Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sorting through the collection, one box at a time

In past blogs I have been talking about interesting items that have been coming out of our collection. As much as I would like to say every day at the library is full of discovery and excitement, often days go by without too much excitement. That is not to say that our projects and work is not important. Today I found myself finishing up a project. I had been organizing a group of documents had been donated, having a connection to some Schenectady residents who were here in the 1860s. Organized is actually a dangerous word to be used in an archival situation because best practice argues that if a collection was compiled by one person, the papers should remain the order in which they were left. The idea is that the organization tells just as much about how the original owner was using and thinking about the papers as what is actually written on the papers themselves. However, in my case with this collection was not really compiled by one person, and I was not rearranging them.
What I was doing, and what is usually done with any archival collection donated to the society, was putting the documents into acid free folders, unfolding any sheets which were folded. At the same time, I was compiling a list of what the documents were about, their dates and who was mentioned. This information, along with quantities and folder numbers was then used to create a box list. Once the documents have been re-housed in acid free folders and those folders placed in an archival box it was time to create a finding aid, the stage I found myself at today.
Finding aids are an essential part of the archival system at Grems-Doolittle, for it is the finding aids that tell us what the collection is about. Finding aids are not a listing of what documents are in a collection, but rather a summary of the kinds of documents, the types of documents, the dates of these documents and their quantity. All of this information and more is contained in what is known as the scope note. Additionally, background information about the collection, including biographical information about the compiler or collector or subjects is also included in the finding aid. Once the finding aid is completed, it and a box list are filed upstairs and the collection can be returned to the basement. And now if someone wants to look at a particular part of that collection we are more prepared to help them access what they want and understand the greater context in which it sits.

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