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If you work in the Archival Section of the Special Collections Technical Services Department at The Wilson Library, this manual is for you. Consider this: in a now legendary processing project, a student (somewhat, but not completely new to the manuscripts biz) was asked to chronologize a correspondence series by month ("No need to sort by day," said her supervising archivist). And that is exactly what she did. She put all of the January letters together, all of the February letters together, etc., etc. Regardless of year. The funny thing was that it took her supervising archivist, not new to the biz at all, two days to figure out what was wrong with the correspondence series. Could happen to anyone.

Therefore, please be advised that EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS MANUAL.

In these pages, you will find discussions of many of the issues you will face during processing. We think it answers a number of questions quite well, yet, because of the unique nature of manuscript materials, there will be many other issues that will arise as you work with a collection of papers. Please be guided by the following:


None of the information contained in this manual is writ in stone, although some procedures are firmer than others. All procedures are deeply grounded in widely accepted archival standards. Some of these standards, however, are either open to interpretation or not tremendously specific in terms of implementation. Therefore, the wiki is a procedures manual's best friend, since it allows for quick and easy revision. Should major changes occur, you will be notified. Minor changes will simply be made on the wiki.

Please remember that you are always encouraged to make suggestions aimed at improving procedures or this manual itself.

With love,


1.1. Who We Are

The September 2008 revision of How to Proceed is happening at a transition in the evolution of The Wilson Library. Previous to 1 July 2008, there was a department known as the The Manuscripts Department which administered all of the manuscript material held by The University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On 1 July 2008, the Manuscripts Department was disbanded and a Special Collections Technical Services Department was formed. This new department handles the technical services activities for all of the collections in The Wilson Library. At this point in time, How to Proceed will focus on processing for materials in the components of the former Manuscripts Department. These components are explained in detail below. In the future, the manual will be expanded to include processing for other manuscript and archival material in The Wilson Library.

  • SOUTHERN HISTORICAL COLLECTION (SHC). The SHC is the largest and best known component of the Department. The University began acquiring North Carolina manuscripts in the 1840s, broadened its policies in the 1920s to seek manuscripts from the entire South, and established the SHC in 1930. The SHC is a center for research on the South, with important holdings from all of the southern states. Manuscript collections are private papers of individuals and families or records of private organizations or institutions. The SHC preserves letters, diaries, account books, unpublished writings, photographs, audio and videotapes, and other materials. As a rule, the SHC does not retain collections of museum items or of published works. Researchers who use the SHC's materials include historians and history graduate students from universities all over the world, scholars from a wide variety of other disciplines, family and local historians, and others.
  • GENERAL MANUSCRIPTS (GM). Smaller than the other components of the Department, GM consists of literary and other manuscripts not relating to the South. Among the holdings are materials relating to George Bernard Shaw, John Ruskin, and other British and American writers of note. Also included are the records of J. M. Dent & Sons, a major British publishing house, and A. P. Watt & Company, the first literary agent firm.
  • UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES AND RECORDS SERVICES (UARS). UARS collects and services the official unpublished records of the University since its founding in 1789. Included are trustee minutes, administrative office records, and student records that are older than those protected under federal legislation. Private papers of University faculty and alumni are preserved in the SHC.
  • SOUTHERN FOLKLIFE COLLECTION (SFC). The SFC joined the Manuscripts Department in fall 1986. Among the SFC holdings are the renowned John Edwards Memorial Collection and the former UNC-CH Folklore Archives. SFC materials are in many formats--commercial audiodiscs, tapes, and compact discs; field tapes and instant audiodiscs; photographs; films; videotapes--all with an emphasis on the folk music and narrative traditions of the South.

1.2. What We Do

Archivists are intermediaries between the creator of a collection of manuscripts and the present and future users of the papers. Archivists who handle private or personal records are among those charged by society to decide which portions of the enormous quantity of records become part of the permanent historical record of our culture. Our task is to preserve these materials and to make them accessible to researchers who study and tell the stories of our past.

In the Archival Technical Services Section the raw materials of history enter in various states of disarray and exit in more or less usable form. Tech Services renders materials usable by subjecting them to a process called "processing."

Processing means arranging a collection in some logical way; describing the collection’s arrangement, contents, and research potential so that researchers and staff can find the specific materials they need; cataloging the collection to provide access points that lead researchers to the materials they seek; and taking physical preservation measures to ensure that materials with which we work survive.

A good deal of processing is cerebral--developing an arrangement scheme, writing the description, selecting access points--but it also entails work that is mundane and most decidedly unglamorous. Tasks like unfolding, flattening, removing paper clips, annotating, separating, and refoldering are very common in manuscripts work. As in many other fields, countless hours of behind-the-scenes work go into making the writing (and reading) of history look easy.

From time to time, nearly every one of us in manuscripts work experiences moments of despair when the amount and detail of work threatens to overwhelm. When this happens, it may be helpful to remember that the papers we process will soon become the "stuff" of history. Each one of us is a link in the long chain of knowledge that stretches from the lives of the men and women who created the papers to the eventual users of the manuscripts ... and, lest we forget, on to all those generations who will benefit from the insights gained by those users now and still to come.

1.3. Basic Premises

In accepting manuscript and archival materials into The Wilson Library, we are agreeing to give materials the particular kind of treatment involved in archival care. This means that we accept the responsibility for preserving the materials and making them accessible to researchers.

Processing is based on a few general premises:

  • Our work is an essential contribution to the collective memory of our culture and society. Researchers who study and tell the stories of our past, fundamental to our sense of identity and direction as individuals and communities, can do it well only if we do our jobs effectively.
  • Every collection should be made at least minimally accessible. In order to be accessible, a collection must be arranged in a comprehensible order and must have a written description (finding aid) that will enable researchers to find appropriate materials in the collection.
  • We will never have the resources to process all materials as they would be processed in the best of all possible worlds. Therefore, the level of arrangement, description, cataloging, and physical preservation devoted to each processing project should be planned and carried out carefully so that limited resources can be used most effectively.

A supervising archivist will always be available to assist and guide you as you process your collection in accordance with these premises.

1.4. Overview of Processing

Archival and manuscript collections are wonderfully diverse. For example, The Southern Historical Collection focuses on the South, but it contains information about nearly every part of the world because southerners have visited or lived in nearly every part of the world. And within the South there is great diversity--rich, poor, male, female, African American, Native American, politicians, farmers, housewives, and many others are represented in our collections. Manuscript collections may contain letters, diaries, ledgers, receipts, sound recordings, pictures, and materials in other formats. They range in size from one item in one folder to thousands of items in hundreds of boxes. Some arrive here in file folders, beautifully organized and labeled; others arrive loose in garbage bags. Because of this variety, there can be few hard and fast rules for processing manuscript collections. There are, however, standards, policies, and procedures that must be applied with common sense and flexibility.

Processing is typically thought of as arranging, describing, and cataloging. This manual divides processing into a number of tasks: preliminary research and survey, planning, arrangement, description, and preservation. While this manual contains instructions on producing abstracts that are used to write catalog records, hard-core cataloging is not typically done by processors and so is treated in another Tech Services manual.

Not every processing project will proceed in the orderly sequence described in this manual. Some tasks will be undertaken simultaneously or in a different order and not all tasks will be performed for every collection. When deciding how much to do and in what order to do it, remember that your goal is to preserve the materials and make them accessible. And remember to consult your supervising archivist for assistance.

When you begin to process a collection, you will first become familiar with the background of the people who created the papers, the history of the collection, and the papers themselves. You will prepare a processing plan, which you will present to and discuss with your supervising archivist. Your plan may be modified at this point to ensure that it conforms to our usual practices and that the projected level of work is appropriate given the research potential and condition of the collection and the time available for processing. This plan is a working document that will be reviewed and revised as you process the collection.

You are now ready to implement your proposed plan. Sometimes with the help of student assistants, you will put the materials into the order agreed upon in your processing plan (with necessary modifications, of course) and you will complete requisite preservation work. As you work through the collection, you will take notes on everything, chiefly to record the information that you will need when you write your finding aid. These notes will also serve to refresh your memory if you are gone from your project for an extended period of time. They will also provide helpful tracks should someone need to find materials in your absence or take over your project.

As you process, you will begin writing the collection's finding aid. It is usually easier to describe the materials as you go through them, rather than wait until you have everything arranged and then try to remember what you saw days or weeks ago. In fact, you may write a draft of the biographical or historical note as soon as you finish your background research and later add any essential information gleaned during processing. Similarly, it is usually a good idea to write series descriptions as you go through the collection and make needed revisions, if any, after you have gone through the whole collection. As you will see later in this manual, it is usually good practice to write your collection overview and abstract last.

When you have finished the draft of the finding aid, give it to your supervising archivist to review. When the two of you are satisfied with the draft, the departmental cataloger will do final editing of the finding aid, prepare catalog record(s) as appropriate, and load them into WorldCat and our online catalog. The departmental cataloger prints a hard copy of the finding aid for the collection’s control file, and, in many cases, a copy for the curator to send to the donor. The departmental cataloger also uploads the finding aid to the Department’s website ( You, meanwhile, will have shelved the collection so that, when researchers discover its existence, Public Services staff will be able to retrieve it for them. At this point, you will have done your part for the historical record.

1.5. How to Use This Manual

How to Proceed was written to be used. It was designed to serve both as a training manual for new staff and as a reference tool for seasoned hands. Novices are encouraged to read the manual through and to consult it frequently as they struggle to whip their first few collections into shape. Old-timers may benefit from periodic review of procedures, but will most often find the manual useful as a ready reference source. Remember that no one should not read this manual.

2.1. Preliminary Research and Survey

Getting an overview of your collection and preparing a plan are the first major steps in processing. You will begin by preparing the plan on the form provided. Throughout the project, you will meet with your supervising archivist to review and modify this plan as appropriate.

The first thing you need to determine is whether you are

  • processing a new collection; or
  • adding to an already established collection in which
  • the addition can be dropped into the pattern of the existing finding aid;
  • the addition requires that minor revisions be made to the existing finding aid;
  • the addition is added to the end of the collection and separately maintained; or
  • very rarely, the addition changes the collection to such a degree that it is necessary to reprocess the entire collection.

Additions will be discussed elsewhere in this manual; this section deals primarily with new collection processing and also contains information useful when reprocessing.

2.1.1. Where to Begin

Before you start processing, you will want to get a sense of the history of both the collection and the creator of the papers, be it an individual, family, or organization. Administrative History

A good place to start the search for information about the history of the collection is with the control file. Control files often contain information essential to satisfactory processing: file descriptions and folder lists, notes on the original arrangement of the papers and how they were transferred, special conditions of gift or loan/deposit and disposition of discards as outlined in donor agreements, details on access restriction, letters from researchers concerning the papers, and other material. You may wish to organize the control file before proceeding to the papers themselves, so that the file presents a clear picture of what is known about the collection's administrative history.

You will apply some information, such as restrictions on access and disposition of dispersals, to your processing plan. Control files must stay in the file cabinets near the administrative offices, so you may wish to photocopy some pages from the control file and keep them, along with your processing plan, in the processing room for ready reference.

An important determination to make at this point is whether any restrictions apply to all or part of your collection. If the collection has restrictions you will need to segregate restricted material and label it to ensure that restrictions on use will be clear to Public Services staff and to researchers. In the finding aid, you will need to let researchers know what restrictions to expect. See Access. and Usage Restrictions. for examples of access and usage restriction statements. Historical Context

To process effectively, you need enough information about the creator of the papers to answer basic questions about the collection: who, what, when, and where. If you exhaust the possible sources and still come up empty, the papers themselves become the chief resource. In such cases, it is not unusual to feel somewhat mystified as to who is who and what is what. Often the mists are at least partially lifted in the normal course of processing, but you should not feel that you have been derelict in your duty if you leave some of the investigative work to future researchers.

Usually, some information about collection creators can be found, sometimes without leaving the Department, but you may need to go further with your background research. How deeply you go will be greatly influenced by the research value of your collection. Very rarely, you may need to plan a trip to Davis Library for additional information. Some of the immediately available tools for background research are described here:

  • Control files, in addition to information about the administrative history of the collection, may hold a considerable amount of information on the historical context in which the papers were generated. Control files often contain newspaper clippings relating to important persons in the papers and notes written by the curator during negotiations with the donor. In some cases, donors have supplied information about the creators of the papers they have given.
  • The online catalog, if the entity you are investigating has been cataloged, may lead you to useful information in our finding aids. Remember that you can also search online catalogs at other universities and the websites of other archival repositories.
  • Basic printed sources for historical and biographical information available on the fourth floor include, but are not limited to, the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, the Encyclopedia of Southern History, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Webster's Biographical Dictionary, The Civil War Day by Day, Biographical Directory of the American Congress, American Authors and Books, and A Bibliographical Guide to the Study of Southern Authors. For information on individuals and institutions on the state and local level, be sure to consult the resources of the North Carolina Collection (NCC) (See How to Research People in the North Carolina Collection).
  • If your collection's creator was a UNC graduate, you may want to look at alumni directories (the 1925 edition, for instance, has useful biographical sketches).
  • In addition to printed sources, we now have many online sources for historical and biographical information. From the University Library web page, click on Article Databases and search by subject, or click on Subject Guides in the Research Help section to find databases, electronic journals, and guides arranged by subject. Biographical indexes, newspapers, encyclopedias, and America: History and Life may be especially helpful.
  • In some cases, you might consider searching the World Wide Web for information, but always keep in mind, of course, the reliability of the resources you consult.

Occasionally, you may also need to do some background reading to acquaint yourself with the subject matter or terminology of a collection. To process effectively the papers of UNC-CH botanist Lindsay Shepherd Olive, for example, you might need to develop a nodding acquaintance with mycological lingo. Try to get the basics down before you start. More research can be done later to address questions that arise during processing.

2.1.2. The Survey

Having gained some sense of the administrative history and historical context, you are ready to examine the collection itself. To survey, you must try to see the collection as a whole. If space allows, spread out all of the boxes and open them. Scan the papers to get a feeling for their scope and content. Skim. Do not spend too much time on any one item. Resist the temptation to begin arranging and describing. At this point, just try to get a picture of what the collection is like.

As you begin to look through the containers, remember to handle the materials gently. Folder labels often flake off and delicate manuscripts can easily tear. Slowly remove small handfuls of papers; after examining them, return them carefully to their proper place. Books, bound volumes, photographs, tapes, discs, and other material in a manuscript collection deserve the same care. On the Lookout

Since your survey and analysis of the papers will form the basis of your processing plan, you will want to look for certain things in the papers as you go along. Look at the processing plan form and see what elements are needed. Take particular note of the following features of the collection:

  • Provenance: The control file should tell you from whom we received the papers. What person, organization, or office actually generated and/or accumulated the material? Have the papers passed through a series of hands? Check the accuracy of the name given to the collection (collection creator) remembering that, especially with new collections, the name assigned at accessioning is a preliminary judgment call and may not reflect the true nature of the papers. For example, if you are processing the Hamilton Patton Copeland Papers, check to see if the papers focus in some way on H. P. Copeland. It could be that a better name for this collection would be the Copeland Family Papers.
  • Names: Look out also for basic identifying information about the collection creator and other major players in the collection. In particular, take note of essential names and dates. Did your collection creator sign his name Robert Richardson Jones, Robert R. Jones, or simply Robert Jones? If Robert Jones had a grandfather, an uncle, and a son with the same name (all too common), it will be very helpful to know their birth and death dates in order to distinguish one Robert Jones from another. If birth and death dates are unavailable, some indication of when the person lived should be given, even if only in terms of a flourish date (fl.). Flourish dates show the years when the person is known to have been active.
  • Arrangement: Observe the arrangement of the papers. Can you discern a purposeful order? Are the papers in file folders? If so, do the folder headings appear to be accurate and meaningful? Are there lists of folder headings at the beginning of a file? Is there an index? Does the collection seem to be in its original order or has someone, either the creator or someone else, imposed another order? How well does the current arrangement provide access to the information in the papers? Look for related groupings of material. Sets of material in the papers are the basis of subcollections, subgroups, series, and subseries--the building blocks of every arrangement scheme. Is the current arrangement of the papers usable? If not, what arrangement might be appropriate? If the papers seem to be in no particular order, are there series that you can create to facilitate use of the collection?
  • Content: As you scan the papers and briefly examine selected items, try to form an impression of what the collection is about. What are the major subjects and research strengths? How well do the papers document the various aspects of a person's or an organization's history? Is there anything missing? Do some materials seem not to fit with the rest of the collection?
  • Format and Physical Condition: These aspects of the papers are almost as important as the content in deciding what to process and what levels of processing will be used. Are most of the items letter, legal, or oversized? Are there duplicates? Are there photocopies? What condition is the paper in? Is mold visible? Are there peculiar odors? Is the handwriting legible? What formats other than paper are in the collection? What condition are these other materials in?

In addition, you will want to note:

  • approximate earliest and latest dates of the papers (inclusive dates);
  • approximate earliest and latest dates of the bulk of the papers (bulk dates);
  • frequent or prominent correspondents;
  • major figures and major events in the life of an individual or in the history of an organization;
  • major occupations of individuals; major functions of an organization;
  • towns, counties, or other locations that are well-documented;
  • confidential or sensitive materials, such as transcripts, medical records, and case files of third parties represented unknowingly in the collection (see Sensitive Materials Processing Guidelines);
  • bibliographies, histories, genealogies present in the papers;
  • languages (other than English).

Retain whatever information you gather; it will be helpful in making decisions about arranging your collection and will also be useful in processing plan discussions with your supervising archivist. Taking Note

Take notes from beginning to end. Your notes will help you make better processing decisions and will also help when you write the finding aid at the end of the project. Writing down information as you see it can save much time later. Use your judgment about how much to write, but err on the side of taking more rather than fewer notes. Backtracking to locate something you forgot to note can be extremely frustrating.

Processing notes tend to fall into one of two categories:

  • Content notes help in writing the finding aid and in cataloging the papers through name and subject access points.
  • Sorting notes are aids in arranging the papers--clues, facts, perceptions, and hunches that might help in determining a workable order for the collection. Examples include reminders to yourself about locations of individual items in the papers and hunches about the name the creator gave to a certain file.

Each note, whether content or sorting, should take no more than a sentence or two. You may wish to write down particularly telling, witty, or otherwise special direct quotations from the papers to spice up your finding aid, but these should be few.

Leave tracks as you go. Label the boxes, your stacks of material, and your notes. Document your work so that someone else could carry on in your absence. Leave notes to yourself if you know that you will be leaving this project to work on another or be away for any extended period of time.

Do not lose sight of the idea that your task at this point is to survey. Pace yourself accordingly. Although every manuscript collection is different, a very thorough overview of a medium-sized collection (10 to 15 record center boxes) should not take more than a few days; as your experience grows, a relatively small collection may reveal its salient points to you within minutes.

2.2. Writing a Processing Plan

Your analysis of the collection will result in a processing plan. This plan should be written down on the processing plan form and discussed with your supervising archivist. The plan becomes an important document, providing a framework and continuity for the project. You and your supervising archivist will refer to it regularly and adjust it as necessary throughout the course of the processing work.

You will need to be familiar with the ideas set forth in chapters 4 and 5 of this manual before you can write a processing plan. As you read these sections, bear in mind that you will have to make decisions on the following points:

  • Overall arrangement scheme: List proposed series and subseries, if any.
  • Arrangement within series and subseries.
  • Levels of processing for each series: Should material be arranged to the box, file, or item level? How much refoldering and relabeling is appropriate? How extensive should you make each series description (narrative plus folder/file listings)?
  • Biographical/historical note: How extensive will it be? What form will it take? How accessible is pertinent information?
  • Discards: What kinds of material will be returned, transferred, or trashed? There are some kinds of materials that are simply not appropriate for retention (See Materials Not Appropriate for Retention).
  • Use of team members: Optimally, what tasks (flattening, annotating, refoldering, labeling, etc.) could less-experienced workers carry out? Approximately how much time should each task take? Could the project be completed more efficiently if other more experienced processors were involved? How would they be involved?
  • Supplies: Are there any unusual needs for supplies--large numbers of folders (thousands) or large numbers of boxes (50 or more), or other special needs?
  • Duration: How many total hours will the project require? What is a realistic project completion date?
  • Other considerations: Are special indexes or unusually detailed cataloging warranted? Are there unusual conservation needs? There may have been promises made to the donor (for photocopies, etc.). How will these affect the project? What else needs to be kept in mind as the work proceeds?

The more information you can provide up front, the clearer will be the task ahead. Remember that your entire career is not riding on how accurately your plan predicts the actual processing of your collection. The plan is a working document; you should expect changes and modifications to occur. A sample form follows.

                             PROCESSING PLAN

   Collection number:           Collection name:

   New or addition (circle one)

   Processor name:
   Date of plan:

          Received from
          Gift/loan/deposit (circle one)

       Restrictions from donor (donor agreement #7 or 10):

       Disposal of dispersals (donor agreement #3):

   HISTORICAL CONTEXT: (possible sources)
       Online catalog
       Dictionary of North Carolina Biography
       Encyclopedia of Southern History
       The Civil War Day By Day

       Received arrangement:


       Physical condition (formats, condition):

       Inclusive dates:

       Privacy issues:
          Recommended removals:
          Recommended restrictions:

      Languages other than English:

      Potential discards:


   Arrangement scheme:

   Series 1.________________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 1.1.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 1.2.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 1.3.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______

   Series 2.________________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 2.1.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 2.2.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 2.3.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______

   Series 3.________________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 3.1.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 3.2.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 3.3.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______

   Series 4.________________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 4.1.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 4.2.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 4.3.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______

   Series 5.________________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 5.1.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 5.2.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______
      Sub 5.3.______________________ Arr.___________________ Lev._______

      (Arr.: chronological, alphabetical, by subject, by format,
      specify other arrangement)
      (Lev.: box, folder, item)


   Use of team members:

   Projected completion date:


3. Arranging

3.1. Basic Premises

After survey, analysis, and background research comes arrangement: the ordering of the papers in a meaningful way. Arranging is probably the most important activity a processor performs, the basic step in structuring a collection. Arranging papers in a suitable way enables you to write accurate descriptions that give rise to useful access points during the cataloging stage.

N.B.: The actual physical arrangement of the items in a collection may or may not parallel the intellectual arrangement: items that are described together may be stored separately because of their differing size, shape, or physical composition. Since decisions about physical arrangement are made primarily to enhance preservation, physical arrangement is treated in How to Proceed: Housing and Preserving.

To begin organizing a collection, try to picture the finding aid that you plan to write. Doing this forces you to make some tentative decisions about grouping the papers into series and helps impose some initial order on the collection. Think also about the materials themselves and about future users.

3.1.1. If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

A basic archival principle is "respect pour l'ordre primitif," which is French for "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Maintaining the original order established by the creator of a collection preserves contextual information that may be important to researchers. The original order itself may also make an important statement about its creator. Using the original arrangement scheme, moreover, may save the processing staff valuable time and energy. You may have to tidy up papers that arrive in a certain order, and you may need to add a supporting superstructure to aid in description and cataloging. You may not be able to use the original order because it seriously impedes use of the collection by researchers. But retaining the basic arrangement as received when possible is part of the archivist's responsibility to preserve historical documents in as close to original form as possible.

If no discernible order exists, or if it is apparent that hands other than the creator's have forged an order that is counterproductive to using and understanding the collection, or if the original order makes the collection difficult to use, then you must impose a workable arrangement on the collection.

3.1.2. Relative Research Value

Before a collection enters the processing queue, the curator assigns a priority level based on the relative research value of the collection. The value is “relative” because it is the curator’s educated guess at the real or potential value of the collection to present and future researchers; there is no way of knowing for sure which collections will be most valuable to researchers. Priority Level

As you plan for arranging, keep clearly in mind that relative research value will largely determine the amount of time and resources we devote to the project. Our first assessment of the relative research value will be indicated by the priority level and the processing level assigned in the collection management database. Priority levels are assigned based on an initial assessment of the collection’s research value and on negotiations with the donor. One of the following levels will be assigned:

  1. High research value, donor promise date, or combination of factors; process as soon as possible.
  2. Good research value; should be processed in the near future.
  3. Low research value; process as time allows.
  4. Lower research value than 3, process when higher priority collections are exhausted.
  5. Due to physical condition or donor issues, hold until otherwise instructed.

The priority level, however, may have been based on a hurried scan of the papers. You will quickly become the person with the most information on what the papers actually contain. Tell your supervising archivist if you feel that your collection has been either underrated or overrated. Processing and Control Levels

Research value is also an important consideration in setting the level of processing planned for a collection. A collection with high research value generally, but not always, calls for more intensive processing and a more descriptive finding aid. A collection with relatively low research value almost always deserves lite processing and a less detailed finding aid. A collection with mixed research value—high, low, and everything in between—might merit intensive processing for some parts and lite processing for others and a finding aid that reflects these variations.

Intensive processing is the Cadillac treatment, i.e. we pull out all the stops. Given the implied costs, this practice is no longer the norm in most cases. Lite processing has become a more useful standard because of its triage approach to arrangement, description, and preservation. Lite processing is grounded in the belief that all collections (and all parts of a given collection) do not deserve or need the same level of arrangement, description, and preservation attention. Almost all low research value collections and some high research value collections can be made accessible without arranging materials into multiple series, refoldering, or removing duplicates. Part of the beauty of this practice is its reversibility. Should it come to our attention through patrons or Public Services that a collection (or parts thereof) would benefit from additional arrangement, description, or preservation because it is more heavily researched than was anticipated, we can reprocess to meet revised collection needs. In short, lite processing eliminates a backlog of "hidden collections" in favor of providing broad, if not always deep, access to all of our collections in a timely fashion.

It is important to remember that lite processing is not applied indiscriminately to all collections that arrive in the SHC. Civil War and other 19th-century materials likely will always get intensive processing attention. Lite processing is an option that is especially suitable for voluminous 20th century collections of corporate and organizational records, collections that are expected to grow with sizable additions or that include donor-restricted material, as well as the ones that are just plain low in research value. Putting a great deal of effort into arrangement and description of the materials from a growing collection is counterproductive, since the collection may change significantly in character and focus as new materials are added. Likewise, it does not make sense to expend significant staff time arranging and describing materials that no one can use for the next fifty years or that very few are likely to use ever.

Collections may be processed at either or both of the following levels:

  • Intensive processing (usable unless restricted)
  1. Collection screened for security and sensitivity concerns and appropriate action taken.
  2. Collection arranged to most appropriate intellectual level--series, subseries, folder, item, etc.
  3. Material housed in alkaline folders and document cases and/or appropriate items-separated containers.
  4. Preservation steps taken as required.
  5. Full finding aid prepared.
  6. Full MARC record produced.
  7. Example: Rice Ballard Papers (#4850).
  8. Plantation records, civil war collections, most small collections, and literary collections (when complete).
  • Lite processing (usable unless restricted; may not warrant further processing)
  1. Security, sensitivity, and preservation concerns considered and basic steps taken to minimize risks that may exist in one or more of these areas.
  2. Inventory prepared, with at least descriptive summary, administrative information, biographical/historical note, collection overview, and folder or box list. Series may or may not be established and description will not generally extend to the individual folder level.
  3. Material housed preferably in document cases (occasionally in record center boxes) and appropriate items-separated containers; original file folders are retained if labeled accurately.
  4. MARC record produced or modified.
  5. Example: Charles Harvey Crutchfield Papers (#4022); parts of Taylor Branch Papers (#5047).
  6. Most collections, particularly organizational and business records, political papers, and family papers.

The level of processing will generally determine the appropriate control level. Control levels affect such mechanical operations as the amount of folder labeling, refoldering, and item-level conservation, as well as how detailed the description will be. All collection get full catalog records based on the information in the finding aid. The relationship among control level, arrangement, description, and cataloging can be seen in the following list:

  • Item Level Control
    • Arrangement: Items in each folder are in precise order (alphabetical, chronological, etc.).
    • Description: Descriptive summary, administrative information, biographical/historical note, collection overview, series descriptions, plus detailed folder lists, with or without the addition of an item list or calendar.
    • Housing/Conserving: Reboxed, refoldered, appropriate items pulled out for repair.
  • Folder Level Control
    • Arrangement: In series/subseries, then in folders arranged in a suitable order and labeled such that their contents are mutually exclusive.
    • Description: Descriptive summary, administrative information, biographical/historical note, collection overview, series descriptions, plus detailed folder lists.
    • Housing/Conserving: Reboxed, refoldered, appropriate items pulled out for repair.
  • Box Level Control
    • Arrangement: In series (when appropriate).
    • Description: Descriptive summary, administrative information, biographical/historical note, collection overview, box list.
    • Housing/Conserving: Usually reboxed, refoldered only when necessary to permit use.
  • Collection Level Control
    • Arrangement: Usable by researchers, either with or without special assistance.
    • Description: At least summary box list.
    • Housing/Conserving: Usually reboxed, usually not refoldered.

3.2. The Break Down

Papers are usually accessioned in groups called collections. Collections usually divide into logical units of some sort. When arranging a collection, we want to establish a framework that will enable the researcher to see the various parts of a collection without losing sight of the whole. The parts are usually established as series, which may be further divided into subseries. Occasionally, subcollections may be created.

As you investigate the contents of your collection, think ahead to the finding aid you will write. The chief reason for doing this is that each series and subseries offers you an opportunity to describe. Good description leads to good cataloging. Access points provided in the cataloging process are the means through which researchers find the materials pertinent to their research. Careful consideration of what blocks of materials lend themselves to clear description can be of great assistance in determining how to divide the collection.

A brief discussion of several general arrangement possibilities follows. Remember that, while many collections will fit into a "standard" arrangement, there will always be exceptions and that even the tamest collection generally contains some materials that just will not fit neatly into your scheme. There is no one best arrangement scheme--every collection is different in its own way--but generally speaking, intellectual arrangements trump format arrangements because the former conveys more information about what is going on in the collection. Oftentimes you will find that your collection requires a hybrid arrangement that groups material by type, format, activity, and function. Do not try to fight the flow of the paper. Challenges like these just come with the territory. And remember, you can always resolve complex and/or unusual arrangements in description.

3.2.1. Type/Format Arrangements

Type/format arrangements dictate that materials of the same type or in like formats be grouped together. Most often, these groups are established as series or subseries. The distinction between type and format can be blurry because both can include multiple formats. In a type arrangement, the content is likely to be more important than the format of the material. For example, in a correspondence series, the content is more important than whether the correspondence is loose papers or bound in a volume or on a floppy disc. In a format arrangement, the format is likely to be as important as the content of the material. For example, in a pictures series, the documentation of cotton picking in the 19th century in visual form may be as important as the information the picture conveys about cotton picking.

  • Some examples of type arrangements are series of correspondence, writings, and financial materials. A variety of formats may be found within each of these types.
  • Some examples of format arrangements are series of pictures, scrapbooks, and audiovisual materials. A variety of subformats also may be found within each of these formats.

Type/format arrangements are often used when a collection of personal papers arrives in no discernible order; in many cases, arranging according to type or format of material is perfectly adequate to meet a collection's needs. Format arrangements are also used to highlight a format, such as pictures or audiovisual materials, that researchers might be interested in regardless of the collection from which they come.

You can judge whether or not a type/format arrangement is satisfactory by thinking ahead to the finding aid you will write. Will arranging along type or format lines allow you to describe the collection in a meaningful way or does it risk lumping together diverse elements that will be difficult to describe and catalog (and understand)? Remember that you are trying to accommodate the papers that make up the collection in an arrangement that clearly displays its components and also weaves those components together into a cohesive whole. Ease of access and retrieval should also be promoted by your arrangement.

3.2.2. Activity/Function Arrangement

If arrangement based on type of material and/or format were always satisfactory, arranging would be a pretty dry matter--no fuss, no muss. The naturally messy world of manuscripts, however, abhors such easy answers. The need to consider other arrangement possibilities when planning a collection's order livens things up considerably.

Activity/function arrangement is no respecter of type of material or format. It prefers that central ideas rather than physical attributes provide the rallying points for grouping papers in a collection. Type/format arrangement wants all letters together in a correspondence series. Activity/function arrangement wants the personal correspondence of United States Representative Ike Andrews filed separately from the correspondence he generated in his official capacity. A researcher interested in Ike's political career may be interested in his private life, but would have an easier time using Ike's papers if public and private aspects of his life were clearly defined by the arrangement scheme. Likewise, researchers looking at Jackson Mathews's correspondence about St. John Perse would be unhappy slogging through mounds of Mathews's correspondence about Paul Valéry. Those interested in Archie Davis's notes on the Civil War will find them more useful if they are grouped with other Civil War materials than if they are lumped together in a notes series that may also include items relating to the Wachovia National Bank and the United States Chamber of Commerce.

As a wise ex-SHC processor once said, "The rhyme of the papers themselves and the reasons of those who come to use them are always the key considerations in arrangement."

3.2.3. The Twain Shall Meet

What's a processor to do? How can you best arrange your collection so that you can write accurate descriptions that give rise to useful access points during the cataloging stage? You may find that your collection calls for a mix of type/format and activity/function arrangements. The One and Only, Part I

There are times, particularly with small collections consisting chiefly (but not necessarily exclusively) of materials of one type or format, when papers are adequately arranged in one series. Having decided you need no further series, you can then go on to determine the order of files and items. Subgroups

In some very rare cases, the best way to handle a collection is to divide it into subgroups. In this scheme, activity/function arrangement is usually handled at the subgroup level, while type/format-based series and subseries are used to group like materials together. The most common use for subgroups is with papers in which distinct but related entities are represented, but some sort of strong partitioning is needed because each entity calls for its own complex arrangement of series and subseries. The example shows a collection of family papers that contains materials chiefly relating to Francis Speight, a landscape painter, and Sarah Blakeslee Speight, his wife, a landscape and portrait painter.

Francis Speight and Sarah Blakeslee Speight Papers
   Subgroup 1. Francis Speight and Sarah Blakeslee Speight
   Subgroup 2. Sarah Blakeslee Speight

As mentioned above, it is often the case that each subcollection will contain a variety of materials. Subcollections can include as many type/format-based series and subseries as well as activity/function-based series and subseries:

1. Francis Speight and Sarah Blakeslee Speight
             Series 1. Correspondence
                    Subseries 1.1. 1901-1935
                    Subseries 1.2. 1936-1960
                    Subseries 1.3. 1961-1976
                    Subseries 1.4. 1977-1989
                    Subseries 1.5. Undated
             Series 2. Financial and Legal Materials
             Series 3. Writings by Francis Speight
             Series 4. Clippings
             Series 5. Speight Family Materials
                    Subseries 5.1. Correspondence
                    Subseries 5.2. Genealogical Materials
             Series 6. Other Papers
                    Subseries 6.1. Awards and Certificates
                    Subseries 6.2. Biographical Materials
                    Subseries 6.3. Catalogs of Francis Speight Paintings
                    Subseries 6.4. Juried Exhibit Service
                    Subseries 6.5. Notes
                    Subseries 6.6. Teaching Materials
                    Subseries 6.7. Miscellaneous
             Series 7. Pictures
                    Subseries 7.1. Sketches by Francis Speight
                    Subseries 7.2. Sketches by Others
                    Subseries 7.3. Photographs
      Subgroup 2. Sarah Blakeslee Speight
            Series 8. Correspondence
                   Subseries 8.1. General Correspondence
                   Subseries 8.2. Margaret Goddard Holt Correspondence
            Series 9. Other Papers
                   Subseries 9.1. Blakeslee Family
                   Subseries 9.2. Miscellaneous
            Series 10. Pictures
      Additions After May 1991

Remember that at each level you have an opportunity to describe. In the example, the description of Subgroup 1 would include an overview of Series 1 through 7. Each series would have its own description, and each subseries might have a short description of the items it covers. The description of subgroup 2 would include an overview of series 8 through 10 and materials would also be described at the series and subseries levels. You would not necessarily, however, write a description for every level. If a series-level description would add nothing to the subseries descriptions, then leave it out. A series description for Series 8 might usefully explain why the correspondence is separated into two subseries, for example, but you would not need a description for Series 7 if all you could say is that there are sketches by Speight, sketches by others, and photographs.

Another, less frequent use of subgroups is for materials held together by the slim thread of having been assembled by the same person. An example is the collection called Joseph M. Martin Jr., Collector, which consists of some documents on low-power television and some documents on cable television. These two masses of papers are totally independent of each other and have in common only that they were both compiled by Joseph M. Martin Jr. Except for collector-driven collections, the creation of subgroups of unrelated materials is rare, and well it should be.

When even subgroups cannot unite the diverse materials in a collection, it may be that the collection has been misnamed or the material in its various parts should be broken into separate collections. On the other hand, it can mean that none of the material in the "collection" is significant enough to have been accessioned in the first place. With few exceptions, valuable collections have the ability to stand on their own.

Complicated collections, especially those involving several individuals or even several families, can often be tamed by application of the subgroup, but such divisive action should not be taken lightly. The subgroup remedy should be applied only with enthusiastic approval from your supervising archivist. Series and Subseries

Most collections of papers can be adequately handled by series, with or without subseries. A series is a body of files or documents kept together because of some connection arising out of their creation or use. A series might be a body of records arranged under a single filing system, or kept together as a unit because it relates to a particular function or has a particular physical form. Identifying the series will be straightforward in a well-kept collection, where files arranged as a single unit constitute a series. In other cases, series must be constructed on the basis of other unifying characteristics--their genre or form or their relationship to some subject or activity. Thus, series and subseries may be type or format-based or they may be based on the separate activities or functions of the creator of the papers, or they may be a hybrid of all of these. Remember that complex arrangements can always be explained in the description.

Although series can be many and varied, a certain amount of restraint, largely guided by common sense, should be applied. Each different format of material does not necessarily need its own series. If you have audiotapes, for example, they might form their own series or become part of a series when they fit intellectually with other materials or they might wind up in an “other materials” series with other materials that don't relate to anything else.

The following list shows some standard type/format-based series (along with a few of the many types of items that may be appropriately placed in these series):

  • correspondence (letters; telegrams; valentines, greeting cards, postcards with substantial messages);
  • writings (by the creator of the papers);
  • writings by others;
  • organizational records (minutes, proceedings, bylaws);
  • financial material (bills and receipts, bank statements, account books);
  • legal material (indentures, contracts, deeds, wills, case files);
  • subject files (materials grouped around distinct areas of interest to the creator);
  • research notes;
  • clippings (directly relating to the creator or vital to the creator's interests);
  • printed material (pamphlets, circulars, broadsides);
  • other materials (certificates, awards, items from other standard series when there are only a few items of a given type);
  • pictures (photographic prints, negatives, drawings, paintings);
  • audiodiscs and tapes;
  • films;
  • videotapes;
  • microforms;
  • electronic media;
  • museum items.

This list does not exhaust the possibilities by any means. A series called “Correspondence and Related Materials” is often the best solution for papers of many types that are best kept in a chronological run. You may have a series of general correspondence and several series of correspondence relating to specific topics. A collection that chiefly contains drawings would call for a drawings series; a collection with a great number of maps would require a maps series.

A couple of actual examples will illustrate how it is done. In the first, the series are mostly format-based:

    Edwin Yoder Papers (#4963)
       1. Correspondence
           1.1. Early Years, 1946-1958
           1.2. Charlotte News, 1958-1960
           1.3. Greensboro Daily News, 1961-1975
           1.4. Washington Star, 1975-1981
           1.5. Washington Post Writers Group, 1981-1996
           1.6. 1997-1998
           1.7. Undated
       2. Writings and Related Materials
           2.1. Articles and Essays
           2.2. Books and Related Materials
           2.3. Book Reviews
           2.4. Columns and Editorials
           2.5. Diaries and Journals
           2.6. Speeches
       3. Writings by Others
       4. Professional Papers
           4.1. Subject Files
           4.2. Conferences and Professional Associations
           4.3. Teaching
       5. Other Materials
           5.1. School Materials
           5.2. Biographical and Genealogical Information
           5.3. Financial Records
           5.4. Miscellaneous

In the second, different formats are collected under the cities where the collection creator lived, worked, and participated in civic life:

    Don Shoemaker Papers (#4968)
      1. Asheville, N.C.
          1.1. Correspondence
          1.2. Writings
          1.3. Clippings and Other Printed Material
      2. Nashville, Tenn.
          2.1. Correspondence
          2.2. Writings
          2.3. Clippings and Other Printed Material
      3. Miami, Fla.
          3.1. Correspondence
          3.2. Writings
          3.3. Clippings and Other Printed Material

Again, at each level you have an opportunity to describe. Write a description of each series and each subseries, if needed. You will not necessarily, however, write a description for every level. If a series-level description would add nothing to the subseries descriptions, then leave it out. In the finding aid for the Edwin Yoder Papers, for example, a series description for Series 1, Correspondence, explains how the series is organized. No such explanation is needed for Series 2, Writings, and there is no overall series description for it. In other collections, you might establish a series and subseries for which it is more appropriate to provide an overall description of the series and list the contents of the subseries without additional description.

For additional examples of arrangement schemes, see the Ronald H. Bayes Papers (#4949) Inventory, the Southeastern Cooperative League Records (#3597) Inventory, the William Jesse Kennedy Papers (#4925) Inventory, and the Carl W. Gottschalk Papers (#4935) Inventory. Sequence of Series

It would be grand to have hard and fast rules governing the sequence in which series and subseries appear. Because collections contain such a wide variety of materials and because types of materials are of varying degrees of significance within collections, no predetermined order will be satisfactory in all cases.

Some guidelines can be established, however. Chief among these is to sequence series in order of research value. Displaying a collection's strengths assists researchers in determining a collection's potential value to their work. You will find that, in a great number of collections, the correspondence series contains the most valuable research materials. In these cases, the correspondence series comes first, followed by other series in descending order of importance. Sometimes, however, another series will take precedence over correspondence. In the Walker Percy Papers (#4294), Series 1. Novels and Series 2. Other Works come before correspondence.

The sequence below is often employed when no other series takes precedence over correspondence. Not every collection, of course, will have materials of each type and/or format.

  • Correspondence
  • Writings
  • Financial and legal material
  • Subject files
  • Research notes
  • Printed material/clippings
  • Other materials
  • Pictures
  • Audiodiscs and tapes
  • Films
  • Videotapes
  • Microforms
  • Electronic media
  • Museum items

For series and subseries not determined by type of material or format, choose an order that clearly displays the collection's contents. If there is a series that is obviously more significant within the collection than others, place it up front. If no one series stands out, a quite satisfactory arrangement is to order the series alphabetically by series title. The sequence of series in a collection of organizational records usually follows that of the files as maintained by the organization. The sequence of organizational materials may also be related to the organization's structure. Alphabetical and/or chronological series ordering may come into play with organizational materials, depending on the actual materials present.

You can explain the overall arrangement scheme, including the sequencing of series, in the collection overview section of the finding aid. There are many reasons for maintaining (or even creating) somewhat odd arrangement schemes. If this happens in your collection, you owe researchers an explanation. However, remember that the more logical your series ordering, the easier your collection will be for you to describe and for researchers to use. Files and Items

Once you have identified the intellectual order, you must decide the physical order: how the folders will be ordered within each series and how the items in each folder will be arranged (if they are to be arranged at all). The most important considerations in an arrangement scheme are the collection's original order and the ease of intellectual access to information in the collection. If the papers are in relatively good order when they come in, there may be no need for further arrangement below the series level. In many cases, however, the anticipated improvement in access justifies the cost in time taken to arrange within series.

When you have decided how to order the folders in your collection, you may be tempted to number them as you go. DON’T DO IT--until you are sure you have placed every item in the collection, so that nothing will arise that calls for rearrangement. THEN, and only then, number folders sequentially throughout the collection. This makes for easier retrieval and refiling. For instructions on numbering folders, see Folders.

Arrangement methods can be applied at either the folder level or the item level. Combinations of arrangement schemes may be used; in subject files arranged at the folder level alphabetically by topic, individual items in each folder might be arranged chronologically. As always, the overriding principle is that the arrangement must logically fit the materials. Think about how the materials will be used and proceed from there.

Alphabetical order:

Subject files are commonly arranged alphabetically by topic. A writings series may also be alphabetically arranged by title (or it might be arranged by type of writing, then alphabetically by title).

While most correspondence is filed chronologically, letters in a literary collection may be best arranged alphabetically by correspondent last name because literary research typically emphasizes who over when. Most literary researchers would prefer an alphabetical listing of correspondents that they can scan for names of interest to searching through chronological files to determine who wrote what to whom.

Chronological order:

Correspondence, invoices, annual reports, reminiscences, and other types of material are often arranged by date. Because historians are often concerned with a process of events in the life or an individual or corporate body, most non-literary manuscript series are arranged in this way.

Files that arrive in reverse chronological order are normally kept that way. When you are imposing chronological order, however, follow the more normal order from earliest to latest date. Undated items should follow all dated items. If an item can only be placed in a year, it should follow more completely dated items for that year. The same procedure should be used for months within years.

Items having multiple dates (usually financial or legal items) should be filed by the latest date.

Help with dating undated items sometimes comes from clues found on envelopes, on enclosures, or in the item's content (e.g., the mention of a datable historical event in a letter). Before pursuing any but the quickest dating investigations, however, you must consider your collection's research value and review discussions you may have had with your supervising archivist about the level of control to be attained. Protracted research may not be warranted.

When arranging incoming and outgoing letters that have the same date, place the incoming letters before the outgoing ones. If you have a large amount of correspondence with the same date and your collection is extremely valuable, consider arranging each day's items alphabetically by correspondent. Enclosures should be retained with correspondence, even if the dates do not match. Watch out, however, for spurious enclosures (e.g., the document is dated 15 December 1946 and the "enclosure" is dated 6 August 1977).

A note on the filing of partially dated items: An item dated [187?] should be filed following other items dated 1870-1879, but before all items dated 1880. Similarly, an item dated [1871?] should be filed after all other items dated 1871, but before all items dated 1872.

On occasion you will find alternate forms of original items, such as transcripts or photocopies, in your collection. The date of the alternate form is the date the alternate form was created, not the date of the original item. You may file these alternate forms with the original, or where the original would be filed, but the date of the alternate form should never change the earliest date of the collection date span.

Other orders:

A geographical arrangement scheme may be useful for items such as travel files, data files, fund-raising material, and some subject files. For instance, a file might be arranged by state and further subdivided by county and city. If you have unidentified folders, make sure that the names you choose are appropriate to the period (e.g., a complete listing by state, territories, and possessions in the 1940s would list Hawaii as a territory).

In an other materials series, arrangement at the folder level would probably be by type of item.

Sometimes files or items arrive with a pre-existing numbering scheme. If this scheme is still viable, it should be maintained, although you may have to superimpose another order to place the prenumbered materials within the collection. In this case, you must be sure to include an explanation of the creator-generated arrangement in the appropriate descriptive passage.

Separated Material

In the course of arranging the materials, you may find that there are some items that cannot be physically stored where they intellectually belong for preservation reasons. Size, format, and condition often call for separate storage. Materials that are not stored in the main run of collections are called items separated. Separation sheets filed in the regular paper run show where pictures, discs, tapes, etc., that are integrated into other series are physically stored. Instructions for handling these materials can be found throughout Housing and Labeling.

Another category of material which may need to be stored separately is restricted materials. When you prepared your processing plan, you should have consulted the accession record and the control file to determine whether any restrictions apply to all or part of your collection. We aim at promoting free and equal access to the collections we hold, but access by researchers to materials may be restricted for several reasons. The Department sometimes accepts materials with strings attached. Donors may impose restrictions due to the personal nature of the papers they give or they may seek to limit use of materials, particularly writings, that they or others represented in their papers have produced. If only part of your collection is restricted, it will need to be stored in separate folders and/or boxes so that Public Services staff can alert patrons to the limits of the restriction or withhold the materials altogether, depending on the nature of the restriction. Instructions for segregating and labeling restricted materials can be found throughout Housing and Labeling.

3.2.4. Where Should I Put It?

As discussed above, collections can be arranged in many different ways. The discussion below is guided by type/format arrangements, not because they are preferred but because it is difficult to make generalizations about activity/function arrangements, which depend upon content that varies from one collection to the next.

It should be understood that a variety of formats might appear in any type or format series. For example, a correspondence series might include the expected loose papers, as well as volumes and floppy discs, and related materials such as photographs, oversize papers and just about any other format. Likewise a writings series might include manuscript drafts, review clippings, correspondence, and oversize marketing materials. Correspondence

Correspondence frequently arrives from the donor unarranged; the arrangement we most often impose is chronological order. This makes sense, since letters are normally generated in this way. Chronological arrangement allows the researcher to follow the development of ideas, the progression of friendships or business relationships, or the flow of daily activities over time.

There are many times when it is clearly counterproductive in terms of research value and processing time to segregate materials strictly on the basis of whether or not they are letters. In these cases, a good option is to expand the possibilities by allowing materials that either relate to the letters or contribute to pushing the creator's story along to reside in the correspondence series. A few quick taps on the keyboard transform the correspondence series into the more generous “Correspondence and Related Materials” series, as in the Richard Thurmond Chatham Papers, Series 1. Correspondence and Related Materials.

In an extensive, chronologically arranged correspondence series where either the topics of the letters or the correspondents change over the years, you may want to establish a subseries for each period. Determine where the subseries begin and end by thinking about where the correspondence actually changes. Think ahead to your finding aid and how you will describe each subseries. Arrange the collection so that you can describe it clearly, giving a maximum of useful information with a minimum of repetition.

Especially for literary collections, where the "who" is likely to be of greater significance than the "when," correspondence may be arranged alphabetically by correspondent last name and then chronologized within each correspondent's group of letters. Each correspondent may be listed regardless of importance, or lesser lights may be grouped together in a miscellaneous folder (or folders) for each letter of the alphabet.

Depending on the creator's activities, several types of correspondence may exist in one collection. When this is the case, the different types of correspondence may be organized in two or more series or subseries. A general or personal correspondence series may be appropriate, for example, when a group of letters clearly relates to the creator's private life as distinct from his or her professional career.

Correspondence in letterpress books or bound in other ways should be integrated into the correspondence run. Writings

A "writing" is a formally prepared written work, usually intended for publication, presentation, or other distribution. Collections often contain writings not only by their creator, but also writings the creator collected that were written by others. When this is the case, the writings series should be split to show clearly that not all of the writings were produced by the creator.

Another significant consideration is the nature of the writings in the collection. Are they all journal articles? Are they short stories and novels? Are they speeches, pamphlets, and fragments of an epic poem?

When no original order is evident, you might choose to arrange all types of writing by the creator in a straight alphabetical (by last name) or chronological run. If such an arrangement can be clearly described, there is no problem. A writings series arrangement is often more useful to researchers and easier to describe, however, if the writings are grouped by genre. In some cases, writings may be most effectively described by grouping them according to subject.

Grouping may be achieved either by an arrangement that includes formal subseries or by simple divisions within the writings series.

If your writings series includes multiple drafts of the same work, arrange them in order of creation and/or production state (e.g., draft 1, draft 2, galley proof, page proof, etc.). If a cursory review does not reveal their order, simply maintain each draft as a separate entity by writing on the folder label how many folders are included in each distinct draft (Folder 1 of n).

Writings series may contain more than the writings themselves. Correspondence, notes, and other items that relate to a specific work are usually filed with that work. Not only are these materials often maintained in this fashion by the creator of the collection, but having all materials relating to one work in the same place facilitates research use.

See, for example, the Louis Rubin Papers (#3899) Inventory. Financial and Legal Materials

Financial and legal materials are often arranged in one series. If you can clearly and concisely describe these items in a chronological run, this is by far the simplest option. A group of complicated financial and legal materials may demand individual series that require further division into subseries. This is often true for organizational records, as shown in the list below:

    Series 4. Financial Material
           Subseries 4.1. Auditor's Reports
           Subseries 4.2. Investments
           Subseries 4.3. Financial Holding Companies
           Subseries 4.4. Vick Stock
    Series 5. Legal Material

Financial and legal materials may also be arranged by type of material:

    Series 3. Financial Material
       1856-1877. About 550 items.
       Arrangement: alphabetical by type, then chronological.

    Mostly bills and receipts of William Stump Forwood for various items, including 
    bills from chemists and druggists for medical supplies. Folder 117 contains two 
    Confederate pay vouchers, both dated 1864.

    Folder 113-116 Bills, 1856-1887
           117 Pay vouchers, 1864
           118 Receipts, 1857-1880

When there are both papers and volumes relating to finances or legal matters, it may be possible to mix them together in a chronological run (materials with multiple dates are filed under the latest date).

You may, however, prefer to separate papers from volumes. This is particularly the case when there are many small, insubstantial receipts among the papers. These papers gain in value when grouped together, and the volumes are easier to use when they form their own group. Subject Files

When the original order of a collection includes subject files, they should most likely be maintained. Processor-created subject files, however, are risky business because grouping papers around a subject may present an inaccurate picture of the importance of that subject to the creator. In fact, creating subject files after the fact is frowned upon. If you create them yourself, you must exercise extreme caution to avoid grouping items under a topic that would surprise the creator of the papers. Another problem with creating subject files is that many items are sure to deal with more than one topic. Without original order to back you up, it may be very difficult to justify assigning an item to one topic or another.

Part of preserving original order in subject files is using the folder titles supplied by the creator. Even if the names are a bit flaky, they should be allowed to stand if they reveal the contents of the files to the researcher. You often have a bit of editing of folder titles to do, however, especially when the titles offer little clue to what the files contain. The creator may have known what was in a folder named "Stuff," but it is unlikely that a researcher would. If the creator used a first name last name format, you will need to convert to our last name, first name format. This may call for minor rearrangement of folders. Include a note of explanation when you retain creator-generated folder titles, even if you have revised some of them for the sake of clarity. "Note that, in most cases, original folder titles have been retained" is a good way to put it.

Subject files may include many types of materials. You may, if the research value is high and you are arranging the series to the item level, group like types of papers together and chronologize within the groups. Few collections, however, merit item-level processing of subject files.

Folder order is a different matter and one that often calls for processor intervention. Some creators keep their files in orderly fashion. Sometimes they are in a straight alphabetical run, which is chronologized where appropriate:

      Folder 60 Hats
             61 Insurance, 1963
             62 Insurance, 1964
             63 Labor law
             64 Lawyer Referral Service

Some creators reverse the scheme, ordering files by years and then alphabetizing within each year:

      Folder 62 1982: Hats
             63 1982: Insurance
             64 1982: Labor law
             65 1982: Lawyer Referral Service
             66 1983: Hats
             67 1983: Insurance

As long as the original folder order is comprehensible, it should be maintained. When there is no original order, alphabetical order with chronologizing where appropriate is probably the easiest and most useful to impose.

Subject files may occur in an individual's papers or an organization's records. A subject-based series or subseries may contain subject files within it. An organization's office files, although not necessarily subject-based, lend themselves to arrangement and description that mimics that of a subject files series. Research Notes

A research notes series is a rare thing, mainly because we tend to relegate the bulk of notes that collections contain to the discard heap. The low research value of most notes is the chief argument against retention. Bear in mind that only in very special cases can one individual use or even decipher the notes taken by another individual. Notes made by particularly significant individuals or notes that clearly contribute to the understanding of the creator's life or work may, however, have some value.

When notes are retained, they are usually arranged so that they are linked to some subject. A research notes subseries of a subject-based series may be appropriate. In the following example, notes in the form of card files have been retained because the creation of these files was a major contribution of the creator to his discipline. Had they been simple bibliographical jottings, they would have been discarded. On the other hand, if they had been directly related to a specific work in a writings series, they would have been filed with that work.

      Subseries 7.4. Research Notes
         1952 and undated. 16 items.

      Notes and card indexes relating to Mathews's research on Valéry. Mathews's titles
      have been maintained.

      Folder       110 Notes on Cours Poetique, 1952
                   111 Notes on Cours Poetique, 1957
                   112 Notes on Paul Valéry in the Bibliothéque Nationale, 1957
      Card Files   1-3 Cahiers, Name Index
                   4-5 Cahiers, Subject Index Printed Material/Clippings

Manuscript repositories specialize in unique items. Printed material, even when there is a very small press run, is rarely unique. Because there is no need to retain items that are available elsewhere, much of the printed material that arrives with collections is discarded or transferred to other library departments. See 6.2.2. Returns for instructions on how to transfer printed material.

When printed material contributes to the understanding of the creator's life and/or activities, however, retention is justified. Printed versions of writings by the creator are usually filed in a writings series. Newspaper clippings that supply information about the creator and/or his or her activities are commonly retained, especially if the number of clippings is relatively small. When a printed material series is comprised exclusively of clippings, the series should be named clippings.

"Doesn't the retention of clippings violate the idea of keeping only material that is not available elsewhere?" you ask. The answer is that, while many newspapers are now routinely microfilmed, complete runs, particularly of local papers, are rare. Even if all clippings in a collection were available on microfilm, however, locating and obtaining them might require a great deal of effort on the researcher's part. Because newspaper indexing is a relatively new concept that is very spottily applied, it is likely that even a great effort would produce disappointing results. Therefore, preserving intact a group of pertinent clippings can be a real service to researchers. Other Materials

An other materials series is NOT the dumping ground for items that you do not care to deal with. Other materials are those that are valuable enough to retain, but do not have a clear-cut place in relation to the rest of the collection. Many types of materials may be included--papers, pictures, audiotapes, account books, etc. Because there is such great variety in the types of items that may appear in an other materials series, it is important that you specify what items are included.

Other materials may constitute a series with or without subseries, a subseries, or a folder title in a series or subseries. If other materials are in a folder or folders within another series or subseries, they should, because of their miscellaneous nature, appear last (even if alphabetical order is thereby violated). In any case, you must remember that these materials, while miscellaneous in nature, should relate to the collection in some way. If they do not, they probably belong in the discard or transfer pile. Volumes

Volumes (collections of sheets bound together with a cover or remnants of a cover) should be placed where they fit intellectually in the collection. Thus, there will rarely be a series of volumes. Rather, volumes having to do with writings are placed in the writings series, those relating to financial matters are placed with the financial papers, etc. At times, volumes and other papers are thoroughly mixed in a particular series (e.g., Series 2. Financial and legal materials); at other times, it is more appropriate to group papers and volumes into separate subseries (e.g., Series 2. Financial and legal materials; Subseries 2.1. Financial and legal papers; Subseries 2.2. Financial and legal volumes). Consult your supervising archivist to determine which best fits your collection.

You will see many older finding aids that include a volumes series. That is because in the past, there was more processing according to format than there is today when the intellectual order typically takes precedent.

You also will see many older finding aids with individually numbered volumes. We have discontinued this practice, but it is important to know how this was done in the past, chiefly because we are not going to revise these finding aids to our current practice. Volumes were given item numbers starting with V-0000/1, where V (for volume) was followed by the collection number and the number of the individual volume (e.g., V-425/3 is volume 3 in collection 425). The full V number appeared on each volume. Special volumes (now called Separated) were numbered in sequence with other volumes, but S (for special) was included in their numbers (e.g., V-425/3, V-425/S-4, V-425/5 are volumes 3, 4, and 5 in collection 425 with volume 4 being a special volume). A dummy folder containing a separation sheet was placed where the S volume(s) would be, were it able to fit in a folder in a box. See Wootten, Moulton, and Clarke Family Papers (#4805) Inventory or J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton Papers (#1743) Inventory.

See # Folders and # Items Separated for physical storage of volumes. Pictures

Pictures are not only photographs, but also any kind of visual image, like illustrations, drawings, and paintings. Picture albums include photograph albums and scrapbooks that are mostly picture materials. With few exceptions (see below), pictures are physically separated from their collections and listed as items separated in the administrative information.

Preservation points to isolating pictures. Isolated, they are subject to far less handling than they would receive were they interfiled with other materials. This is particularly important in the case of extremely fragile pictures. Other items also benefit from the removal of pictures, especially when the pictures are photographic images. All forms of photography involve chemical processes that may continue, albeit at very slow rates, long after the image is set. Contact with these chemical components can seriously damage surrounding materials.

The exception to the separation rule is when a collection contains a small number of pictures that are directly related to other items in the collection and are not valuable in their own right. The most common example of this is a letter that reads, "I am enclosing a photo of Aunt Alice that I was able to take just after she accepted the bribe and just before she was arrested." Attached is an image of Aunt Alice, her glowing face illuminating a slightly out-of-focus snapshot. When the photograph is not valuable independent of the letter in which it was enclosed and because the collection has no other pictures that are not similarly attached, it makes little sense to separate the photo from its host to create a pictures series. In this case, simply slip the photo into an acid-free envelope to protect it and the surrounding materials, annotate the envelope as an enclosure, and attach it to the letter with a paperclip.

Pictures may require their own series or they may be embedded in other series. Pictures that are embedded in a series (e.g., pictures relating to a particular writing and are described with that writing; pictures that fit in an other materials series and are described in that series) are nevertheless filed separately.

Within a pictures series, if the pictures have no original order, follow these sequencing guidelines when determining the arrangement of individual pictures or batches of pictures:

  1. identified individuals with pictures of the collection's creator(s) filed first;
  2. groups of individuals, at least some of whom are identified with family pictures filed first;
  3. identified scenes;
  4. unidentified people;
  5. unidentified scenes.

Using this scheme, group together pictures of the same or similar subject within each category--pictures of one individual, family, location, occasion, etc.--and order these groups chronologically when possible. Particularly important images, however, may be described individually.

See Items Separated. for numbering and physical storage of pictures. Audio/Film/Video/Microform/Electronic Media

Audio, film, video, microform, and electronic media may require their own series or they may be embedded in other series. In any case, they are usually physically separated from their collections for preservation reasons and are listed as items separated in the administrative information. These series are often arranged chronologically, but may also be grouped by creator or subject.

A special consideration with these materials is that they can often only be used with special equipment. Remember that within each major format there may be subformats requiring playback on different machines. Audio materials may be discs (of varying speeds) or tapes (reel-to-reel or cassette); microforms may be microfilm or microfiche; films and videotapes come in a number of sizes. You need not disturb your arrangement to group items within a format according to subformats, but each item's specific subformat should be clearly indicated in your description.

Even though the only way to know what one of these items contains is to play it back, you will often, because of low research value, decide against taking the time to view or hear each item (at least in its entirety). In addition, if the item is of a non-standard size or in an obsolete format, you may have difficulty finding appropriate playback machinery. In such cases, the information appearing on the outside of the item will have to suffice.

Microforms: Note that we do not retain microform copies of materials from other repositories. Note also that you will rarely have to add lists of microfilms that contain all or part of your collection. These microfilms are usually made after the collection is processed.

Electronic media: Note that this includes computer discs and tapes. Because of playback considerations, we usually try to obtain hard copies of information stored on computer discs. If a hard copy is available, consult with your supervising archivist about whether or not the electronic format should be retained.

See # Items Separated. for numbering and physical storage of audio and visual formats. Museum Items

Sometimes collections contain materials of value as artifacts or curiosities--the sword of a slain Civil War soldier, the eyeglasses of a prominent botanist, a skull fragment removed in a pioneering medical procedure. There are also artifacts that come in with collections that we do not treat as museum items. These tend to be more ephemeral items, which can be handily put in an envelope or folder and kept with the collection. The easiest way to think about this is that a sword is a museum item and a campaign button (or group thereof) is not. Consult with your supervising archivist to determine whether you have swords or buttons.

Museum items are rare; most collections containing such items have only one or two. Because Manuscripts Department staff members do not necessarily have expertise in handling such materials, museum items are routinely transferred to the North Carolina Collection Gallery, where their care and safekeeping is the responsibility of museum professionals.

See # Items Separated. for instructions on how to number and transfer museum items.

Consider the idea of the processor as cartographer, for it is through describing that the collection's "map" comes into being. The collection finding aid you create is the map that will lead researchers to and into collections that may be of interest to them. Throughout processing, put yourself in the researchers’ shoes and be sure you are creating a map that will help them find the collections they need and the pertinent material within those collections.

Although describing is the focus of this section, arrangement underpins every description. Arranging establishes the intellectual and physical contours of the collection. While arranging, you anticipate describing your collection in terms of its arrangement scheme. Get the arrangement down, and description will follow.

What is a good finding aid? In 1926, Robert B. House of the North Carolina State Historical Commission (and namesake of the Undergraduate Library) said, "Write pithily and attractively, but with absolute truth and unchangeable regard for historical truth and accuracy." That's a good start. Finding aids are written communications, and they should be approached with the same care that goes into any well-written document. Attention to syntax and vocabulary are important; consistency and correctness of punctuation count. While a finding aid can be witty, it should never be chatty. If you bear in mind that the finding aid functions as a map, you will understand why clarity is essential.

Lean and lucid prose is important, but so is Mr. House's "historical truth and accuracy." By becoming familiar with the collection in its historical context, you can supply the researcher with an evaluation of the quality of the information it contains. The researcher, however, does not care if you think the creator of the papers was a jerk or a hero. Keep your prejudices out of the finding aid and be sure that statements you make about the papers are true. Strive to maintain a balanced, analytical tenor.

Along with clear, concise, and carefully written prose, modern day finding aids should be characterized by adherence to current standards for archival description. Since the days of House there has been a steady march toward standardization of collection descriptions in order to improve intellectual access to archival materials. In 1994, the SHC received a grant from NEH to create MARC online catalog records so that all of its collections would have uniform representation in the University Library’s online catalog. In 1998, the SHC began implementing Encoded Archival Description (EAD), a non-proprietary standard for the encoding of finding aids for use in an online environment. EAD uses a tagging language that encodes collection information in finding aids to facilitate searching within and across repositories. In 2004, the Society of American Archivists published Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), guidelines which standardize the content of finding aids and MARC records. Whereas EAD and MARC address how and where the collection information should be presented in finding aids and catalog records, DACS speaks to what information should be present in these descriptive structures as well as in others. When appropriate, our house protocols for description cite the corresponding DACS rules (See DACS Annotated Finding Aid for an example of a DACS compliant finding aid).

For technical information about how to create an EAD-encoded finding aid, see the EAD instruction manual.

Go forth and describe.

4.1. The "Typical" Finding Aid

If you knew, even without benefit of the telltale quotation marks, that the title of this section is a joke, you have understood a basic fact about manuscript materials. In the messy world of manuscripts, nothing is typical. There are, however, finding aid formats that can be established, standards that can be set, and procedures that can be followed. The key, of course, is to apply the formats, standards, and procedures with flexibility.

The following sections lay out the finding aid format used at the Manuscripts Department and get down to the basic procedures for describing a collection's arrangement. Because every collection calls for a tailored arrangement scheme, every collection also calls for tailored description. You can use some of the parts of the finding aid all of the time, and you can use all of the parts of the finding aid some of the time, but you cannot use all of the parts of the finding aid all of the time.

With the advent of the world wide web and EAD, descriptions must be somewhat more standardized, but it is still true that not every descriptive possibility can be anticipated. Review the following sections with an eye to picking out which parts of the finding aid apply to different kinds of collections.

The chief parts of the finding aid are:

  • header and contact information;
  • descriptive summary including abstract;
  • administrative information;
  • online catalog terms;
  • biographical note;
  • collection overview;
  • list of series;
  • series descriptions;
  • items separated;
  • related collections.

While styles have changed over the years, be assured that the goal has remained constant. Remember that the chief function of the document you are producing is to tell researchers about your collection. With these researchers in mind, you have arranged the collection in a clear and logical fashion; now describe it in a similar way.

4.1.1. Header and Contact Information

The first thing to tell the researcher, of course, is what the collection is and where it is. Most of this information is provided automatically in our EAD template, which includes our standard header and contact information. You fill in the collection name and number and other basic identifying information, such as who processed the collection, when it was processed, and who encoded the finding aid.

When creating an EAD finding aid for a collection processed long ago, determining who processed the collection and when can be tricky. If you are unable to identify the original processor(s), or if there have been a long line of processors, it is fine to attribute processorship to SHC Staff. If the when of processing is also unclear, give your best guess at the decade: 1940s. If the when of processing is over the course of decades, it is okay to provide a span of years: 1935-2004.

4.1.2. Descriptive Summary Including Abstract and Online Catalog Terms

The descriptive summary contains basic identifying information--title, dates, creator, extent, and repository--and an abstract of the collection. The online catalog terms will also be discussed here because they are so closely related intellectually to the abstract. Here is an example of identifying information:

      Title:        Richardson Preyer Papers, circa 1900-2004 (#5111)
      Creator:      Preyer, Richardson
      Extent:       About 65,600 items (96.5 linear feet)
      Repository:   University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection. Title

DACS 2.1 Reference Code Element, 2.3 Title Element, and 2.4 Date Element

The title is composed of the name of the collection creator, a collection title, and the collection number.

  • Name of collection creator: The name of the collection creator may be a personal name, family name, organization name, or the name of a collector in the case of an intentionally assembled collection. You should always use the authorized version of the name (check with your supervising archivist). In the case of a personal name, it will be given here in direct order and (usually) without dates. See DACS 2.3.4-2.3.17 Name Segment; Chapter 12 Form of Names for Persons and Families; and Chapter 14 Form of Names for Corporate Bodies.
  • Collection title: The collection title is almost always “papers” for a collection comprised of the papers of an individual or family. Use “records” for the records of organizations or other corporate entities. A descriptive title is often used when the collection creator includes the designation COLLECTOR or other such words or if the collection contains materials having a particular, limited focus of only one or two forms (e.g., John Berkley Grimball Diaries (#970) Inventory). See DACS 2.3.18-2.3.22 Nature and Topic of the Archival Element.
  • Collection dates: The collection's inclusive dates, showing the earliest and latest dates of the materials. If you are lite processing, dates may be somewhat vague (e.g., 1970s or circa 1865-1910). In some collections, you will find material from a range of years, but a large majority from a smaller range of years. For example, the Cyrus Aydlett Papers (#4907) contain material dating from 1941 through 1994, but most of the collection concerns Aydlett’s experiences during World War II and dates from 1943 through 1945. Thus, the inclusive dates of this collection are 1941-1994 and the bulk dates are 1943-1945: Cyrus Aydlett Papers, 1941-1994 (bulk 1943-1945). A potential difficulty here is when a collection has a few items with dates significantly outside the range of the majority of the items. This is easily handled by appending the outlying date(s) to the range. For example, a collection with materials dated 1793 through 1822, but with a few items from 1988, would be listed: 1723-1822, 1988. Note: the date of alternate forms (e.g., transcription of a letter) should never change the earliest date of the collection date span. The date of an alternate form is the date the alternate form was created, not the date of the original item. See DACS 2.4. Date Element.
  • Collection number: Put the collection number in parentheses after the title (e.g., #0000). For z collections (collections five folders and smaller), include a -z after the collection number (e.g., #0000-z). Creator

DACS 2.6 Name of Creator(s) Element; Chapter 9 Identifying Creators; Chapter 11 Authority Records, Chapter 12 Form of Names for Persons and Families and Chapter 14 Form of Names for Corporate Bodies

The departmental cataloger will fill in the name of the collection creator in authority form. This may be a personal name, family name, organization name, or the name of a collector in the case of an intentionally assembled collection. If the Library of Congress has established an authority form of the name, that form will be used. In many cases, however, no such authority will exist and the official (authority) version of a name will be determined, according to cataloging standards, by the departmental cataloger. She may need to consult with you about who’s who (e.g., how to distinguish between people with the same name). Extent

DACS 2.5 Extent Element

We record the extent or size of a collection as both item counts and tallies of linear footage. The physical extent of a collection can be a useful piece of information to a researcher. Knowing that a collection of only minimal interest has 100,000 items to search through may help the researcher assign it low priority in his or her research plans. If the researcher knows that a minimally interesting collection has fifty items, however, he or she may conclude that it is worth a quick look. Budgeting of research time can be greatly facilitated if the researcher can quickly determine how much material he or she needs to examine.

Except for z collections (collections of five folders or less), size information is given in both items and linear feet. For z collections, indicate the item count only.

Since series descriptions require item counts, you can easily calculate the number of items in your collection by totaling the number of items listed in each series. Item counts, whether within series or as a total collection count, are rarely precise. Use "about" to show that the counts are approximate: About 100,000 items; About 150 items. Remember that "About 13 items" and "About 102,522 items" are absurd statements. If adding your series item counts together results in a figure like these, round up or down ("About 102,500 items" will do).

Item count estimation for a collection without series item counts (as in a box list) is fairly straightforward. A document case is said to contain about 400 one- or two-page items and a cubic-foot record center box (Paige box) is said to contain about 800 items if the items are in legal-size folders and 1200 if they are in letter-size folders. If the box contains one or more large items, reduce the count as common sense dictates.

The linear-foot count is even more straightforward. Linear feet are calculated according to the boxes used, whether or not these boxes are full. The actual box dimensions are less important than how many boxes of a certain size fill our 3.0-foot-long shelves. One shelf holds two record center boxes, which are, therefore, counted as 1.5 linear feet each. A document case is 0.5 linear feet (six per shelf). Items separated (pictures, S volumes, audiovisual materials, and oversize papers) are included in items counts, but not in linear footage.

There is no necessary correlation between the number of items and linear feet, since individual items are of varying sizes and linear feet are totally container dependent. If, however, you wind up with a count like 1,500,000 items (1.0 linear feet), it will probably be questioned. Repository

DACS 2.2 Name and Location of Repository Element

The repository will be one of the sections of the Manuscripts Department: Southern Historical Collection, General Manuscripts, Southern Folklife Collection, or University Archives. Abstract and Online Catalog Terms

DACS Chapter 3 Content and Structure Elements; Chapter 11 Authority Records; Chapter 12 Form of Names for Persons and Families; Chapter 13 Form of Geographic Names; and Chapter 14 Form of Names for Corporate Bodies

Although EAD physically separates the abstract and online catalog terms, it is helpful to think of these two parts of the finding aid together. When writing the abstract, you will need to think also of the online catalog terms you want assigned to your collection. You will see below that, in writing the abstract, you are for all intents and purposes simultaneously performing describing and cataloging functions.

The abstract is our means of attracting the researcher's attention to the finding aid and MARC record in the online catalog. Although it appears at the beginning of the finding aid, the abstract will usually be one of the very last parts of the finding aid to be written. By that point, you should have a good idea of the collection's strengths and the most important persons or events connected with it. The actual format for the abstract is outlined below, but first let us discuss why the abstract is so important.

General comments:

In writing the abstract, you are not only concisely describing the collection, but also deciding on what roads (access points in the online catalog) can be used to get to the collection. The abstract is used to create a Machine-Readable Catalog (MARC) record for the collection, which becomes one of the millions of MARC records in the international OCLC bibliographic utility. These records are added to the UNC-CH online catalog and are also available through the WorldCat database. The abstract itself becomes the 545 and 520 fields in the MARC record. Access points derived from the abstract become online catalog terms, which are listed in the finding aid and also in the MARC record as 600 fields. Your goal is to write an abstract that generates the access points that can lead the right researchers to your collection.

Only names and subjects significant enough to receive mention in the finding aid are significant enough to merit consideration for mention in the abstract. Sometimes it helps to make a list of important access points as you process. Write the series descriptions so that they include the access points that still seem important as you describe each series. In the end, you can write the abstract by boiling down the series descriptions to their essential points.

Any name or subject that will be listed as an access point MUST appear in some form in the abstract. This eliminates "blind" references (a name or subject access point exists, but the abstract does not say how it is related to the collection) that are extremely frustrating to researchers. With the finding aid as the starting point for selection, the pool of potential access points is considerably smaller than it would be if you were choosing access points directly from the papers. In fact, it may be useful to think of names and subjects that you have included in finding aid descriptions as having made the first cut on their way to becoming access points.

Deciding what makes the second cut (inclusion in the abstract) is no easy matter. It is important to note that, as with other manuscript work, judgment allied with good common sense plays an important part in selecting which names and subjects become access points to a given collection. You will, of course, want to provide access to a collection through the creator whose name gave rise to the collection's title. Therefore, one certain access point for the Wesley Critz George Papers is George himself. He may also be a catalog term (online or otherwise) in collections other than his own. Making him an access point to his own collection assures that all collections in which he figures significantly will be retrieved when his name is searched. You will decide on the other access points as you write your abstract. In Archives Manuscripts: Arrangement and Description (Chicago: SAA, 1977), David Gracy suggests that you look for the following:

  • persons of historical importance who appear in the collection to any degree greater than a passing mention;
  • persons important in the collection (that is, persons, however historically obscure, by, to, or about whom a significant quantity of documents were written [N.B.: it may not be important to list people here for whom no researcher will ever search by name, but you may want to mention their occupation or race, if those are categories for which you would expect a researcher to search]); and
  • events, matters, institutions, businesses, and activities that are either historically important or are important in the collection.

A fourth category that should be added relates to the opportunity to alert researchers to unusual or unexpected materials. Suppose that, under a stage name, the daughter of an early 19th-century North Carolina country doctor became a moderately successful circus performer. If no access point shows the way to these materials, how would a researcher working on unusual occupations of 19th-century women know to look at the finding aid to the papers of a country doctor for information on the early life of a trapeze artist?

A reasonable balance must be struck between historical importance and content, and, not surprisingly, no hard and fast rules can be applied. If the papers show that their creator once went hunting for deer in a forest, do we immediately select Hunting, Forests, Deer, and Outdoor recreation for inclusion in the abstract with an eye to making them all online access points? If her papers reveal that she was a renowned hunter, Hunting would probably be an appropriate access point. If Abraham Lincoln wrote to her for advice on deer hunting, Lincoln would most likely be an access point, even if the document in question reads: "Dear Diana. How do you stalk deer? Abe."

Writing the abstract that generates the right online catalog terms requires you to exercise your intellect. Just remember that a researcher cannot extract from the catalog what you have not put into it. For example, you will note that online catalog terms use a standardized precoordinated vocabulary. Keyword searching, however, makes your entire abstract (the 545 and 520 fields in the MARC record) searchable. Using the online catalog in the normal mode, you must type Confederate States of America--Social conditions (an online catalog term that became a 600 field in the MARC record) to find materials on homefront activities in the South during the Civil War. Think a bit and you will see that you can make searching easier if you include the words homefront during the Civil War in the keyword-searchable abstract.

Careful and logical abstract writing provides the researcher with a powerful research tool. This is a heavy responsibility, but it is not on your shoulders alone. Your supervising archivist is always available for consultations on abstract writing. In the finding aid review process, others may also have good suggestions about access points to include or to drop. In most cases, you will also get to review the final online catalog terms to make sure that they are adequate and accurate.

Writing the abstract/online catalog terms:

The abstract's format closely mimics the MARC record it will produce (see the departmental cataloger if you are really interested). The abstract consists of two parts, one containing a biographical/historical statement (the 545 field in the MARC record) about the collection's creator or creators and the other describing the papers themselves (the 520 field in the MARC record). In olden times, the biographical/historical statement and the summary description of the materials were blended into one field. When revising and encoding legacy finding aids, remember to separate out the biographical/historical statement from the summary descriptions in the abstract.

The biographical/historical statement should be brief, containing only background that is especially important to identifying the collection creator and understanding the papers.

The summary description contains one or more sentences giving an overview of the materials found in the collection and placing both the creator and the papers in context in terms of time and place. If the bulk of the papers focuses on a narrower time period than the collection's dates, the opening sentence is the proper place to indicate this. The remainder of the abstract should list major persons and events reflected in the collection, whether in the life of the creator (if the collection's focus is primarily personal) or in a larger arena. Be sure to indicate geographic parameters. The abstract may conclude with a brief list of subjects of importance and or persons of note, perhaps prominent correspondents or family members who loom large in the collection.

Formerly the abstract was required to fit on a 3" x 5" card and could contain only about 50 words. Since we have moved into MARC cataloging, we are no longer as restricted, but neither do we have unlimited space. We must work within the limits of the OCLC bibliographic utility, where a cataloging record contains at most 4,096 characters (letters, numbers, punctuation, and spaces). Fitting the abstract to the dimensions of the MARC record is often a challenge. At the Manuscripts Department, we occasionally perform a trick that allows us to sidestep the space limitations by writing more than one MARC record for a collection. Often, multiple records are written to accommodate series (e.g., the Lenoir Family Papers (#426) with so many abstracts that they require their own table of contents), but sometimes one series demands more than one record (e.g., the Louis Rubin Papers (#3899)).

You, as processor, may handle the online catalog term list in either of the following ways:

  • You may make a list of important access points (subject headings and names) in your own words to assist the departmental cataloger in choosing terms; or
  • You may hie yourself to the authorities that be and make a stab at writing the final list yourself. Your supervising archivist and/or the departmental cataloger will point the way. Who knows--you might learn something.

For examples of fairly typical abstracts and online catalog term lists, see:

4.1.3. Administrative Information Access

DACS 4.1 Conditions Governing Access

The access note will be one of three brief statements:

  • No restrictions.
  • This collection has restrictions to access. Please see details below or contact the Manuscripts Department for more information.
  • This collection is closed to research.

Most often the access note will read No Restrictions, but if the collection does have a restriction, the Usage Restriction section of the finding aid will explain the particulars. Usage Restrictions

DACS 4.2 Physical Access Element, 4.3 Technical Access Element, and 4.4 Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use Element

When you prepared your processing plan, you consulted the accession record and the control file to determine whether any restrictions apply to all or part of your collection. In arranging your collection, you may have segregated restricted material and labeled it to ensure that restrictions on use will be clear to Public Services staff. In the finding aid, you need to let researchers know what restrictions to expect. If you have any questions about how to word your usage restriction note, consult your supervising archivist. Almost without exception, the usage restriction note will contain our standard copyright notice: Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law. If you have reason to believe that your collection may be an exception, consult your supervising archivist.

Here are examples of some other usage restriction notes for collections with restrictions.

  • OP-4012/2 is not to be published before 10 September 2025.
  • Photocopying in Series 1 restricted as follows: no more than three consecutive pages may be copied; no more than ten pages from any one novel may be copied.
  • Closed until 1 January 2008.

A further impediment to access sometimes arises when material in a collection is in a format requiring that special steps be taken before it can be used. Because reformatting is extremely labor intensive, preparing these kinds of materials for use in advance of an actual demand can be a waste of valuable staff time. Since reformatting is usually done on demand, the following note is appropriate: Use of audio or visual materials may require production of listening or viewing copies.

Lastly, a usage restriction statement may address the possibility of as yet undiscovered sensitive materials in the collection: This collection may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility. This statement is used when the processor has reason to believe that sensitive materials exist in the collection, but for various reasons is not able to identify and/or remove them before making the collection available to researchers. For more about sensitive materials, see Sensitive Materials Processing Guidelines. Provenance/Acquisitions Information

DACS 5.2 Immediate Source of Acquisition Element

In this context, provenance means origin or source. Provenance in older finding aids and Acquisitions Information in newer ones, answers the questions: "Where did this stuff come from?" and "When did it get here?"

Collections come to us through many channels. Materials from donors may be given as outright gifts or they may be loaned to the Manuscripts Department. Some items are purchased, and others are transferred from other departments on campus.

Information in the control file often documents in detail the path a collection has followed to our door. The provenance/acquisitions information note makes a simple statement of where materials came from, using "Received from" for donor gifts and loans, "Purchased from" for bought items, and "Transferred from" for interdepartmental transfers.

Multiple accessions from different donors, vendors, or transferring departments call for multiple entries, each listing the source, its location, and the month(s) and year(s) of acquisition. If known, the accession number should be included.

Here are some examples:

  • Received from H. Smith Richardson Jr. of Wilmington, N.C., in November 1986 (Acc. 86111) and August (Acc. 87066) and September 1987 (Acc. 87077).
  • Received from R. D. W. Connor of Chapel Hill, N.C., in 1946; Mrs. R. D. W. Connor of Chapel Hill in 1950; and Louis Round Wilson of Chapel Hill in May 1953.
  • Purchased from Bertram Rota, Ltd., Booksellers of London, England, in December 1984 (Acc. 84101) and December 1986 (Acc. 86101).
  • Transferred from the Rare Books Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in March 1985 (Acc. 85028). Processing Note

Processing notes are used to provide information about aspects of processing not described elsewhere. Usually, these aspects have some effect on researchers’ use of the collection.

The processing note can be used to elaborate on the usage restriction statement. This is particularly the case when the usage restriction note is Use may require staff assistance. The reason(s) assistance is necessary should appear in the processing note, which might read: Some letters in envelopes. This note means that, although the collection is not actually restricted, the lack of processing will make access difficult. Typically, we do not allow researchers to remove letters from envelopes, but it is sometimes possible for a staff member to assist a researcher who absolutely needs to use these materials.

Processing notes can be used to credit funding agency support for processing projects: This collection was processed with support, in part, from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Division of Preservation and Access, Washington, D.C., 1993-1994. Items Separated

The items separated section of the finding aid indicates which items have been filed separately from the main part of the collection. An items separated list should include the various formats and number of items/container units that have been separated. Items separated are not necessarily more important than other items in a collection, but we alert researchers to their existence because some formats, especially audiovisual materials, can be of research interest regardless of subject content. If there are items separated in your collection, be sure to include this list in the finding aid for your collection.

Items separated may be listed by item number or container number (box, folder, etc.). The first example lists individually numbered items that have been separated and the second lists folders of unnumbered items that have been separated.

    Items Separated
       Oversize Papers (OP-4240/1-12) 
       Extra-oversize Papers (XOP-4240/1) 
       Pictures (P-42420/1-624)
       Oversize Pictures (OP-P-4240/1-5)
       Special Format Pictures (SF-P-4240/1-4)
       Picture Albums (PA-4240/1-12)
       Audiodisc (D-4240/1)
       Videotapes (VT-4240/1-8)
       Volumes (SV-4240/1-3)

    Items Separated
       Oversize Papers (OP-4344/Folder 1-2) 
       Extra-oversize Papers (XOP-4344/Folder 1)
       Pictures (P-4344/Folders 1-16)

See Inventory of the Doug and Hazel Storer Collectionfor an example of an Items Separated list with Oversize Photographs described at the item AND folder level. Related Collections

DACS 6.3 Related Archival Materials Element

The related collections section lists other collections within the Manuscripts Department, in other campus departments, or in other institutions that contain materials complementing or in some way connected to the collection in hand. This connection must be a close and substantial one for collections to be considered related. If you stick around here long enough, you will realize that most of the people in most of our collections are related and/or knew one another in some way. Family relationship or acquaintance is not sufficient grounds for listing a collection as related; for that, the material in the two collections must have some real relationship. Names of in-house related collections usually are listed first, followed by their collection number in parentheses.

Related Collection:     H. Smith Richardson Papers (#4283).

Related Collection:     Southern Oral History Program Collection, Interview C-1 (#4007).

Related Collections:    Henry Groves Connor Papers (#175);
                        Thaddeus Shaw Page Papers (#3848).
                        See also official records in the North Carolina Division of Archives 
                        and History and the National Archives.

Related Collections:    The manuscripts of two of the Cleavers's books are in other 
                        repositories as follows: Ellen Grae at the Kerlan Collection, 
                        University of Minnesota-Milwaukee; Where the Lilies Bloom in the 
                        Appalachian Collection, Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C.

Related Collection:     Smith, Elder Collection in the Rare Book Collection.

4.1.4. Biographical or Historical Note

DACS 2.7 Administrative/Biographical History Element and Chapter 10 Administrative/Biographical History

This section of the finding aid is headed biographical note when its focus is the life of one or more individuals and historical note when it deals with the history of an organization. The biographical/historical note provides a rudimentary context for the descriptions that follow. It is not a biography or a history, but a ready reference that presents an overview of the creator’s life or history and details those aspects critical to a researcher's work with the papers. The biographical/historical note typically is boiled down to one or two sentences to become the first part of the abstract, which then becomes the 545 field in the MARC record.

The biographical/historical note should be brief--from one paragraph to several pages in length, but only rarely more than two pages. A narrative biographical/historical note may be warranted by the complex or multi-dimensional career of the subject. Often, however, this information can be presented chronologically in list form. Remember that the purpose of the note is to provide the researcher with a ready reference to the subject's activities so that information in the rest of the finding aid will have greater meaning. A statement in the series description to the effect that there is correspondence for a certain span of years, for example, is made much more effective if the biographical note indicates that during those years the subject was in school or running a business or retired and engaged in community social work. Emphasis should be on that portion of the subject's career to which the bulk of the collection relates.

It is sometimes possible simply to lift or adapt a note from another source (be sure to credit the original). Biographical or historical data may be abbreviated when the reader can be referred to standard sources such as the Dictionary of American Biography, the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, or to other readily available biographical or historical directories. Minimally, however, basic data should be included in the finding aid even when such abbreviation takes place.

The nature of the collection may help to determine the structure of the biographical/historical note. Not all collections relate to only one person or organization. Some consist of letters of two correspondents, family papers, autograph collections, subject collections, or other forms.

To clarify your own understanding of the context of the collection, it may be useful to write a draft or outline of the biographical/historical note before you begin to process the collection. Wait, however, to complete the note until after the papers have been arranged and described. Your knowledge of the collection may allow you to add information if your preliminary research had turned up little and will help you focus the note to insure that it provides useful context for the materials in the collection.

For examples of biographical/historical notes, see:

4.1.5. Collection Overview

DACS 3.1 Scope and Content Element

The collection overview briefly describes the collection's contents and may discuss the distribution and quality of materials in the collection. It usually consists of only one or two paragraphs and seldom exceeds one page. It is often boiled down to become the second paragraph of the abstract, which then becomes the 520 field in the MARC record.

A good way to write the collection overview is to condense the series descriptions. After giving a general view of what each series contains, you may want to evaluate how well the collection documents significant facets of the creator's life or history. You should also mention material, if any, that a researcher might not expect to find in this collection. Archie K. Davis, for example, was chair of the board of Wachovia Bank, but his papers contain very little about Wachovia, focusing rather on his historical research, his terms as president of the American Bankers Association and United States Chamber of Commerce, and his political activities. Reference to special circumstances surrounding provenance or other matters is appropriate when you feel the need to explain why the papers are constituted the way they are. An explanation of how the arrangement scheme was established is often appropriate.

For examples of collection overviews, see:

4.1.6. List of Series

DACS 3.2 System of Arrangement Element

Immediately following the collection overview, you will list the series and subseries so that the researcher has the broad outlines of the collection before reading the descriptions of the individual series.

4.1.7. Series Descriptions

A series description is composed of three parts: the heading (title, inclusive dates, size, arrangement scheme); the narrative description; and the folder/box/container list. Note that individual folders/boxes/containers may be listed or they may be grouped, as in:

Folders 67-69      Africa

Use whichever style permits easy retrieval without including unnecessary detail.

Here are some points towards writing good narrative descriptions:

  1. Prepare the folder/box/container list for the series before writing the description. Remember that your description will be used by researchers in conjunction with that list. Minimize repetition. When appropriate, refer the reader to the list for details. It is often the case that very little description is necessary when folder titles/box lists/container lists are descriptive.
  2. Describe the material in a simple, straightforward way. Clarity and accuracy count. If you need help identifying exact terms for the material you have (is it a cash book or a daybook? a pamphlet or a leaflet?), consult the Art and Architecture Thesaurus or the Thesaurus of Graphic Materials. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Such descriptions not only facilitate use of the materials in your collection, they are far easier to transform into collection overviews and ultimately into abstracts than are descriptions containing florid prose and extraneous matter.
  3. Begin with a brief, but comprehensive, statement about the contents of the series. This usually will be a statement, not a complete sentence, in the following form: Chiefly correspondence between A and B, with a few letters each from C and D, and a small number of other letters. Note that every item in the series is covered by this statement. Many such statements will end with a phrase like "and a few other letters" or "and a small amount of other material." When appropriate, follow this statement with a sentence noting principal subjects, functions, or activities to which the material relates; relative amounts of different kinds of material; significant gaps; and other important information about the series.
  4. Organize the remainder of the description to parallel the arrangement of the series. A series need not be broken into subseries to have several descriptive paragraphs. The description of a series of chronologically arranged correspondence, for example, might consist of four paragraphs successively treating letters from the periods 1800-1820, 1821-1860, 1861-1865, and 1866-1900. A writings series might be described in a set of paragraphs, each dealing with one type of writing--essays, book reviews, short stories, poems. When arrangement is alphabetical (and sometimes when it is by subject), describe categories of material in order of research value instead of in order of physical arrangement.
  5. Determine the appropriate degree of detail according to the research value for each part of the contents. A single valuable letter may warrant its own description, whereas two hundred applications might be handled by a single sentence.
  6. Describe the material, not the creator(s). In most cases, the biographical/historical note is the appropriate place for background information that provides context for the documents. The series descriptions refer to the documents themselves. See Bioghist verses Scopecontent in the Technical Services Stylesheet for an example of how to describe the material.
  7. Note the arrangement, if appropriate. If the arrangement is simple (alphabetical or chronological, for example) say so in the series heading. If the series is small, but the arrangement complex, there may be no need to refer to arrangement, since a quick scan of the folder/box/container list will tell a researcher all he or she needs to know. If the series is large and the arrangement complex, a discussion of arrangement should be included following the description of the materials in the series.

The following sections address some specific issues related to describing the most common types of series. Do not be surprised, however, if your collection calls for something new. Your supervising archivist can help you decide on the level of creativity your descriptions demand. The One and Only, Part II

When small collections consisting chiefly (but not necessarily exclusively) of materials of one type or format can be adequately arranged in one series, the biographical/historical note is followed by a brief description in the collection overview, the <c01> header information, and then the folder (or other container) list. You need not copy the collection overview into the <c01> header description. If the collection overview is very brief, you may also copy it into the abstract.

For an example of a single series collection description, see:

Likewise, with some lite processing collections a biographical/historical note, followed by a brief description in the collection overview, the <c01> header information, and a box (or other container) list are the appropriate level of description. As in the small collection scenario above, you need not copy the collection overview into the <c01> header description. If the collection overview is very brief, you may also copy it into the abstract. Correspondence

Use the words "letters" and "correspondence" accurately. "Letters" refers to missives when they are all either incoming or outgoing (e.g., letters to Amos Trevellyan from friends and relatives). "Correspondence" should be reserved for exchanges of letters (e.g., correspondence between Amos Trevellyan and his daughter Alma). This implies that there are letters from Amos to Alma as well as letters from Alma to Amos. Even when you have chiefly incoming letters and only a very few outgoing letters, which may or may not be paired with an incoming letter, use “correspondence.”

Examples: Writings

Whatever the arrangement, the titles of individual writings are written using conventional punctuation as prescribed by the Chicago Manual of Style. Basically, titles of books that have been published are italicized; short works and longer works that have not been published appear in quotation marks.

If your writings series includes multiple drafts of the same work, list them in order of creation and/or production state (e.g., draft 1, draft 2, galley proof, page proof, etc.) if possible. If a cursory review does not reveal their order, list the drafts collectively as “Drafts, undated” in the folder list.

Examples: Financial and Legal Materials

Determining what to call a specific financial or legal document can get pretty hairy. It is unlikely that a single financial or legal document is of such research value that spending a great deal of time tracking down its correct appellation is warranted. The wording on the document itself is often the best clue to its identity. With assistance from various written sources and from your supervising archivist, you should be able to be fairly accurate in your arrangement and description of these materials without splitting hairs.

Examples: Subject Files

Most subject files series require only brief narrative description because the folder/box/container list will provide good access to the files. In the list, use the titles supplied by the creator if they are clear enough to enable researchers to find relevant material. In some cases, you may have to rename some files for the sake of clarity. When you do this, a note to that effect should be placed in the subject files series description. Similarly, include a note of explanation when you retain creator-generated folder titles. In either case, "Note that, in most cases, original folder titles have been retained" is a good way to put it.

Examples: Research Notes

In the rare instance in which you retain a series of research notes that were made by a particularly significant individual or notes that clearly contribute to the understanding of the creator's life or work, you can increase their usability by explaining in the series description their organization and significance.

Examples: Printed Material/Clippings

If you have preserved a group of printed material or pertinent clippings, you can give researchers a better start in using them by describing their scope of coverage and how they relate to the rest of the collection. If you can, indicate the major subjects covered, the range of dates, geographic coverage, newspapers or other publications represented, and who collected the material.

Examples: Other Materials

Other materials are those that are valuable enough to retain, but do not have a clear-cut place in relation to the rest of the collection. Many types of materials may be included--papers, pictures, audiotapes, account books, etc. Because there is such great variety in the types of items that may appear in an other materials series, it is important that you specify what items are included and explain how they relate to the rest of collection.

Examples: Volumes

Though volumes are no longer routinely separated into their own series, they still call for some special attention in the finding aid. Descriptions of individual volumes should include the type of volume (e.g., diary, day book, account book, copy book, slave register, school notebook) and inclusive dates (or approximate dates). Descriptions usually also include the keeper (if known) of the volume, where it was kept (if known), the approximate number of pages, and a brief description of the volume's contents.

Examples: Pictures

Pictures may require their own series or they may be embedded in other series. In any case, they are usually physically separated from their collections, chiefly for preservation reasons, and are listed as items separated in the administrative information. You may include a series description for the pictures series, followed by a list of the individual items or folders. If you have pictures embedded in a non-picture series, be sure to mention the format in the series description.

Be as clear as you can be in describing pictures. Try to include dates, even if they are approximate, and try to identify the type of picture and its salient characteristics (is it black and white or color? tintype or daguerreotype? portrait or landscape? etc.).

Because they are often retrieved as individual items, pictures, unlike most of the material we process, are sometimes described at the item level. Researchers who are interested in pictures are not necessarily interested in the collection from which they come. Someone looking for an image of cotton pickers may not care that we have the diary of the third picker from the left; someone looking for an early photograph or drawing of the Old Well may not care (except for crediting purposes) that the ink sketch they find is from the Pogue Papers. These researchers are concerned with the image itself, which they may want to use for purposes completely unrelated to the other materials we hold. Important images may, therefore, be individually described.

More often, however, item-level description is not needed because the individual images do not merit it. In other cases, item-level description is impractical (as it would be, for instance, in the case of 500 views of Mount Fuji). In either case, group (or batch) descriptions of closely related pictures will serve our researchers’ purposes adequately.

Pictures are not described in more detail just because they are filed separately. Oversize pictures, for example do not get a special description just because they have a separate number and location. Pictures in albums need not be numbered, but your description should provide the same level of detail (including the approximate number of images) as you would in a batch description of individual images.

Examples: Audio/Film/Video/Microforms/Electronic Media

Audio recordings, film, video, microforms, and electronic media may require their own series or they may be embedded in other series. In any case, they are usually physically separated from their collections, chiefly for preservation reasons, and are listed as items separated in the administrative information.

You may not feel the need for a series description when these materials are in their own series. Descriptions of individual items may be sufficient. Each description should include the item number; title (you may have to make up an appropriate descriptive title if none is supplied); author or artist; creator (the "statement of responsibility" in library lingo: who or what caused this item to be); place of creation; date; subformat. If some of these elements are unknown, you might want to say so. You may also want to include a brief description of the item's contents if they are not apparent from the other information given. If the item does not include a title or description, you may need to listen to or view a segment in order to describe it. Common formats, such as compact discs, digital video discs, audiocassette tapes, and VHS videotapes can be played back in the Manuscripts Department search room. Less common formats that require special equipment may be played with the assistance of the Sound and Image Librarian or the audio engineer.

Given that some of these materials can often be used only with special equipment, it is essential that you indicate in your description the exact forms present. Remember that within each major format there may be subformats requiring playback on different machines. Audio materials may be discs (of varying speeds) or tapes (reel-to-reel or cassette); microforms may be microfilm or microfiche; films and videotapes come in a number of sizes. You need not disturb your arrangement to group items within a format according to subformats, but each item's specific subformat should be clearly indicated.

      D-4012/1-2     "Mon Faust," BBC, Paris, 1944 (33-1/3 rpm). Paul Valéry reading from his own work.

      Compact discs:
      CD-4454/1      Songs of Jan Philip Schinhan. Grace Johnson, soprano, and Andrew Johnson, piano. Compact disc, recorded by Stan Gilliam at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, High Point, N.C., on 24 January, 23 April, and 30 April 1999. Insert with biographical information, notes about songs, and texts of song.

      Reel-to-reel audiotapes:
      T-4012/1       "Cimetiere Marin" by Paul Valéry, read by Victoria D'Campo, 21 January 1960 (10" reel-to-reel).

      C-4012/2-3     "Paul Valery on French Painting," lecture by Jackson Mathews, undated (60-minute cassettes).

      F-0000/1       "Alma, the Flying Soul," starring Alma Caroline Trevellyan, 1956 16 mm. reprint of original produced ca. 1900.

      Videotapes and discs:
      VT-0000/3      "Alma, the Flying Soul: A Son's Remembrance," ca. 1951 (VHS, 1" tape in cassette).

Microforms: Include anything known about the location of originals represented on the microform. If the microform duplicates original material in the collection, note the existence of the original in the description of the microform and the existence of the microform in the description of the original. Note that we rarely, if ever, retain microform copies of materials in other repositories.

M-0000/1-2     Correspondence, 1956, relating to litigation surrounding "Alma, 
               the Flying Soul," a film produced ca. 1900 (2 reels microfilm).

Electronic media: It is especially important that information on what operating systems and programs were used to produce computer materials be noted, since it is usually impossible to determine the appropriate playback environment by simply looking at these items. Ideally, the description would also include the disc size, and, to facilitate access, the full names of the files it contains.

FD-0000/1     Computer discs containing transcriptions of unofficial statements by 
              descendants of Alma Caroline Trevellyan on the 100th anniversary of her circus debut, 1980 (DOS, WordPerfect 5.1, 3-1/2" floppy discs).
DCD-0000/1    Anthropological database, 1990 (Windows 3.1., Microsoft Access). Museum Items

Museum items may be described in their own series or they may be embedded in another series. Their description should include: the item number, what type of item it is, who owned it, what purpose it served, and when it was made or used. Some data will either be unknown or not applicable to particular items. Do your best to provide researchers (and the North Carolina Collection Gallery, where museum items are transferred) with enough information to understand what the item is and how it is related to the collection. Museum items also always appear in the items separated list in the administrative information section of the finding aid.

       Series 5. Museum Item
          1888. 1 item.

       Copper box placed into the cornerstone of Somerset Villa on 29 September 1888.
       After the mansion was torn down following Carr's death, the box mysteriously 
       disappeared. It was found nearly a half century later in the attic of Laura Noell 
       Carr (Chapman). A list of the original contents of the box can be found in folder 27. 
       The items checked on the photocopy of this list are those that arrived with the box 
       when it was received at the Southern Historical Collection (among other things, the
       old currency and coins were missing). The photographs have been placed in Series 4.

       MU-4507/1 Copper box
       Series 12. Museum Items
          Undated. 89 items.

       Porcelain figures, wooden and metal boxes, glassware, and other items collected or 
       used by William Jacocks or his family.

       MU-3120/1 Metal-rimmed reading glasses in red leather case, owner unknown.
       MU-3120/2 Wooden carving of Balinese dancing girl, origin unknown, undated.
       MU-3120/3-89 Glass celery vases in various traditional patterns, origin unknown, undated.

4.2. Atypical Finding Aids

In section 4.1. of this manual, we indulged in a bit of archival humor when we used "typical" to modify "finding aid." Since manuscripts collections are largely composed of unique items, there can be no typical collection, no typical arrangement, and, therefore, no typical finding aid. Hence, we rely on the flexibility of our finding aid format that permits description and cataloging of almost any collection, whatever its arrangement.

This section covers separately maintained additions and intentionally assembled collections, both of which require special finding aid format flexibility. Guidelines for the collection that gets the most special treatment of all--the Southern Oral History Program Collection (SOHP)--can be found in the SOHP manual.

4.2.1. Additions

Additions to existing collections come in many shapes and sizes. It is often the case that an addition consists of materials that can be dropped into appropriate places in an already established arrangement with little or no impact on the description. An addition of this type sometimes requires revision of several lines of the finding aid and/or some slight additional information. Possible changes include revision of the provenance/acquisitions information statement, the number of items or range of dates; slight revision of the abstract, online catalog terms, and/or series description(s); insertion of new folders in the list of existing folders. Often these kinds of revisions change so little in terms of description that it is not necessary to revise the existing MARC record.

If an addition contains materials that will significantly alter the description of the collection, the chief options are two: either re-write the existing finding aid (follow the current standard for finding aid writing procedures) or consider the new material as a separately maintained addition (read on). Separately Maintained Additions

Separately maintained additions are real time savers that work very well provided that the material in these additions is clearly described, its location within the collection identified, and access points for the new material provided when necessary.

If the finding aid for the collection to which you are adding has already been encoded in EAD, Addition(s) becomes a new series and each separate addition is a subseries under it. The abstract, administrative information, online catalog terms, collection overview, and series list also are updated as appropriate. See the addition section of the EAD manual for step by step instructions.

If you are adding to a collection with a finding aid not in EAD, consult with your supervising archivist to determine how to update the finding aid. If the existing finding aid is short and simple, you may convert it to EAD and then add your addition. If you and your supervising archivist decide to add to an existing word processed finding aid without converting it to EAD, use the addition form below. The format for an addition sheet incorporates some of the elements from the regular finding aid summary sheet, but is different enough to bear reviewing here.

The header should duplicate the regular finding aid's header, which is comprised of the collection name, collection title, inclusive dates of the entire collection, and the collection number. If you are adding to a collection that has a finding aid predating the computer age, you will have to create the header. Under the header, give the date of the addition and the accession number.

Next, list the size of the addition. If the addition does not expand the collection so that it takes up new shelf space, list the number of items in the addition only. If the addition causes the collection to expand on the shelf, list the number of items in the addition and the amount of new linear feet added to the collection, whether the new feet are occupied by the addition's materials or other materials that have been pushed into a new box.

The inclusive dates of the addition come next, followed by the addition's provenance. A short description, pertaining only to materials in the addition, should appear next. If necessary, notes on access restrictions and processing may follow.

At the left margin and below the online catalog or catalog terms (if any), give the location of materials in the addition in the form of a container list if this information does not appear as part of the description.

The resulting addition sheet gives information relating to the addition, describes what new ground is covered by the materials in the addition, and shows where in the collection the new materials are located. It is not unusual for a collection to have many addition sheets. When the number gets to be unmanageable or it is safe to assume that further additions are unlikely, the collection is a good candidate for re-processing.

Collection name, collection title, inclusive dates of entire collection (#)
                         Addition of Month Year (Acc. #######)

Size:        About        items (   linear feet).





Item/Folder/Box/Container list

Processor's name
Date Additions to Collections That Have Been Microfilmed

Be sensitive to researcher needs when processing additions to collections that have been microfilmed. If the addition is to be physically integrated into the materials that have been microfilmed, make an item list for the control file so that researchers who use the collection on film can easily locate what is not on the film. A number of plantation collections that were filmed by UPA during the 1990s still get additions through donation and purchase. Among these are the Cameron Family Papers, the Lenoir Family Papers, and the Pettigrew Family.

Making additions to collections that have been microfilmed can be a complicated matter. The best plan of attack is to consult with your supervising archivist.

4.2.2. Intentionally Assembled Collections

An accession that is not an appropriate addition to an existing collection and that is not substantial enough to warrant the establishment of even a z collection (five folders or less that can stand on their own) can sometimes be added to an “intentionally assembled" collection. Intentionally assembled collections are composed of miscellaneous items received from various sources and generated by different creators. Each intentionally assembled collection focuses on a particular type of item: letters written by a certain group of individuals; papers from and relating to a certain historical event; bound volumes used for a particular purpose; items that can be classified as belonging to a specific genre.

Although the decision to place material in an intentionally assembled collection is made during the accessioning process, it is a good idea for you to be familiar with the various collections we maintain. The first four groupings below pertain to Southern Historical Collection materials; the last grouping relates to General Manuscripts.

Collections of letters:

  • Federal Soldiers Letters, #3185. Letters by United States military personnel, April 1861-April 1865.
  • Letters are also added to:
    • Confederate Papers (Miscellaneous), #172.
    • Revolutionary War Papers, #2194.
    • University of North Carolina, Miscellaneous Personal Papers, #3129.
    • Other intentionally assembled collections, when they are mixed with other types of papers.

Collections of papers:

  • Civil War Papers (Federal, Miscellaneous), #150. Items relating to the Civil War and created by Union supporters or military personnel, April 1861-April 1865.
  • Confederate Papers (Miscellaneous), #172. Items of all types relating to the Civil War and created by Confederates, April 1861-April 1865.
  • Revolutionary War Papers, #2194. Items relating to the Revolutionary War and created 1774-1785.
  • University of North Carolina, Miscellaneous Personal Papers, #3129. Items relating to the University, which are neither diplomas nor official University Papers. Diplomas go into University of North Carolina Diplomas, #3050.

Collections of books:

  • Miscellaneous Music Books, #3396.
  • Miscellaneous Student Notebooks, #3286.
  • Scrapbooks (Miscellaneous), #1176. A scrapbook is a book of collected items of different sorts.

Collections based on genre:

  • Broadsides (Miscellaneous), #2874. A broadside is a single sheet of paper printed on one side only and usually intended for posting.
  • Miscellaneous Cures and Recipes, #2027. Includes manuscript volumes.
  • Miscellaneous Currency, #4672. Bills, stock and bond certificates, etc.
  • Miscellaneous Ephemera, #4682. Odd items such as ads, trade cards, handbills, etc., that are not "papers."
  • Miscellaneous Menus, #2082.
  • Miscellaneous Scripts, #4862.
  • University of North Carolina Diplomas (Miscellaneous), #3050.
  • Valentines and Greeting Cards, #1862.

General Manuscripts collections:

  • Miscellaneous Authors' Discrete Manuscripts, #11015.
  • Miscellaneous Foreign Letters, #11018.
  • Miscellaneous Letters, #11041.
  • Miscellaneous Papers, #11002.

The various intentionally assembled collections are internally arranged in different fashions. Your supervising archivist will tell you how to handle the arrangement scheme you are dealing with.

Although the proper intentionally assembled collection will be determined in the accessioning process, the unit or volume number may not yet be assigned when you receive the materials for processing. In determining the next available number, it is essential to check both the finding aid and the actual materials on the shelf. An addition sheet for a recent accession may not have made it to the control file or to the Public Services finding aid filing cabinet by the time another new accession requires numbering. Therefore, the actual materials on the shelf provide the most reliable way of selecting the next unit or volume number.

4.3. Finishing the Finding Aid

Upon completing your finding aid, submit it to your supervising archivist, who will review it and return it to you with questions and comments. When the finding aid is done to everyone's satisfaction, the supervising archivist will notify the departmental cataloger, who will do final editing of the finding aid. The departmental cataloger will also prepare the MARC record(s) as required and load it into the online catalog. After final editing, she may want you to review the finding aid to make sure that any changes made in the review/editing process have not led to inaccuracies and that her proposed catalog access points are adequate and accurate. The departmental cataloger also uploads the finding aid to the Department's web site. The departmental cataloger usually uploads new and revised finding aids in batches and then sends an announcement/call for comments email to Department staff.

In the end, the finding aid goes beyond you and your supervising archivist and becomes a team effort. Soliciting input from other staff members serves several purposes, not the least of which is to make formal in-house announcement of the addition of materials to the Department's holdings. This is particularly important to Public Services staff, since the more they know about what we have the better research assistance they can provide. Staff review of finding aids also allows other staff members to contribute special knowledge they may have about the individuals or topics important in your collection. They may also be aware of related collections, either within the Department or at other institutions, that researchers using your collection should know about. Finally, it is simply true that typos, inconsistencies, and unclear references that have slipped by you and your supervising archivist may be picked up by other, fresher eyes. Thus, comments on the finding aid can add to the processor’s knowledge and strengthen the finding aid as a research tool.

5.1. Preservation and You

If you had wandered through the Manuscripts Department stacks a very few years ago, you would have been amazed to see that most of our unique and valuable materials reposed in cruddy-looking corrugated boxes. If you are concerned that some (very few) collections still live in nasty containers, this section is for you. But even if you were not around to witness the slowly decomposing "O.D." boxes of the past or paid much attention to the brittle folders they contained, this section is for you, too.

Preservation of the materials in our care is a responsibility of the highest order. It is an integral part of manuscripts work at EVERY level for EVERY staff member. In fact, the title of this section might well be:


5.1.1. Consciousness Raising

If you have blithely ignored the crumbling masses of materials all around you or if you are new to the manuscripts game and have never thought about preserving the materials we handle, do not feel alone. Part of the reason that, in the not-too-distant-past, many of the Department's holdings were not housed up to "archival standards" is that those standards have been in place for a relatively short time. We must not judge our predecessors too harshly for not knowing then what we know now. Our new knowledge means nothing, however, unless we use it to help our collections survive.

For a variety of reasons, preservation of library materials has received a great deal of attention in recent years. This happy situation has its down side, however, since institutions, including manuscripts repositories, that are interested in preserving their holdings in a serious way often find themselves in fierce competition for limited dollars from a small number of potential funding agencies. Devising and implementing a program of diverse preservation activities--storage and handling procedures, temperature and relative humidity control, security, disaster preparedness, conservation--is time-consuming and expensive. It is, however, widely recognized that such a program is an essential part of the operation of any manuscripts repository.

If you review the many types of materials mentioned in this manual and do a little reading on the terrible things that can happen to poorly housed materials over time (Ritzenthaler's Archives & Manuscripts: Conservation is a good place to start), you will not need a degree in paper chemistry to realize that the problem is bigger than all of us. Fortunately, archivists tend to be a tenacious bunch, refusing to be intimidated by the volume of material in question and believing that much can be achieved through careful preservation planning.

Most materials processed at the Manuscripts Department since around 1980 have been handled in a preservation-conscious fashion, and several attacks have been made on what might be termed the preservation backlog. Most successful has been the segregation of special format materials (pictures, oversize volumes, audiotapes, videotapes, film, etc.) for their own protection and that of neighboring materials. Much retrospective rehousing has been done, and some collections (or parts of collections) have been reformatted to microfilm, a preservation measure that also enhances access. Collections processed since around 1980 have been housed, for the most part, in containers that meet current archival standards, and a limited number of individual items have received conservation treatment (deacidification, tear repair, encapsulation, etc.).

The key ingredient in the Department's continuing preservation effort is YOU. You need to develop (and influence others to develop) a preservation consciousness: a deep belief in the need for preserving our collections, coupled with work habits that are conducive to fulfilling this mission. Each time an item is handled--by us during processing, by reference staff when retrieving or refiling, by users conducting research, by preparers when mounting exhibits--the potential for damage, misplacement, or loss exists. Cultivating a preservation mentality gets newly processed collections off to a safe start and minimizes future risk to the irreplaceable materials that the Department holds.

5.1.2. Preservation/Conservation

Preservation consists of those actions that retard or prevent damage to materials. Among these are controlling the macroenvironment (temperature, relative humidity, light, etc.), providing a safe microenvironment (archivally sound housing in terms of boxes, folders, etc.), imposing preservation-wise rules for the handling of materials by staff and researchers, devising and implementing a disaster plan, and other measures. Conservation, on the other hand, is chiefly defined as bench work and is described in terms of treatments performed on individual items. These include cleaning, deacidification, tear repair, encapsulation, and other procedures. Whether or not you ever become involved in conservation, preservation is undeniably an important part of your work as a processor.

Most conservators (conservationists protect wetlands and whales, not library materials) agree that the macroenvironment is the most significant element in any preservation effort. We know, because of a monitoring program that for years took readings throughout the building, that the renovated parts of Wilson Library (the original 1929 building and the 1956 addition) are pretty satisfactory in terms of temperature and relative humidity and that the 1977 addition to the library still suffers from poor environmental controls. The macroenvironment has further been enhanced by the application of ultraviolet-filtering film to all of our windows and light sources.

So the macroenvironment is pretty much under control for part of our holdings and pretty much out of our control for the other part. As the 1977 addition requires work far beyond our ability to fund, we need to focus on what we can, in fact, control: the microenvironment--the immediate environment enclosed by the boxes and folders in which our materials are housed. This is not the place to go into the complex relations between various elements of paper, glue, etc., many of which are still only partially understood by chemists and other science types. Those wishing further information can start with Ritzenthaler's Archives & Manuscripts: Conservation and work their way through the many other publications on this topic. Suffice it to say that boxes and folders made of acidic materials tend to transfer their acids to the materials they hold, thereby accelerating the destruction of the materials they are supposed to protect.

Your preservation activities have chiefly to do with insuring that materials are appropriately housed in alkaline (non-acidic) microenvironments. You are also charged with producing clear and accurate box, folder, and item labels that promote quick and easy retrieval and refiling and prevents unnecessary handling of items. You may also be responsible for certain other procedures--unfolding and unrolling through humidification and flattening, preservation photocopying, inner foldering--and for identifying items that are candidates for professional conservation work.

Be aware, however, that the volume of materials involved makes it possible to perform intensive conservation treatments on only a small number of items. Especially with large 20th- and 21st-century collections, it is entirely possible that your preservation activities will be the only such efforts made in behalf of your collection for many, many years (if not forever). When you unfold, unroll, box, folder, and label, be aware that your preservation consciousness is a big factor in the survival potential of the materials you handle.

5.2. Procedures

All staff share in the preservation responsibilities of the Manuscripts Department. Public Services staff observe careful handling procedures and instruct researchers on how to do the same. Both Public Services staff and researchers occasionally find individual items that require conservation treatments; they are also in the best position to identify collections that desperately need rehousing.

Tech Services has responsibility for monitoring the macroenvironment, for handling newly processed materials in a preservation-conscious way, and for facilitating conservation treatments for individual items. Staff should always be on the lookout for water leaks, dramatic changes in temperature, and other signs that may signal macroenvironmental trouble. Preservation measures that are taken during processing, chiefly relating to a collection's microenvironment, are the responsibility of the processor and supervising archivist. Conservation treatments are undertaken with the Library's conservator through the Department's preservation liaison.

Preparing materials for reformatting to microfilm is another preservation measure that falls chiefly to processing staff. Reformatting to microfilm is considered the gold standard of archival preservation, but its cost is high in terms of both money and staff time. For many years the Manuscripts Department was successful in its goal of completing at least one major microfilming project per year, sometimes financed by departmental funds and sometimes with funding secured especially to finance the filming of particular collections. As of March 2006, however, the Department is no longer actively planning and implementing microfilm reformatting projects because of the University Library’s development of the Carolina Digital Library (CDL) and elimination of the Imaging and Photographic Services section of the Preservation Department. Microfilm reformatting will be driven by patron demand and outsourced to a vendor.

The Department also supports reformatting of audio materials and of moving images (chiefly video; we have very limited capabilities in film). Reformatting these materials is chiefly the province of the Sound and Image Librarian, who is charged with supervision of the Rivers Studio (sound) and the Jones Studio (video). It is not likely that you will be directly involved in reformatting of these media, with the possible exception of making listening copies of audiocassette tapes.

5.2.1. Outside Assistance

The difference between preservation and conservation has already been discussed. As a processor, you are chiefly involved in preservation. While you may occasionally do some simple work on individual items (inner foldering, humidification, flattening, preservation photocopying), for the most part, your duties in this area will involve selecting items as candidates for conservation treatments by others.

Even though your role in conservation is pretty peripheral, you should be aware that conservation is serious business, and those who are good at it have learned to proceed with caution. Remember that almost all of our items are unique and many of them are quite valuable.

As you handle materials in different collections, you will most likely encounter some items that have been "repaired" by loving but unskilled hands. Typically, these "repairs" cause a great deal more harm than good. Those brown stains indicate that the pieces of pressure-sensitive tape applied 30 years ago by some well-intentioned descendent are destroying the ancestral letters they were meant to preserve.

Conservation is not a do-it-yourself job. The Library's conservator, in consultation with Tech Services staff, typically decides what treatments specific items require. The possibilities include tear repair using heat-set or Japanese tissue, encapsulation in archivally approved plastic, cleaning, ironing, deacidification, adhesive removal, and other treatments, all of which require the services of a highly trained conservation professional. This Library is fortunate to have top-rate conservation personnel and facilities. The Department takes full advantage of these capabilities to the extent of paying the salary of a student who is trained by the conservator to work exclusively on our materials. Removing Items for Conservation Treatment

Deciding which items to remove for treatment in the Library's Conservation Lab is not always easy. Most conservation treatments are extremely labor intensive, and no one has the human resources that it would take to perform all of the treatments that might be carried out. We must, therefore, exercise considerable restraint when selecting items to be sent to the Lab, often passing over items that might, in the best of all possible worlds, be considered worthy candidates. Things to bear in mind when contemplating conservation treatments are:

  • the preservation-intensity level that you and your supervising archivist discussed during processing planning;
  • the research value of the collection or series and of the particular items selected (even in a high-value collection, it is unlikely that all items merit conservation treatment);
  • the potential number of items that might be selected (are there 10 or 10,000 items that are candidates for conservation work?);
  • the type of treatment(s) required (there is a great difference between encapsulating a few items and cleaning, tear repairing, and boxing an extremely fragile account book);
  • the future preservation work that has been planned for the collection (if the collection is a strong candidate for reformatting, repairs to individual items will generally be kept to a minimum).

When you do pull items for treatment in the Conservation Lab, you must be careful to leave a clear trail so that the pulled material can be returned to its rightful place. The conservation removal slip was devised to assist in this process. Each conservation removal slip is prepared in duplicate, one copy going with the removed item and one remaining behind to mark the item's permanent home in the collection. Accurate refiling is pretty much guaranteed by matching up the two copies of the conservation removal slip when the item returns from the Lab.

A good way of insuring the refilability of conservation items is to prepare conservation removal slips as you arrange and describe. Use the Public Services call slips and be sure to fill in the collection number, collection name, box and folder to which the item should be returned, a very brief description of the item, who is removing the item, and the date of removal.

There are two ways to handle removal of conservation candidates using conservation removal slips, both of which involve filling out the duplicate slips when the item is discovered:

  • You can keep the two conservation removal slips and the original item together during processing, removing the original and one copy when the arrangement is firm. That way, you can easily fill in the box and folder number on the slips.
  • You can use one of the slips to represent the item as you process. This way is better for very fragile items, but you must remember to fill in the box and folder numbers when the arrangement scheme becomes firm.

Whichever method you use, in the end, you should place conservation candidates with one copy of their conservation removal slips in folders for easy handling. Several items from one collection may be foldered together. Give the folder to your supervising archivist or to the preservation liaison, who will take it from there.

5.2.2. What You Can Do

Like everything else in manuscripts work, no hard and fast rules can be applied to determine the preservation requirements of the collections you process. Once again, it is important to understand the relationship among the chief processing procedures. Minimal processing in terms of arranging, describing, and cataloging usually implies minimal attention to preservation. When, for whatever reason, a collection is slated for lite processing, it is likely that the collection will simply be re-boxed and labeled. On the other hand, when particularly intensive processing is to be carried out, equally intensive preservation and conservation measures may be indicated.

As the depth and intensity of arranging, describing, and cataloging largely depend on the collection's research value, so the extent of preservation work actually performed on a collection is determined, to a large degree, by how valuable the material is. Value here is chiefly in terms of research value, although many of our items also have great artifactual value (autographs, etc.). It would make little sense to apply extensive, time-consuming preservation or conservation measures to materials that are of minimal research value. On the other hand, it makes a great deal of sense to devote considerable effort to a collection containing materials of great value, whose loss would have serious consequences for research in one or more subject areas.

Besides research value, the extent of preservation activities is also influenced by the volume of materials in a collection. For large collections, the sheer bulk of materials involved requires that we take a hard look at the preservation/conservation work we undertake. Manuscripts preservation work sometimes looks at artifactually valuable items, but most commonly proceeds on the basis of groups of materials. This is, of course, consistent with other procedures--arranging, describing, and cataloging--that treat manuscript materials in the aggregate. You will find that housing collections in archivally sound boxes and folders and carefully labeling them to make retrieval easier (and thereby discouraging unnecessary handling) are the most frequently prescribed measures for an intensive processing project.

Sometimes, we can go further than that, however. Particularly with smaller collections containing valuable materials, you are likely to carry out more procedures like unfolding and unrolling items, humidifying and flattening, inner foldering, removing fasteners, determining how to handle highly acidic materials, preservation photocopying, and, as discussed above, removing especially significant items for conservation treatment.

The following preservation activities may not be indicated for every collection that you process, especially if you are lite processing. Depending on factors like research value and size, you and your supervising archivist may decide that all, some, or none of these measures are appropriate.

Before you get very far into the initial stages of processing your collection, make sure that you and your supervising archivist are in agreement about how much preservation work the collection will receive in addition to routine housing and labeling. It is a real waste of time to have to go back through a collection to remove acidic materials that should have been dealt with the first time through. It is also somewhat demoralizing to have spent your valuable time worrying over rusty fasteners in a collection that will only see a few researchers over time. Unfolding/Unrolling/Humidification/Flattening

Unfolding or unrolling items is not always as easy as you might think, since materials that have been folded or rolled for many years may be difficult to flatten without damaging them. Given the time, effort, and risk involved, it is unlikely that you will do much unfolding if you are lite processing; however, you may end up unrolling materials when lite processing simply because of the storage challenges of rolled items. If your processing project calls for unfolding and/or unrolling, follow the guidelines below.

If the paper is quite flexible, it may be possible to unfold an item and gently and briefly fold it in the opposite direction to flatten it. No attempt should be made to eradicate fold lines; since folding generally results in broken paper fibers, fold lines must be considered permanent markings. It is a good idea to press very gently against fold lines with a bone folder to minimize the fold ridge. Unrolling flexible paper is often a matter of rolling items in the opposite direction around a tube, spreading the items out on a flat surface, and applying pressure to prevent curling.

When paper is not flexible or is in some other way damaged, items may be difficult to unfold or unroll. Such items require humidification to relax fibers that are locked into distorted positions. Consult with your supervising archivist about whether or not materials should be humidified (especially photographic materials) and, if so, for how long. If you do place materials in the Department's sophisticated humidification chamber (the gray plastic garbage can with the sponge and screen), you are responsible for removing items from the chamber in a timely fashion. Materials left too long in the chamber risk being turned to pap by overexposure to moisture.

For more information on humidifying and flattening using the humidification chamber system, see [How to Humidify and Flatten Documents]

Note that, in some instances, it is acceptable to store items folded or rolled. In fact, stationery that was meant to be used with a fold should be flattened only to return it to the condition in which it was used by the letter writer. Many sheets are thus stored folded in half. If an insignificant folded item would force the creation of an oversize category, you may decide to leave the item folded. On occasion, rolled items simply cannot be unrolled, but must be filed in their rolled state. If you think that you have an item in this category, see section # Items Separated. and consult with your supervising archivist. Removing Fasteners

Fasteners staples, paper clips, pins, rubber bands--are the most common type of damaging materials found in collections. Except for those made of brass, all metal fasteners rust, leaving permanent stains on papers. Fasteners often tear manuscripts as paper is flexed against them over long periods of time. Rubber bands dry out, disintegrate, and discolor paper. Not only do fasteners damage the paper they bind, they can abrade and stain adjacent items.

In the best of all possible worlds, all fasteners would be removed from all collections. In reality, however, it is rarely practical to remove them all. In fact, if you are lite processing you should turn a blind eye to any and all fasteners. It is counterproductive to invest time in removing them and reestablishing the relationship among leaves of materials. When your collection does call for intensive processing, most of the time it is possible to remove rubber bands and to transfer materials from binders with metal parts to folders. Often you also can remove metal paper clips (almost ALWAYS if they are rusty). Very frequently, staples are left intact because of the time and effort it would take to remove them and because the damage they might do as they are removed exceeds the damage they may do over time.

Removal of fasteners should proceed gingerly, so that no damage results.

  • Safe removal of staples means lifting each folded prong with a microspatula and then using the microspatula to lift the staple out.
  • Rusted paper clips should be gently pried up from the surface of the paper with the microspatula and then slipped off.
  • Remnants of desiccated rubber bands should be lifted off the paper's surface with a microspatula.
  • Brass studs or grommets should be left intact since their removal is certain to cause more damage than their presence.
  • Note that you should not attempt to separate glued or taped items that do not come apart easily. If separation is called for, remove these items from the collection for evaluation as conservation candidates.

Removal of fasteners should proceed so that the relationship between the leaves that had been fastened together is preserved. Often the relationship between one leaf and another is clear without fasteners or other aids. When the relation is evident from the materials themselves, you may simply let them lie there together (e.g., page two of a letter may be obviously related to page one since the stationery is the same for the two pages, but different from other leaves in the file; all pages of a typescript may already be clearly marked to show that they are from the same manuscript).

When fastener removal makes relationships among previously linked leaves unclear, one of three techniques may be employed to insure that the relationships are not lost. Consult with your supervising archivist to determine which of these options is best for your collection:

  • Materials may be annotated in the upper right hand corners to mark them as belonging together. Annotating is the most satisfactory option for preserving the relationship of one piece of paper to another, but it is also the most time consuming.
  • Plastic-coated paper clips may be used.
  • Inner folders may be created. Inner folders are made from large sheets of alkaline paper that are folded in half. Several sizes of paper are available. If appropriate, stamp the inner folder in red with "FRAGILE" and/or "PLEASE HANDLE CAREFULLY."

Please do not discard odd-looking fasteners without considering their eligibility for inclusion in the Tech Services Fascinating Fasteners Collection. See your supervising archivist for details. Handling Highly Acidic Materials

When highly acidic materials are interfiled with other items in a collection, acid can migrate from the acidic materials to their neighbors. The transferred acid may not only stain materials over time, but also may accelerate their embrittlement. Newspaper clippings are the most frequently encountered acidic materials. Others include pulpy (usually brown or yellow) papers from the early 20th century and organic materials like pressed flowers or locks of hair ("hairlooms" is the technical term).

There are several options for handling highly acidic materials; three of the most common are listed below. Note that organic materials should always be removed, but that, if these materials have informational value, you may use option three below.

  • Remove all highly acidic materials and place them in their own series or subseries. This works when the highly acidic materials can logically be grouped in a format-based series or subseries (e.g., a clippings series) or in a separate folder or folders within a series or subseries (e.g., a folder in a writings series). When highly acidic materials are closely related to other items, however, that relationship should be maintained (e.g., a clipping enclosed and referred to in a letter).
  • Enclose highly acidic materials in inner folders made of alkaline paper and interfile the foldered materials in the regular order. Inner folders are made from large sheets of alkaline paper that are folded in half. Several sizes of paper are available. Inner folders are annotated with their contents on the front top right-hand corner (in a chronological run, just the date will suffice) and, if appropriate, stamped in red with "FRAGILE" and/or "PLEASE HANDLE CAREFULLY." If the acidic materials are newspaper clippings, you may group them together in one inner folder filed at the back of the folder. It is not necessary to annotate the inner folder with the contents.
  • Preservation photocopy highly acidic materials, interfile the photocopies, and remove the originals or place them in inner folders. Photocopying a document onto alkaline paper is also an excellent way to preserve its contents and to shield the original from future handling. Preservation photocopying requires skills that most processors already possess--handling documents with great care and operating photocopiers. To be eligible for preservation photocopying, there must be sufficient contrast between the contents and the background color of the paper for a legible photocopy to be made. Faded brown ink on ecru paper usually does not copy satisfactorily. Preservation photocopying proceeds like any other photocopying except that you must use only alkaline paper (available in Tech Services). After photocopying, newspaper clippings are often put in the discard or return pile. Documents other than clippings, however, are often retained. In this case, place the original in an inner folder annotated to reflect its contents and stamped in red with "VERY FRAGILE" and "PLEASE DO NOT OPEN." See How to Preservation Photocopy for preservation photocopying guidelines.

Highly acidic materials may be handled in various ways within the same collection. You may remove the bulk of the clippings to a clippings series, subseries, or folders within a series or subseries, and photocopy or inner-folder those clippings that need to remain with particular letters. Or in the case of a lite processing project, you might do nothing at all because it would be too time consuming to separate highly acidic materials and/or an overkill of effort given the research and artifactual value of the collection. Housing and Labeling

The following was written in 1988 as part of a Manuscripts Department grant application that sought funding for rehousing a good portion of the Department's holdings. It shows where we were in 1988 and briefly lays out the significance of rehousing materials in archivally approved containers:

Conservation professionals have come to consider rehousing in alkaline folders and boxes the most significant collection-level step that an archival repository can take to retard paper deterioration. Most of the Southern Historical Collection's material acquired before 1980 ... is housed in highly acidic folders and acidic, badly embrittled, corrugated cardboard boxes. These containers actually accelerate the decay of their contents by transferring acid to the papers they touch and by emitting peroxides and other harmful by-products into the microenvironment enclosed by the boxes.

In the last few years, the significance of proper housing for archival materials has been emphasized often by authorities in the field. Margaret Child, Assistant Director of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, noted in September 1988 that if an archival collection "is boxed or wrapped in acid-free paper and stored in a well-maintained, temperature- and humidity-controlled facility, it can in fact be considered to be preserved." The panel of scientists and others who produced "Preservation of Historical Records" (1986), a report commissioned by the National Archives, made archival housing the focus of one of its three "Recommendations on Mass Treatment." These expert consultants suggested that archival storage containers may well obviate the need for other, more costly steps. Beyond the physical value of rehousing, neat, carefully labeled, state-of-the-art folders and boxes convey a sense of the value of their contents and thus encourage care in handling by researchers, care that is actively discouraged by crumbling, overstuffed containers. The rehousing accomplished in this project will extend the availability of documents critical to scholarly research in the humanities for decades, even centuries.

Fortunately, the grant application was successful. Because of the work it supported, much of the Southern Historical Collection's rehousing backlog was eliminated. It is up to you to carry on this work in a way that meets these preservation standards in balance with our commitment to make our collections accessible to researchers in a timely fashion.

When you take materials out of acidic liquor cartons, manila folders, kraft-paper envelopes, and place them in alkaline housing, you are taking an important step in preserving them. Likewise, when you take the additional step of segregating oversize items and special-format materials (pictures, audiotapes, etc.) and housing them with other such materials, you are not only protecting the special-format materials, but avoiding the damage they can cause to other materials when they are interfiled with a relatively uniform run of foldered papers. When you clearly label the contents of a collection, you decrease the need to rifle through other materials in search of the desired items, thus reducing the wear and tear materials must endure.

Researchers of the future will bless the unknown hands that made possible the survival of the raw materials of history. Those hands are yours.

But when you are lite processing you might not exercise any of these preservation measures and that is okay, too. Your collection may not warrant these more intensive measures for reasons of physical condition, size, or research value. Whatever the reason, do not assume that your collection is doomed to a short life. In truth, we do not really know how much extra time we are buying for original materials above and beyond their preordained lifespan when we take these preservation steps. Ease your mind with the knowledge that you are serving the researchers of today and tomorrow, if not the forever future, by speeding a collection along the path from accession to open for research. Should it later come to our attention that the collection is handled much more than anticipated, the application of more intensive preservation is always an option. Boxes

Hollingers record cartons.jpg Several styles of boxes are used in Tech Services. All of them are ostensibly "acid-free," but some boxes are simply more alkaline than others. "Acid-free" should mean that boxes start out with a pH around 8.5. Boards used in gray/white document cases typically have a 3% calcium carbonate buffer, which allows them to remain alkaline much longer than non-buffered boxes. We have yet to find record center boxes that are as preservationally sound as document cases. We like to claim that placing materials in record center boxes is temporary storage; with housing all materials in document cases the ultimate goal. The reality is that having some materials in record center boxes is just a fact of life.

You will notice a small number of collections housed in tan document cases. These are "acid-free/lignin-free" boxes. For a short time, we contemplated using these Cadillacs of the box world for all collections. Because materials rarely come in direct contact with boxes, however, we decided that it would be more sensible in microenvironmental (and fiscal) terms to use Cadillac-quality folders inside Chevrolet boxes (the ubiquitous gray/white jobbies).

You should consult with your supervising archivist about what type of box is right for your collection. Document cases are always preferred, but in cases of lite processing may not always be feasible. In any case, be sure to neither overfill nor underfill boxes. Overfilling means that materials will become distorted over time and/or risk being damaged when they are removed and refiled. Underfilling means that folders will lean at an unhealthy angle that causes them and their contents to curl at the top or bottom. Clever little cardboard follower blocks, made from alkaline board, are readily available to fill unused space and make folders stand erect in any type of box.

Box labels should contain the information necessary to promote quick and easy retrieval and refiling, which prevents unnecessary handling of materials. Essential box label elements are: collection number, collection creator, series/subseries number(s), folder numbers, and box number.

If all or some materials in a box are restricted, be sure to stamp "RESTRICTED" in red on the box label to alert Public Services staff to advise patrons of the restriction. AppendixE08.JPG

Closed items are always isolated in their own boxes and filed at the end of the collection. The box label minimally should include the collection number, the collection creator, and be stamped “CLOSED” in red on the label. Series or subseries information may be included on the label if appropriate. Folders

AppendixE01.JPG Folders offer support and protection to the materials they house. Clear and accurate folder labels promote quick and easy retrieval and refiling, which prevents unnecessary handling of items. All folders used in Tech Services in recent times are alkaline ("acid-free") and lignin-free. They also have a 3% calcium carbonate buffer, which enables them to retain their alkalinity for a longer time after contact with acidic materials. Letter-size folders hold items up to 8-1/2 by 11 inches or so; legal-size folders hold items up to 8-1/2 by 14 inches or so. Larger items, except those that can be SAFELY folded ONCE to fit in letter-size or legal-size folders, call for oversize housing.

We almost always use legal-size folders in Tech Services. To prevent dangerous shifting of materials, folders must snugly fit their box both in length and in width. Follower blocks take care of the slack when there are not enough folders to fill a box. Document cases require legal-size folders to fill the length requirement. You may use either legal- or letter-size folders in record center boxes, depending on which size better accommodates the materials you are housing. When only a few legal-size items are present in a collection destined for a records center box, these items may be stored folded so that the contents of the box can be housed in letter-size folders. What you cannot do is mix legal- and letter-size folders in the same box. If you do that, the letter-size folders will slide around in an unhealthy fashion. Lite processing, however, allows for original letter size folders to be grouped together in legal size folders to prevent sliding around in a document case.

The amount of material that can safely be placed in a folder depends upon the condition of the material and its value. For physical protection of an item or for security, only one item might be placed in a folder. When items are brittle, only a few should be placed in a folder to avoid excessive abrasion. The occasional fragile, acidic, or slightly-torn item in an otherwise stable folder can often be protected by enclosing it in an inner folder.

Except for folders containing only one or two leaves, all folders should be "squared." Use the pre-scored lines to "square" the edge of a folder to allow papers to stand vertically along the bottom. Place as many items as can fit easily into a folder squared to 1/4-1/2 inch. Each document should be able to stand up straight along the bottom of the folder without curling on the edge. Sturdier or thicker items (multipage reports, for example) may fill a folder more fully. Except to accommodate bulky items that can not be split easily between two or more folders, it is rarely advisable to square folders beyond 1/2 inch.

Volumes that can comfortably fit in folders should be placed, spine down, in folders and added in the correct order within the collection’s folder numbering system. Length and width are primary considerations, but thickness also counts. You may decide that a volume of greater thickness than that provided by the pre-scored lines on folder bottoms is too large for normal foldering, although wide volumes can sometimes be comfortably accommodated by creating your own folds along the folder bottom. More than one volume occasionally may be housed in one folder, depending, of course, on the dimensions of the volumes involved.

Volumes housed in bulky looseleaf binders should be removed from the binders and placed in a folder or folders. Information of value appearing on the binder may be photocopied onto acid-free paper and preserved with the inner pages. Any volume that cannot be foldered, whether too large in height, width, or depth, is treated as a "separated" volume. See Housing Separated Volumes for information on housing separated volumes.

When we folder or refolder materials, three elements make up a folder label:

  • collection number and collection creator;
  • contents of the folder, and
  • if there are series/subseries, include the series/subseries number
  • date of addition (if an addition to an existing collection)
  • if you have more than one folder for similar items, add a number in parentheses to the contents area (1 of n, 2 of n, etc.);
  • folder number
  • When you are sure you have placed every item in the collection where it should be, number folders sequentially throughout the collection. Begin at Series 1 with Folder 1 and continue in one run of numbers through all of the series until you reach the end.

How much information appears on the folder label depends on the particular situation. Consult with your supervising archivist if you have difficulty determining how specific your folder labels need to be.

When foldering chronologized items, try to make reasonable folder breaks. Group by months, half-months, three-month spans, six-month spans, years, but avoid strange breaks like "3 January-13 February 1903." The same rule holds for alphabetized runs, where single letters or letter spans are fine, but "A-Cun" then "Cuo-Di" should be avoided. Note that a folder holding all material for the period April-July 1946 should be labeled "April-July 1946" even if there is no material for some days (even days in early April or late July). If one folder holds materials dated January-June 1888 and the next item is dated October 1888, start the next folder with October, not July. You may want to note in the description that there are no items for July-September 1888.

Folder labels may be handwritten (always in pencil). Alternatively, the collection number and collection creator may be stamped (see the Make-A-Stamp kits), as may the series designations (stamps reading "Series 1" through "Series 12" plus a generic "Series" stamp are available). Stamps also exist for some frequently used series names (e.g., correspondence and writings). Stick-on labels, which were used extensively in the past, are not used because they tend to fall off over time.

In some situations, you will not refolder unless the original folders are hanging files or are not labeled clearly or are in danger of losing an existing label. You will not add the collection number, collection creator, series information, addition date, or accession number to original folders. Even when we do not refolder materials, we still number the folders. See this blog entryfor a description of how to handle numbering when you do not refolder.

Regardless of processing level, restricted materials should be isolated in their own folders and labeled "RESTRICTED." Stamp or write "RESTRICTED" in red in a clearly visible place on the folder tab and explain the restriction on the front flap of the folder. Restricted folders do not necessarily need to be isolated in their own boxes if the restriction does not prohibit all access by researchers. If the item(s) is closed to all researchers, place a dummy folder/separation sheet where the item(s) intellectually belongs, then put the item(s) in a folder in a separate box at the end of the collection with CLOSED stamped on the folder and the box. Write the terms of the restriction in red on the folder. Items Separated

Most of the materials in our collections are housed in standard archival folders and boxes. Some items, however, because of their size or other physical characteristics, cannot be housed in such containers. When items are separated from their collections for storage elsewhere, they are known as "items separated." Separating these items not only protects them, it also protects other materials in their collections from the damage these items might otherwise cause.

Note that separating items physically has little impact on how you arrange or describe them. These items should be listed and discussed where they belong INTELLECTUALLY in your collection.

The following discusses housing and labeling the different classes of the most common items separated.

Oversize Papers

Papers that do not fit into legal- or letter-size folders are typically separated from their collections. Note that folding large items is often permissible if the item is of low artifactual value. The decision to fold, however, should be made in consultation with your supervising archivist. Cutting large items down to size is not acceptable.

Oversize papers are numbered starting with OP-0000/1 or XOP-0000/1 where OP (for oversize papers) or XOP (for extra large oversize papers) is followed by the collection number and the individual item number. If you have both oversize and extra large oversize papers in your collection, you will have two runs of numbers (OP-0000/1, OP-0000/2, OP-0000/3, etc.; XOP-0000/1, XOP-0000/2, XOP-0000/3, etc.). Describing oversize papers at the folder level is also an option. In that case, use the Oversize Paper Folder (container type: opaperfolder) or Extra Oversize Paper Folder (container type: xopaperfolder).

The extra large designation is a relatively new development in the history of oversize papers at the SHC. In the past, all oversize papers were numbered OP-0000/n, regardless of whether they were housed in the grey boxes or in the map cases. A filing system and a coded list of oversize papers with Series A (map cases) and Series B (grey boxes) assignations steered Public Services staff to the location of the item. This system became increasingly unwieldy and is superseded by the OP/XOP runs.

Oversize papers, whether described at the item or folder level, should always be stored flat in large alkaline-paper folders (map folders): OP-0000 fits snugly in folders that are filed in flat gray boxes and XOP-0000 fits snugly in the 36x48 folders that are filed in the drawers of the map cases . This two-tiered system prevents the smaller oversize papers from slipping out of the folders when the map drawers are opened. Stacked folders of uniform size are also easier to flip through for retrieval of materials, especially when they are consistently labeled as described below. Choose whichever folder size accommodates the materials you have. You may enclose multiple items in each folder, but do not overstuff the folder such that the materials are at risk of injury each time an unwieldy folder is removed from the gray boxes or map cases.

In some cases, if items are sturdy, you may store un-foldered materials in oversize flat grey boxes. Here, you may describe at the box level, and use the designation Oversize Box (containertype: obox).

Oversize papers or pictures folder (OP-/OP-P-):


Extra oversize papers or pictures folder (XOP-/XOP-P-):


Rolled Items

Several drawers at the end of the oversize papers in the map cases have been reserved for items that cannot or should not be unrolled. Consult with you supervising archivist about whether or not to unroll a questionable item.

Rolled items should be marked clearly, starting with R-0000/1, where R (for rolled item) is followed by the collection number and the individual item number.

Restricted items should be clearly marked "RESTRICTED" in pencil, since you will be writing directly on the items.

Separated Volumes

Any volume that cannot be foldered is a separated (S) volume. S volumes should be marked clearly with SV-0000/n, where SV (for separated volume) is followed by the collection number and the individual volume number. Some separated volumes have custom boxes, but most are wrapped in alkaline paper and tied with linen tape to keep out dust and reduce abrasion. Separated volumes that likely will be used frequently may sit naked on the shelf because frequent use prevents dust from settling for too long on the volume. Separated volumes that are too large for wrapping or not valuable enough for custom boxes may be housed in a flat box (more than one volume may be housed in one box) or, as a last resort, sit naked on the shelf.

Separated volumes (S-):



Elsewhere, we have discussed when to separate pictures from their collections and how to describe individual and batched pictures if you do. Unless they are oversize or a special format, pictures that have been separated from their collections are stored in lightly filled folders. Overfilling folders with photographs is especially dangerous, since photographic emulsions are easily cracked.

If you have five or fewer picture folders, file them with the Photo z run in collection-number order. If you have 6 or more picture folders, place them in a document case(s) and file them at the end of your collection. Begin numbering the picture box(es) with Box 1.

As always, there are exceptions to this filing system:

  • Oversize pictures receive item/folder numbers starting with OP-P-0000/1 if they can be stored in the flat grey 16x20 boxes, or with XOP-P-0000/1 if they are to be stored in map cases after the rolled paper drawers.
    • Labeling oversize and extra large oversize picture folders is a simple affair. With the fold at the top, label the bottom right edge so that it is easy to see collection numbers as you flip through the folders in the grey/white flat boxes and map cases. Label flat box folders with OP-P-0000, where OP-P is for oversize papers picture and is followed by the collection number. Label map case folders with XOP-P-0000, where the XOP-P indicates extra large oversize papers picture and is followed by the collection number. The collection creator can be added under the collection number. Number the folders according to how many are in each run (e.g., #1 of 1; #3 of 6).
    • The extra large designation is a relatively new development in the history of oversize pictures at the SHC. In the past, all oversize pictures were numbered OP-P-0000/n, regardless of whether they were housed in the grey boxes or in the map cases. A filing system and a coded list of oversize pictures with Series A (map cases) and Series B (grey boxes) assignations steered Public Services staff to the location of the item. This system became increasingly unwieldy and is superceded by the OP-P/XOP-P runs.
  • Such special format photographs as daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes receive item numbers starting with SF-P-0000/1 and are placed in an alkaline envelope labeled with the item number. One or two envelopes then go into a small box labeled with the item number(s). The small boxes are placed in larger grey boxes, which are labeled and placed on the shelves with the other special format photographs. James M. Reilly's Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints will assist you in determining what process produced the strange-looking images in your collection.
  • Photographic negatives, if intensively processed, should be placed in individual negative envelopes, labeled with the P number from the corresponding positive print or the collection number and a brief description of the print if not individually numbered, and then filed in the negative file. The back of the print should be stamped “Negative on file.” Because they are so fragile, glass negatives have their own file, as do oversize negatives (those too large for the main negative file). If you are lite processing a collection, treat the bulk negatives just as you have treated the bulk photographs and file them with the regular picture run. If any of your negatives smell of vinegar, immediately report this to your supervising processor.
  • Picture albums, which are separated volumes and receive item numbers starting with the prefix PA-0000/1, are boxed using clamshell or large flat grey boxes, or are wrapped in alkaline paper and tied with linen tape to keep out dust and reduce abrasion. Boxes are labeled with the item number and collection creator using the regular box labels and then filed with other separated volumes. You need not number the individual pictures in the album, but your description should provide the same level of detail (including the approximate number of images) as you would in a batch description of individual images.

Restricted pictures of all sizes and formats should be isolated in their own folders. Stamp or write "RESTRICTED" in red in a clearly visible place on the folder tab. The restriction should be written in red on the front side of the envelope/folder/box.

Photograph album box (PA-):


Wrapped photograph albums (PA-):


Special format inner picture box (SF-P-):


Special format picture box (SF-P-):



It is rare that we retain microforms (microfilm or microfiche) that arrive with a collection. For those rare times when we do retain microforms, the following procedures should be followed.

Microfilm should be labeled starting with M-0000/1, where the M (for microfilm) is followed by the collection number and the item number.

The few microfiche that we retain should be labeled in the top right-hand corner beginning with MF-0000/1, where the MF (for microfiche) is followed by the collection number and the item number, and stored in the designated microfiche bin in collection-number order.

Microforms are rarely restricted, but if a restricted microform were to arrive, be sure to stamp or write "RESTRICTED" in red on the item in a clearly visible place.

In some situations, it is perfectly reasonable to put any microforms in a box without individually numbering or describing each item.

Electronic Media

Electronic media includes computer discs and tapes. Because of playback considerations, we have a case-by-case policy for preserving electronic media. If you believe that the information on these electronic media is valuable, consult with your supervising archivist about whether or not trying to obtain hard copies makes sense. Keep in mind that there are some computer files that cannot really be printed out (e.g., databases, whose use depends upon the ability to manipulate records or files). If a hard copy is available, consult with your supervising archivist about whether or not the electronic format should be retained. If there is no hard copy and if printing is not reasonable, retain the media with the collection as described below.

Floppy discs

If you are intensive processing, number each floppy starting with FD-0000/1, where FD (for floppy disc) is followed by the collection number and the number of the individual item. Place the floppies in alkaline envelopes and place the envelopes in folders. In some situations, you will not number the individual floppies; place them in envelopes, folders, or boxes as appropriate.

Computer tapes

These are currently housed in record center boxes and kept with their collections. Computer tapes are, therefore, not treated as items separated at this point. In some situations, they will, however, receive item numbers starting with CT-0000/1, where CT (for computer tape) is followed by the collection number and the number of the individual item.

Compact discs

We distinguish between data compact discs (DCD), music compact discs (CD), and digital video discs (DVD), but they are all labeled in much the same way. Number each discs with item numbers starting with the prefix, for example DCD-0000/1, where DCD is followed by the collection number and the number of the individual item. Discs usually arrive with their own jewel cases. Discs that arrive without jewel cases must be cased before they are shelved. Supplies of jewel boxes for discs that do not have their own boxes are usually on hand in the Southern Folklife Collection; paper inserts for the jewel boxes are usually also available. Label the discs on the spine and front of the paper insert. Also write the item number on the outer edge of the DCD with a special CD marking pen (see your supervising archivist, the sound and image librarian, or the audio engineer).

Make sure that any restricted items are clearly marked "RESTRICTED.” Use your judgment as to whether stamping in red or writing in red magic marker or in pencil is most appropriate for a particular item.

CD or DVD (CD-/DVD-):


Data CD (DCD-):


CD or DVD or DCD box (CD-/DVD-/DCD-):


Audiodiscs (a.k.a. vinyl)

Audiodiscs should be stored in their own record jackets. If they have no jackets, place them in alkaline jackets, usually on hand in the Southern Folklife Collection. Audiodiscs receive item numbers starting with D-0000/1, where D (for disc) is followed by the collection number and the number of the individual disc. Write the item number in the upper right corner of the jacket.

Make sure that any restricted items are clearly marked "RESTRICTED.” Use your judgment as to whether stamping in red or writing in red magic marker or in pencil is most appropriate for a particular item.

Audiodiscs (D-) and audiodisc box: Multiple collections:


Audiotapes (Open-Reel and Cassette Tapes)

Audiotapes usually arrive in their own containers: cardboard boxes for most open-reel tapes and plastic cases for most cassette tapes. Audiotapes that arrive without containers must be boxed before they are shelved. Supplies of boxes and cases for tapes that do not have their own containers are usually on hand in the Southern Folklife Collection; paper inserts (J cards) for cassette cases are usually also available. If you are intensive processing, reel-to-reel audiotapes receive item numbers starting with T-0000/1, where T (for tape) is followed by the collection number and the number of the individual audiotape. Label the item itself and on the spine or front of the box. Audiocassettes receive item numbers starting with C-0000/1, where C (for cassette) is followed by the collection number and the number of the individual audiotape. Label the cassette itself and the spine of the J card. If you are lite processing, you will not number the individual tapes; place them in cases and boxes as appropriate. Before shelving, make a quick visual inspection for mold; if there is mold, consult with the Sound and Image Librarian.

Make sure that any restricted items are clearly marked "RESTRICTED.” Use your judgment as to whether stamping in red or writing in red magic marker or in pencil is most appropriate for a particular item.

Audiotape (T-):


Audiocassette (C-):



Films are usually received with their own boxes or canisters. If a strange and unpleasant odor emanates from the film, you may be dealing with nitrate-based film. If you can detect the unpleasant odor before the canister is opened, DO NOT OPEN THE CAN. This film, used between around 1915 and, with decreasing frequency, as late as 1950, is highly unstable and can be dangerous. If you think that you have nitrate-based film, consult with a supervising archivist immediately.

If films do not have their own boxes or canisters, how to provide archivally approved housing will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Consult with your supervising archivist on the available options.

If you are intensive processing, films receive item numbers starting with F-0000/1, where F (for film) is followed by the collection number and the number of the individual film. If the container will not take pencil, use a black magic marker to label films with their item numbers. If you are lite processing, you will not number the individual films; store them as appropriate.

Make sure that any restricted items are clearly marked "RESTRICTED." Use your judgment as to whether stamping in red or writing in red magic marker or in pencil is most appropriate for a particular item.

Film (F-):



Most video tapes arrive in their own plastic cases. In the event of an uncased videotape, supplies of plastic cases are usually on hand in the Southern Folklife Collection. If you are intensive processing, label the videotape and videotape case with VT-0000/1, where VT (for videotape) is followed by the collection number and the individual item number. You may have to create labels for the tape and the case. Supplies of archivally sound labels are usually on hand in the Southern Folklife Collection. If you are lite processing, you will not number the individual tapes; place them in plastic cases and boxes as appropriate.

Make sure that any restricted items are clearly marked "RESTRICTED.” Use your judgment as to whether stamping in red or writing in red magic marker or in pencil is most appropriate for a particular item.

Videotape (VT-):


Museum Items

Even though they reside in another part of Wilson Library, museum items are still part of the collection with which they arrived. They are simply items separated by a greater distance than other items. We share responsibility for museum items with the North Carolina Collection.

As noted in Arranging, museum items are rarely accepted by the Manuscripts Department. When it is necessary to accept such an item, it is transferred to the care of museum professionals at the North Carolina Collection Gallery. As with other transferred materials, we need to create a trail that documents the transfer. Museum items differ from other transferred materials, however, in that they remain part of the collection from which they came, and we, therefore, must carefully record information about them. To transfer an item, write a short memo documenting the transaction. Include the item number, the collection title, a brief description of the item, any restrictions on the item's use, the date transferred, and by whom. Make two copies of the memo, one to accompany the item to the North Carolina Collection Gallery and one to file in the collection's control file.

Museum items receive item numbers starting with MU-0000/1, where MU (for museum item) is followed by the collection number and the number of the individual item. Instructions for transferring a museum item can be found in # Items Separated.

For items with no apparent artifactual value, consult your supervising archivist. Typically we offer to return these items to the donor, but on occasion, these items are placed in acid free envelopes and folders and filed with the collection without the MU designation. Only assign an MU number to materials that will be transferred to the North Carolina Collection Gallery.


     TO:      Neil Fulghum, Keeper
              North Carolina Collection Gallery

     FROM:    Sarah Weiss, Research Assistant
              Manuscripts Department

    SUBJECT: Museum Items

    DATE: 18 June 2004

    The accompanying items are part of the Robeson Family Papers (#5130) in the
    Southern Historical Collection:

    MU-5130/1: Woodsmen of the World badge

    MU-5130/2: U.S. Maritime Service patch

    MU-5130/3: U.S. Maritime Service pin

    MU-5130/4: U.S. Maritime Service buttons (5)

    MU-5130/5: U.S.S. Missouri medallion

You have arranged, described, and preserved. Now it is time to put the collection on the shelf and clear off your work area in preparation for your next job. It is unacceptable to call a processing job finished when you still have collection parts or collection detritus on, under, or around your desk or anywhere else in Tech Services.

6.1. Location Table

Time was that the entire Southern Historical Collection was filed in numerical order--almost five thousand collections and all filed in order. This is impressive, especially considering that over the years collections long ago accessioned might have grown and grown again with new additions. But since storage space is evermore at a premium, this filing strategy no longer makes sense. Nowadays, collections are shelved where there is space available, typically at the end of the SHC/SFC collections. Locating collections is completely dependent on the accuracy of the location table in the AccessionControl database. It is imperative that you enter the correct information into the database table when you place a new collection on the shelves, otherwise Public Services staff may be unable to locate a collection.

If you have a new collection or an addition that does not fit in the shelf space previously allotted to the original collection, find the end of the SHC/SFC run, add your boxes, and enter the location in the location table. Do not leave any blank spaces on the shelf; do not start a new shelf until the one before it is full.

If you have a z collection, interfile it with all of the other z collections and enter its location in the location table.

For specifics on using the Location Table, see Location Database (tblPSLocation)

For assistance in knowing where in the stacks to put materials away see Where to Put Away Materials

If you have any questions about how to enter data in the location table, do not hesitate to ask your supervising archivist. If in the process of entering the location of your collection in the location table you come across incorrect location data, notify your supervising archivist immediately. It can not be emphasized too much how important the accuracy of the location table is.

6.2. Feng Shui Your Workspace; Or, Getting Rid of the Detritus

Some materials cannot be retained with collections; other materials should not be kept. See Materials Not Appropriate for Retention for examples of materials not appropriate for retention.

Donors are usually asked to specify in the deed of gift what they want done with materials not appropriate for retention with the collections they give. The choices are typically to return these items to the donor or for the donor to give us permission to do with them what we wish. The gift agreement should state the donor’s preference for disposition of discards, but if there is any uncertainty the donor should be contacted either by you or the Manuscripts Department’s administrative assistant.

When a collection is a gift and the donor does NOT want materials back, you and your supervising archivist will act on one or more of the following options:

  • offer items to other parts of the library (e.g., the North Carolina Collection, the Maps Collection of the Reference Department, the general collections in Davis);
  • for items of artifactual value, turn them over to your supervising archivist for transfer to our agent for sale (we cannot sell materials that are on loan or that we have purchased);
  • recycle them (confidential recycling is available for sensitive material; See Confidential Recycling);
  • trash them.

When a collection is a gift and the donor does want materials back, you and your supervising archivist will:

  • box up discards as neatly as possible and ship them to the donor. The donor’s address should be available in the control file. For specifics on this see: Sending Items Back to Donors

When it comes to returns, use some discretion in determining what to ship to the donor and what to heave into the trash. We typically return sensitive materials, research notes, duplicate photographs, duplicate printed material that has some direct connection to the donor, greeting cards and postcards lacking informational or artifactual value, and anything else that could go in the trash but might make us look bad if someone who did not understand our retention guidelines came across it. When a collection is a purchase, you and your supervising archivist will:

  • transfer, recycle, or trash the discards, but you can not mark for sale anything that we have purchased.

Your supervising archivist will consult with you about what to do with materials that are not appropriate for retention, but ultimately the onus is on you to manage the disposition of discards. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES LEAVE UNLABELED BOXES OF DISCARDS ANYWHERE IN THE WILSON LIBRARY TO BE DEALT WITH AT A LATER DATE.


Library departments to which we typically offer materials include:

  • Davis Library: Books, government documents, periodicals, and other publications not appropriate for the North Carolina Collection or the Rare Book Collection. Government documents may be sent directly to the Documents Librarian and periodicals to the Serials Department. See Sending Books to Davis Library for more information about this.
  • North Carolina Collection: Books, newspapers, clippings, state documents, pamphlets, or other publications by or about a North Carolinian, about a North Carolina subject, or published in North Carolina. Also any blank forms printed in North Carolina, particularly those that are examples of early printing in the state.
  • North Carolina Collection Gallery: Artifacts; Confederate and other currency.
  • North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives: Large collections of photographs that have a North Carolina connection, but that are only loosely connected to the collection with which they arrive.
  • Rare Book Collection: Check with your supervising archivist if you have books, pamphlets, periodicals, or other publications that you believe may be appropriately placed in the Rare Book Collection.
  • Maps Collection: Maps that have little or no connection with other material in the collection with which they were received. Think about whether a researcher would be likely to find a particular map in a particular collection. If it seems unlikely, then the Maps Collection may be a better place for the map to be preserved and used.

For more information on preparing transfers see Transferring Items to Other Collections

For more information on disposing of all of the various types of detritus, see Getting Rid of Stuff

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