The Archival Workflow
Archivists typically follow an established workflow in appraising, acquiring, processing, and preserving archival collections, carefully documenting each step along the way and using checklists and other workflow tools to guide the process. As part of their workflow, archives produce a range of documentation, including paper and electronic forms, lists, spreadsheets, databases, catalog records, finding aids in Microsoft Word or EAD, and Web pages. Below we describe the documentation typically produced in archives, with the recognition that practices vary.
Definition: Determining which records should be acquired by the archive and estimating their value as it relates to the goals and mission of the archive.
- Appraisal report documenting evaluation of the collection.
Definition: Acquiring collections and documenting the transfer of materials through a log book, database, register, or other means.
- Accession record: Basic information about the collection, such as date of receipt, accession number, donor information, collection size, and monetary value (if applicable).
- Update to accession register/log: Logbook and/or database with basic information on accession record.
- Deed of gift/transfer record: Documents legal transfer of title.
- Donor form: Donor contact information.
Definition: Organizing archival collections in accordance with their original order and provenance.
- Processing plan: Documents current condition of collection and proposed arrangement.
- Box/folder form: Describes labels used to be used for the components of a collection.
- Location record: Documents where the collection is housed.
- Shelf list: Describes archive’s holdings according to their physical organization; used by archivists in locating materials.
Definition: A finding aid that outlines the arrangement of the collection and elucidates its research value. This finding aid enables users to determine what a collection contains, helps archives locate materials, and acts as a record of deposit for donors.
- Finding aid: “A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.” The finding aid can be delivered in several formats, including a print document, EAD-encoded file, and Web page. The finding aid typically contains information about the collection, including acquisition and processing; provenance; scope, including size, subject, and media; organization and arrangement; and an inventory of the series and folders. Tools for producing finding aids include word processors, spreadsheet programs (particularly in creating the inventory), XML editors, Web forms, and archival management software.
- Container list: A container list may describe the collection on a box level, a folder level, or an item level. A container list is typically part of a finding aid.
Definition: Protecting materials from deterioration by rehousing them, removing contaminants, providing treatments, and other means. Preservation is an ongoing process that typically begins soon after the collection is acquired.
- Condition record: Describes condition of collection at time of receipt.
- Conservation/preservation record: Describes steps taken to prevent collection from deteriorating.
6. Provide access:
Definition: Enabling people to locate information about the collection through catalog records, finding aids, indexes, and other means.
- Catalog record: Collection-level record loaded into the library’s/archive’s catalog, typically in MARC format. Some archives produce catalog forms providing basic information that technical services staff can use in creating the record, such as title of collection, creator(s), subject terms, and description.
- Index: Some archives create indexes to their collections by subject, creator, etc.
- EAD finding aid: EAD is a XML-based standard for encoding finding aids.
- Online exhibit/collection: Increasingly, archives are digitizing collections, adding descriptive metadata, and providing access to them online.
7. Offer reference services:
Definition: Assisting patrons in identifying and using collections.
- Reference statistics: Information about number and nature of reference queries, including researcher’s affiliation, collection used, purpose of visit, etc.
- Patron record: Patron’s contact information, research objectives, agreement to abide by archive’s policies, etc.