Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Week 4 (September 9)

This was a short week (only 2 hours) because I presented a paper, The Harbinger of White Supremacy: The Clarke Courier, 1869-1877, at the Graduate Association African-American History Conference in Memphis, Tennessee on Thursday, September 10th. In order to get to get to Memphis at a reasonable hour and get a good night’s sleep, I left Hattiesburg at 3pm on Wednesday.

Despite the limited amount of time spent in the archives this week, I think Wednesday was a turning point. Cindy and I decided to shift once again the nature of my processing. The end of last week’s blog notes my frustration with the pace of work. Between photographs, newspapers, and slides, and then writing everything down, each folder took an agonizing amount of time to complete. At that plodding rate, it just didn’t seem like I could possibly describe more than 5 or 6 boxes (roughly 20% of the collection). While this would be useful and well done, such an end result stunk from a personal satisfaction standpoint.

Cindy had a few observations. First, she noted that my minimal processing was actually somewhere between minimal and full. To expedite the work, Cindy suggested, I needed to engage in true minimal processing. She recommended that I process the whole collection first and, if after I was done and had extra time, then go back and refine the details. Cindy observed that a solid framework for the finding aid is important both for the researcher and potential processers in the future. This minimal processing at least allows the user to get a sense of each file folder, if not a more a more absolute assessment of its worth like my earlier processing might provide.

What does this mean? Well, now instead of recording every detail of each folder, I note only as much as is necessary to help the user determine the subject, the period of time, and the mediums enclosed. In this minimal processing, I do the most rudimentary of conservation, taking out staples and paper clips and straightening out folds. The biggest change is that in this new processing I stop labeling photographs, removing newsprint and moving the material of each manila folder into an archival folder.

The take-away point is this: Begin processing activities with a mind to DESCRIBE the collection. What is it, when is it, why is it important and so forth. Preliminary description allows later preservation, conservation, and organization to go quicker. It also makes it possible for the original archivist to leave the project with the confidence that a colleague can pick up where they left off without much trouble.

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