Putting Access Before Perfection: The Ripple Effects of Backlog Management in Manuscripts and Archives at Yale University

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Published on November 18, 2008

Author: kramsey

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Putting Access Before Perfection: The Ripple Effects of Backlog Management in Manuscripts and Archives at Yale University Christine Weideman, Carrie S. Beinecke Director of Manuscripts and Archives William Landis, Head of Arrangement and Description, Manuscripts and Archives Friday, 14 November 2008 NELINET Bibliographic Services Conference: Revealing Hidden Collections: Making the Lost Found Again College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts

Institutionalizing MPLP • Doing more assertive up-front work with donors • Defining and documenting basic processing approaches to four key areas that inadvertently steer archivists to item-level processing: Rearranging | De-duplicating | Privacy issues | Preservation • Making processing decisions at the point of accessioning, and documenting them • Using data content standards to create more robust descriptions of what we have/have not done to a collection

Documenting ‘Basic’ Processing I • Options for work within boxes – None (inventory as received) • Good enough if folder labels are meaningful and condition is acceptable – Folder rearrangement only • When received folder order is confusing and obstructs use, or when significant portions of the collection/accession are unfoldered or poorly housed upon receipt – Work within folders • Only when funds come with collection or when use warrants it

Documenting ‘Basic’ Processing II • Options for deduplication – Don’t do it • Only remove duplicates if they exist in egregious enough quantities to be noticed during cursory accessioning review of collection – Do it • When funds for processing come with collection • When users call duplicates out as a problem in the reading room

Documenting ‘Basic’ Processing III • Options for dealing with privacy issues (student records, health records, legal records, donor restrictions, etc.) – Cursory review • With input from donor • Logical areas within some collections where existence of these materials seems most likely – In-depth review • When cursory review reveals many such records (consider closing portion of collection for a time rather than item-level review) • When use bring privacy issues to the attention of Public Services staff (researchers, duplication orders, etc.)

Documenting ‘Basic’ Processing IV • Options for preservation work on collection materials – Basic • All material housed appropriately for transport to storage facility and servicing in reading room • Replace obviously deteriorating containers, primarily folders • Remove obviously rusty fasteners • Identify obvious water damage/mold issues – Advanced • Preservation issues immediately endangering collection materials raised and addressed • Need for any item-level conservation work identified and documented for future reference

The Ideal for Which We Strive 85% of newly accessioned materials 15% of newly accessioned materials dealt with using ‘Basic’ strategies require something beyond ‘Basic’

Decision-making about Processing • Make and document decisions at point of accessioning

Decision-making about Processing • Make and document decisions at point of accessioning • Collaboration IS required: involve whoever is necessary to make necessary decisions for specific accessions – Processing staff – Collection development staff – Director – Electronic records expert

Using Standards • Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2004 • Defines 26 elements commonly used in describing archival materials • For use in U.S., but keyed to international archival standards • Focus is on descriptions of aggregations, provenance- based or intentionally assembled

Using Standards • We can use the descriptive elements defined in DACS more assertively to better communicate in our descriptions what has and has not done to a collection • If we really mean that we will revisit minimal processing a collection is heavily used and end users feel the processing decision impedes use, we need to tell them so

Examples: DACS 5.1 Custodial History Element The donor obtained the collection from the East Idyllwild Historical Society when it was disbanded in 1975. Volunteers from that institution retrieved the collection from the loading dock of the Bountiful County Archives in 1967 after it was deaccessioned. During the deaccessioning process, all material from 1862-1865, and possibly other years, was destroyed prior to acquisition of the collection by the East Idyllwild Historical Society. In addition, it is unclear whether or not selected items were removed by previous owners.

Examples: DACS 5.3 Appraisal, Destruction, and Scheduling Information Element The collection originally included four linear feet of financial information, primarily checkbook stubs and monthly bank statements. During processing, because repository policy calls for retention only of summary financial information, the annual account statement for each year was retained and others discarded. Also, checkbook stubs were sampled, with one random book of stubs retained for every five years.

Examples: DACS 7.1 Notes Element (for a Processing Note) This collection received a basic level of processing within a year after it was received by Your Name Here Special Collections. This included rehousing in archival boxes and minimal organization. Except in extreme cases, collection materials were not refoldered. Descriptive information is drawn in large part from information supplied with the collection and from an initial survey of the contents. Folder titles appearing in the Inventory section of the finding aid are often based on those provided by the creator or previous custodian. Titles have not been verified against the contents of the folders in all cases. When folder labels contained no or too little information, processing staff supplied titles based on a cursory examination of folder contents and appropriate national content standards. Additional processing may be done in the future if usage of the collection suggests that would be appropriate.

Using Archival Approaches to Managing Publications and Printed Ephemera • Experiments at Yale, both in Manuscripts and Archives and in the broader Library • Many intentionally assembled (by the library or archival repository) collections of printed materials are as valuably accessed by author (e.g., Yale unit that generated them) or by topic (e.g., Theodore Dwight Wolsey, President of Yale from 1846-1871; New Haven and Northampton Railroad) than by detailed bibliographic cataloging – Archival approaches to managing such materials may be cheaper, especially when the backlog is huge (250,000 uncataloged pamphlets in Yale’s Mudd Library)


099 710 245 $a 245 $f 245 $g 300 546 520

Enhanced information about collection contents now picked up by commercial search engines 610s and 710s 650 655s

What We’ll End Up With • Completely enhanced MARC record in our OPAC with ~20 fields rather than 2 • Enhanced with an 856 link to a finding aid for the collection in our Yale Finding Aid Database – This could also be a link to a static HTML rendition of the finding aid if no finding aid system available • Finding aid with more granular information about collection contents that is crawlable by commercial search engines like Google, Yahoo, etc.



EAD & MARCXML Outputs HTML Output

Thanks! Questions? » christine.weideman@yale.edu » bill.landis@yale.edu

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