant, and Leslie Willis, the archivist for the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University worked on the George F. Sproule papers; Matt Herbison worked on the Ward collection of New York Shipbuilding Corporation records; and Courtney worked on the Red D Line records.

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As soon as the physical processing was completed, our processors began working on entering the data into the Archivists’ Toolkit, gaining hands-on, real experience with the database.  When they were finished, they completed the worksheets we require at the end of the processing each collection.  As they finished their finding aids, Courtney and I tried to do quick proofs so that we could provide feedback.  All in all, we tried to make the training as similar to their future jobs as possible.

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Were we successful?  Well, Courtney and I felt that the training went really well and was much more successful than our first attempts.  And, we processed six collections in a day and a half, so a good bit of work was accomplished.  I think we will know for sure once our student processors start working and we can see what we need to do differently next time.

Thanks very much to Matt Herbison for hosting the Spring 2010 training session!

Processing plans for minimal processing

Monday, March 1st, 2010

You haven’t heard much from me in the past month or so because I have been out in the field on a reconnaissance mission, so to speak.  Since the middle of January, I visited Independence Seaport Museum and Presbyterian Historical Society, and Holly joined me at The Library Company, Free Library of Philadelphia, Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Chester County Historical Society, to gather information about collections for the creation of processing plans.

Our processors do not have a lot of time to think about their processing decisions and once those decisions are made there’s no turning back.  Not to mention, we are working with students, who are learning the art of archival processing as they go and therefore do not have a lot of experience to draw from when making decisions about arranging collections.  Even so, because of the nature of the project, we need our teams to work independently.  As such, the processing plan is a very important part of our work flow.  It is completed prior to the processors’ arrival, provides them a place to start, and guides them in their decision making as they begin to divide collections into series and subseries.

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I spent from one to four hours with each collection, its accession file (if there was one), and collecting biographical information about its creator(s). Taking this information (and lots of photocopies) away with me, I created processing packets.  Each collection’s packet contains the processing plan, a preliminary biographical/historical note (written by Holly or me), copies of useful documentation from the accession file, a copy of the PACSCL survey record, and copies of any historical/biographical information we found about the creator(s). The processing plan itself identifies basic information about the collection, including its date range, linear footage and container count, and a basic list of supplies needed for processing.  More importantly, the plan offers a list of proposed series and subseries as well as specific processing instructions for collections that are especially unique or potentially problematic.  For example, at the Independence Seaport Museum, numerous collections contain large numbers (1000s, actually) of rolled ship’s plans, which will present significant problems in terms of time–the students will not have time to unroll the plans in order to identify them nor will they have time to figure out how to effectively deal with them.  As such, Matt Herbison, the Director of the Library at the Seaport Museum, and I took some time one afternoon to figure out the best way to handle those collections that would enable both greater intellectual and physical access.  The systems we came up with are outlined in the processing plans for those collections for the students to replicate.

Our teams are instructed to completely read all the materials in the processing packet prior to processing.  In doing so, the teams quickly become acquainted with the collection and its creators and are made aware of the various types of records to look for and how to group them.  Additionally, through the packets students gain a sense of the historical context in which the records were created—information that they do not have enough time to uncover on their own and that we believe to be essential in understanding archives and their value.

Since the students will ultimately devote a lot more time to the collections than we can, we do allow them to adapt the processing plan as they see fit.  If they feel additional or different series are necessary to maximize the collection’s accessibility, they may make those decisions on their own.

At all the repositories I have visited thus far (there are a few more stops along the way) I have gotten quite an in depth “sneak peek” at what’s in store.  Based on my experience over the past couple of weeks, we have some exciting collections coming up that are sure to be both interesting and challenging from the perspectives of history AND minimal processing — so stay tuned!

Here are some teaser snapshots of what’s to come: