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Archival Processing: Arrangement

A guide to processing archival collections


An archival collection is typically arranged in two ways: intellectually and physically. The intellectual and physical arrangements represent two distinct ways of organizing archival materials that exist simultaneously.

Intellectual Arrangement

Intellectual arrangement applies to the information contained in an archival collection, and necessitates an understanding of the intellectual relationship(s) between the many disparate papers in a collection.

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Physical Arrangement

Physical arrangement refers to the physical order of the materials in the collection - how and where they are housed and stored. Unlike intellectual arrangement, physical arrangement is determined by the size, shape, type, and housing needs of the various records, regardless of the information provided therein.

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Arranging an archival collection is not a one-step process. The arrangement will continue to be refined throughout the entire process of processing.

Intellectual and physical arrangements are not mutually exclusive. In fact, identifying the intellectual and physical arrangement is frequently completed at the same time.

Series and subseries are NOT required in processing. They should be established only as deemed necessary by the contents of the collection. For small collections, series may not be needed and a simple folder list can suffice, but the same process can be used to decide on the arrangement of the folders. Try to avoid too many subdivisions.

The new, temporary box labels (i.e., sticky notes) identifying groups of related materials from Examine the Physical Collection will be useful in determining series divisions.

During the course of physically arranging a collection, it is common for all necessary rehousing and/or preservation work to be completed. Refer to the Processing Manual for more information on housing and preservation.

When deciding on an arrangement for series or subseries, and for records within series and subseries, processors should be able to provide a comprehensive explanation of how the records are intellectually arranged and why. If it is not possible to describe the arrangement, it is likely that processors will have to impose order in a different way, to enable greater ease in research. How to properly describe the arrangement of a group of records is discussed further on the Finding Aid Notes.

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