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Archival Processing: Final Steps

A guide to processing archival collections

Box & Folder Numbers

Every box (or container), folder, volume, and/or loose item in the collection should receive a number. Folders, volumes, or items housed within a box or container should be labeled with BOTH a box number and folder/volume/item number. In consultation with your supervisor, you may decide to forego numbering each folder in larger collections.

To avoid numbering the collection multiple times, do not assign box and/or folder numbers until the collection is fully processed, as the order of series and/or folders will likely change over the course of processing. Prior to assigning numbers to any part of the collection, processors should ensure that all boxes in the collection are adequately stuffed. Boxes should be full, so that folders support each other and do not slouch, but should not be so full that it is difficult to remove or re-file folders.

Box Numbers

Boxes should be numbered consecutively from 1 to however many boxes there are in the collection, including any and all oversize or custom built boxes. Box numbers should be assigned in the order in which boxes sit on the shelf. Assign numbers to oversize or custom built containers AFTER they are placed on the shelf in an order that makes sense in regard to their size and shape – making sure that boxes are arranged to minimize use of shelf space. Box numbers should be prominently and consistently marked on box labels.

Folder Numbers

Folders should be numbered within boxes, with both the box and folder numbers clearly and consistently recorded on the folder tab throughout the entire collection. No matter the size, shape, or contents of a box, folders should be consecutively numbered from 1 to however many folders there are in a box, with each box starting with a new folder 1.

Volume Numbers

All loose or individually boxed volume(s) should be shelved together, after the last box in the collection. Volume(s) should be shelved on their tails, backs, or spines, depending on size and condition. Volumes resting on their tails or spines should be arranged in intellectual order on shelves. Volumes resting on their backs should be shelved in size order, with the largest volume on the bottom. Only after volumes are placed in order on the shelf, can they be assigned numbers. Volumes should be numbered from 1 to however many volumes there are in the collection. Numbers should be recorded prominently and consistently on each volume(s)’s bookmark label.

Item Numbers

Occasionally collections house loose items (not housed in a box), which should be shelved and numbered in the same manner as volumes. Items should be numbered from 1 to however many items there are in the collection. An artifact tag can be used to record the number on the item.

Name and Subject Authorities (Access terms)

Like in library cataloging, name, subject, and genre authorities are identified for archival collections. Using only authorized headings is recommended. However, the Processing Archivist can check for these during the processing of the finding aid. Processors should note important names, locations, subjects, and genres on the processing worksheets. Do not identify more authorities than are necessary to bring attention to the most important people and subjects represented in the collection. Identifying 5 to 10 names, subjects, and genres combined should be sufficient, and possibly too many for smaller collections.

At the University of Florida, we currently use the following controlled vocabularies:

Subjects and geographical areas: FAST headings
Persons and organizations: Library of Congress Name Authority File
Physical features and materials: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
Genres and forms: Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms
Visual iconography: Thesaurus for Graphic Materials

Tying Up Loose Ends

There are always loose ends at the end of a processing project, and they are always different. Here are some things to keep in mind: 

Misplaced Records/Files

Processors should inspect their work area, as well as the collection’s original storage location, making certain that all files, volumes, items, and boxes of records have been accounted for, processed, and returned to their proper location within the collection. Processors should go back to the collection’s existing documentation, especially the survey and processing plan, to ensure that all records were included in processing. Processors should consult with staff as well as their supervisor if they discover material not accounted for in their arrangement and finding aid.

Collection Dates

After processing, it is common for a collection’s inclusive and/or bulk dates to change. Processors, should review their collection inventory, or folder list, and make sure that the inclusive and/or bulk dates recorded at the collection, series, and/or subseries levels reflect the earliest and latest dates identified in the folder list.

Content Connectivity

Processors should review the finding aid, making sure the collection is described accurately, and that information provided in the various components of the finding aid is compatible and consistent. For example, if series dates are provided in the collection level scope and contents note, the dates should match the dates provided at the series level, and match the dates connected to folders within the series. 

Box and Folder Numbers

It is easy to make mistakes in assigning box and folder numbers when working quickly! Verifying the accuracy of box and folder numbers can be completed during data entry. After completely entering each box, processors should count the folders in the box and compare the number of folders to the number recorded on the last physical folder as well as in the finding aid.

Collection Extent

Though the collection was measured during the survey, it likely grew or shrank during processing. Once a collection is completely processed and shelved, processors should re-measure the collection in 2 ways:

Linear footage:

There are many ways to calculate linear feet. Processors should measure linear feet by measuring each container and volume in the direction papers are stacked. For example, a standard document case will measure 5 inches or .42 linear feet. Our slightly larger document boxes measure 7 inches, or .58 linear feet. A large flat box will usually measure 3 inches or .25 linear feet (though it may measure significantly more in shelf feet). Flat boxes housing slides or artifacts should be measured in the amount of shelf feet they will occupy. Volumes should be measured across the text block, including the front and back cover. Processors should take the total number of inches and divide by 12 to calculate the linear feet.

Container/Volume/Item count:

Processors should count and record the number of containers, loose volumes, and items in the collection. Foldered and boxed volume(s) and/or item(s) should NOT be counted separately as part of the volume(s) and/or item(s) count. Significant collections of slides should include an approximate slide count; 35 mm slides average 20 slides per inch and 120 mm (medium format) slides average 17 per inch.

Proofread the Finding Aid

As in all writing, the information provided in a finished finding aid should be clear and concise, and free of error. In addition to correcting spelling and grammatical errors throughout the entire finding aid, processors should review the abstract, biographical/historical note, scope and contents notes, and the collection inventory for clarity and accuracy in description. Processors are advised to look out for inconsistencies in formatting, punctuation, and/or terminology. Finally, processors should identify any aspects of the collection that are not adequately described, return to the collection for review, and provide additional descriptive information as necessary. 

Note: You cannot provide full details for everything. Return to the collection for additional information only when an obvious lack of information or error in description compromises the effectiveness of the finding aid. 

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