Surveying the collection will give you a broad overview of the contents and aid in the planning of processing activities. The Surveying and Processing Plan Worksheet can help you with these tasks, especially for larger collections. Make sure to work with the Processing Archivist during the planning process.
You should gather all known descriptive information and/or access tools available for the collection being surveyed (check with the Curator/Archivist, physical case file, and in Archivists’ Toolkit). These may include: donor agreement forms, accession records, catalog records, preliminary inventories, finding aids, vendor’s description, etc. Look for and take notes on the following types of information, often included in administrative documents (the curator will likely have much of this information):
Any or all of this information will aid in surveying. While some information, if identified, can be used to automatically populate certain survey fields (i.e. donor, collection or accession number(s), collection creator, etc.), other information will generally assist in the completion of a more thorough survey. For example, an existing description of what was donated or a preliminary collection inventory will help determine whether you have located the collection in its entirety or, conversely, that components of the collection are missing. Biographical and historical information identified on the collection creator will later help in writing the biographical/historical note.
► Surveying is part of a long term collections management strategy - a collection surveyed today, may not be processed for many years. Leave NO worksheet field empty! If a particular field is not necessary or does not apply to a particular collection, write "n/a" in the blank space. It will be clear, later, that the field was left blank intentionally. Future archivists will be confident that the survey is complete and does not need to be repeated.
► When reviewing the collection, careful attention should be paid to container labeling. Container labeling can be very helpful in understanding the collection. Be sure to compare containers and their contents with existing descriptive information, noting if labels are accurate, if anything is missing, or if additional material exists.
► Much of this information is administrative and may be obtained from existing descriptive documentation. The descriptive documentation should be compared and contrasted with the physical collection and vice versa; surveyors should record discrepancies in the survey.