SHSU Special Collections Processing Guidelines
THE GATHERING. Gather your collection. Confirm that all components of your collection are actually together in one place.
PROVENANCE. At this point, gather provenance materials. Provenance materials are those items that give you context, i.e. what is the collection, who created it, why does the collection matter?
Provenance materials might be in the Provenance cabinet, filed by the name of the collection (or donor). They might also be located in the correspondence files or in the vertical file. As your supervisor for help.
If there is NOT a provenance file OR if there is limited provenance material, take the initiative to do some internet searching for additional provenance information about the creators of the collection.
Ask for help if you are not finding anything. Print and keep whatever information you find.
Do not keep the provenance files at your desk. Read them and return them to the filing cabinet.
It is recommended that you copy pertinent biographical information from the provenance files and create file for your personal reference. You will use this information and any notes you take to create the biographical/historical note when you write the finding aid.
Add any additional provenance information to the provenance file and return it to the cabinet when you are done.
INVENTORY. At this point it is time to conduct an inventory of the materials in your collection. Take a look at what you really have before you. You don’t need to take the time to read each item at this juncture, but do look through each box, assessing the following:
Condition: note if the items are in poor or good condition as far as preservation.
Organization: are the items well organized? Or are they shoved into boxes and folders with no rhyme or reason. Do they have an organization or original order that you will be able to maintain? Do they have good file titles that indicate the true contents of the files.
Extent: how much stuff is there? Count how many boxes there are of each kind of material. For instance, are there 12 boxes of correspondence, note that and relate that to your supervisor. And indicate if they are small or large boxes (4 inches wide or banker boxes—that makes a difference!)
Once you have typed your basic inventory you will submit it along with your processing plan to your supervisor.
PROCESSING PLAN. Now it’s time to write your processing plan. In the processing plan you will indicate how you plan to organized the collection. Will it be one large series or do you propose several series. Will you have subseries? Also, how long do you expect it to take? How will you organize your work?
This is where you will create an outline of how the collection will be organized. For large, complex collections (examples: Thomason, Bates, Bennett, etc., this will often entail series based on topic or chronology). However, often the collection is either simple or small enough that it does not necessitate separate series or subseries. Nevertheless, having “silent” series and subseries that aren’t in fact listed might help you to organize it in the boxes. Generally, if a collection is two or fewer boxes, you won’t break it down into different series (though you might intellectually arrange it biographical information first, correspondence second, career information third, family information fourth, photographs fifth and clippings sixths, for example.)
SERIES. A series is a major division of the collection. An example would be a professor’s professional life and personal life: the professional part of his life produces certain materials and those materials (academic papers, articles, clippings, etc.) would go into Series 1 and then the materials pertaining to his personal life (his family activities, maybe he was active in the Lion’s club for instance) would go into Series 2. It is important to describe each series (title and description) and include this information, even if there is only one series. NOTE: list series titles in the finding aid (arrangement note).
SUBSERIES. Within a Series, it is possible to subdivide, usually along the lines of format or topic. It is not necessary, but if you think it will help the patrons intellectually access the materials, go ahead. NOTE: do not create an excessive amount of subseries. ALSO NOTE: if the collection has an original order that indicates a necessity to have a certain number of series and subseries, please indicate that in your processing plan.
BOX NUMBERING. You will number your boxes 1-??? And will restart each folder numbering sequence when you restart a box. Fill the boxes full with folders, only restarting your box numbering when you start a new series. File titles on the folder will be written in pencil and will look like: THR ##, Box 1, Folder 1: Thomason Marine Corps Correspondence, 1918.
ORIGINAL ORDER. If your collection is already in fairly good order as is, note that and recommend in your processing plan that it should be arranged following that original order. However, if the original order has some issues and/or indicates some general chaos, assess the situation and recommend a system of organization that will make good sense. For instance, if you can tell there are boxes or files pertaining to, say, a certain legal case scattered throughout, gather them all together and suggest that that be one series. Another example might be if you have business or personal correspondence scattered throughout, you might gather that together and make that one series. It is important to show your supervisor examples of these situations and ask for advice.7. As you process the collection, keep an eye out for interesting facts to include in the collection description. Take notes as you go and go ahead and scan visually interesting portions of the collection. You will be also be asked to be a guest blogger for the social media platforms and your post will feature this content.
8. FINDING AID. Our finding aids are completed by adding the box and folder list to Archon. See the Archon Guide for more information. You will be writing and entering a collection description and biographical/ historical note. The purpose of this is to provide the kind of information that will help our patrons find the box and folder that contains the information they need to facilitate their research. The purpose it not, however, to do that research for them. The purpose of a biographical historical note is to provide context for the collection; to describe why it is worth a researcher’s time to come look at these materials. For instance, for the Thomason Collection, it would be pertinent to mention Thomason's association with Huntsville, his experience as an author and an illustrator, and his long-time association with the Marines. By so doing, any researcher interested in any of those three topics will know that the Thomason Collection is perhaps worth investigating.
9. OV or OVERSIZED. It is best to keep similar materials together, and to maintain original order when possible. However, if you encounter an item that is too large to keep in the folder/ box- it may be necessary to remove it. There are two scenarios to discuss with oversize material:
1. Create an oversized box. Include a box number and include it at the end of the collection (or series).
2. If you have a folder full of materials and only one or two items from that folder are oversized, you will place [OV] on the folder and in the title field in the finding aid. At that point, you'll remove the oversized item to an oversized box. You will add an oversized folder and repeat the numbering of the small folder (this will connect the small folder and OV folder).
3. If you have an individual item that is oversized (ie not taken from another folder, but found on its own in the collection) then move it to the oversize box and number that item at the item level and list it on the finding aid, located in the OV box.
10. COLLECTION OVERVIEW/ DESCRIPTION: As you work to process and describe a collection, you will be creating two documents which will eventually facilitate upload to Archon.
1. The first document you will create is an excel spreadsheet. It's important that you create a new, clean spreadsheet for every collection you process. Access the template here: N:\ARCHON\Archon Administration -- file title: New Archon Template.
1A. To clean up a spreadsheet, do the following:
Remove word wrap from all cells.
Copy data into a new spreadsheet (CTRL-SHIFT-END is helpful)
Use Save as command to save with the new file type 'text' or 'Unicode'.
Use Notpad++ to change encoding schema to 'UTF8 without BOM'
2. The second document you will create is a Collection Overview. The overview will include these elements: The THR #, potential subjects, Title (formatted using DACS), Creator (if known, probably the donor), Extent (how many boxes), Arrangement (list materials and how they are arranged, indicate Series titles and arrangement here), Languages of the collection, Scope and Contents Notes (this is paragraph or two explaining what the collection contains, highlighting those materials of specific research value), and the Biographical/ Historical Note (think of this as an encyclopedia article about the collection's creator or main players). See other finding aids for examples of all these.
12. ELECTRONIC RECORDS: Electronic records will be removed from the collection and processed according to archival best practices. The policies governing electronic records are being developed.
13. PROCESSING CHECKLIST: Every processor will use a checklist to help him or her complete each collection. The checklist is printed and in a basket on top of the vertical file. It is also available here: N:\ARCHON\Archon Administration -- file title Processing Checklist.