Monday, October 02, 2006

Levels of Processing

Carefully separating plats printed on degrading plastic so that they may be counted and interleaved. To see a larger image, click here.

Like many archives, the SPSU collection practices different levels of archival processing for different types of material. These levels are: box level, folder level, and item level. These levels are standard to many different institutions.

Box level processing is used for collections that are expected to be used very rarely. Most recently, we've used box level description on student survey projects from the 1960's and 1970's. You can see a picture of this here. Box level description requires minimal work; the records are put in order as best as possible, and stored in clearly labeled records cartons. One catalog record is made, and a very short description of the collection is logged in lieu of a finding aid. These are items that are only handled in bulk.

Folder level processing is used for collections that are expected to be requested by archives users, but do not have major preservation needs. Documents are housed in acid-free buffered folders, and arranged in alpha and date order in manuscript boxes. You can see a picture of folder level processing here. Series are created if appropriate. Any items known to be big preservation worries - like photographs or news clippings - are removed if found. A finding aid is then created for the collection. For the sake of expediency, the archivist makes a point of trying to only touch the folders of content, and not the items within.

Item level processing is only appropriate for our collection when preservation or format problems are present. The picture at the top of this post shows a collection that, for preservation reasons, must have every item handled. The items are given preservation treatment (in this case, interleaving).

When talking about how a group of records in the SPSU archives will be handled and accessed by patrons, it's important to differentiate between levels of processing and description. For instance, the student survey projects that were processed with box-level treatment in the archives were once on the shelves in the library, and so item level description exists for these items in the library catalog. The Gregson and Ellis Architectural drawings have been processed on the item level in the archive, but are described at folder level (by building set) in their finding aid.