Review: When Is A Collection Processed?

“When is a Collection Processed?,” by Megan Floyd Desnoyers (1982),
A Modern Archives Reader, Daniels & Walch, editors, pp. 309-325.

Running a bit behind here today, so a few select quotes to summarize this article:

Processing: The activities intended to facilitate the use of personal papers and manuscript collections generally comparable to arrangement, description, and preservation of archival material. (To which the author would add the activity of screening and reviewing the material to insure that there are no legal or donor impossed bars to opening it.)

“When is a collection considered to be processed? When historically valuable material may be made available for research without violating any restrictions as to its use and without endangering its enduring physical state, and when that material is arranged and described so that a researcher may readily find what he/she is looking for in it.”

“Processing is done to meet the needs and interests of several different groups of people: donors, users and archivists.  Two of these groups–donors and users–often have mutually conflicting needs and interests.”

“The author proposes that instead of trying to maintain an ideal standard level of processing, we look at processing as a range of choices along a continuum for each of the four essential processing activities: arrangment, preservation, description, and screening.  The continuum runs from the found, or original state of the material up to the highest possible level of each activity, e.g., a calendared collection where each item is individually filed in an acid neutral folder in an acid neutral box.”

“The archivist should evaluate each collection and decide how far that particular collection needs to be taken along the arrangement, preservation, description, and screening continua. . . The archivist must also decide when each activity is to be done.  This decision will depend on the nature of the papers, the level of each of the four activities to which they will be taken, and the processor’s experience.”

Arrangement: The process and results of organizing archives, records, and manuscripts in accordance with accepted archival principles, particularly provenance, at as many as necessary of the following levels: repository, record group or comparable control unit, subgroup(s), series, file unit, and document.   The process usually includes packing, labeling, and shelving of archives, records, and manuscripts, and is intended to achieve physical or administrative control and basic identification of the holdings.

Preservation: (1) The basic responsibility to provide adequate facilities for the protection, care, and maintenance of archives, records, and manuscripts.  (2) Specific measures, individual and collective, undertaken for the repair, maintenance, restoration, or protection of documents.

Description: The process of establishing intellectual control over holdings through the preparation of finding aids.

Screen: To examine records or archives to determine the presence of restricted documents or information and to remove such documents from the files.

“The screening activity is probably the least flexible and most sensitive and immediate of the four activities.  If a collection is going to be screened in part or in its entirety, it must be screened prior to opening…Screening has the greatest impact on the labor intensiveness of processing…Screening requirements drive us immediately down from the collection or series level to the document level.”

“Screening is done to meet the requirements of the donor and any applicable legislation.

When is a collection processed? When the archivist has selected from the processing continua and applied the appropriate degree of arrangement, preservation, description, and screening activities that will make that collection useable for the researcher while protecting the physical well-being of the material and honoring donor and legal restrictions on the collection.  If this process is judiciously applied, many collections will be appropriately processed more quickly and at more reasonable expense than in the past, and processing backlogs will begin to disappear.


About wsparkman

Director of the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, Missouri.
This entry was posted in ACA Domain 6, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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