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Archival Processing: Folder Titles

A guide to processing archival collections

Standard Folder

Titling & Labeling Folders

Creating good folder titles is important in archival processing – this is often how researchers decide if a collection contains information that makes research worth their time and, sometimes, travel.

Folder titles should be descriptive, but concise and to the point. Retaining existing folder titles is recommended unless they are found to be inaccurate. Existing folder titles can be enhanced with additional information and/or dates. Processors are advised, however, to enhance titles only in ways that clarify the informational contents of the file.

Processors are also warned to pay attention to phrasing when constructing folder titles, and to be as accurate as possible. Take a look at the example provided below:

Example: Meeting regarding potato farming in Hastings, Florida, 1995

Is this a meeting about potatoes farmed in Hastings, Florida, or is it a meeting about potato farming, generally, which was held in Hastings, Florida? A researcher may be interested in only one of these topics and an unclear title such as this one may be misleading, resulting in a researcher wasting time or missing useful information altogether.

It is important that folder labels are informative and that they look good. Folder labels should be legible and consistent throughout the ENTIRE collection, so that reference archivists and researchers browsing a collection will always know where to find vital information such as the collection name, folder title, date, and box and folder numbers. Properly labeled folders will also ensure that materials are returned to their rightful location within a collection.

EVERY folder in the collection should have at least the following information on it (see the figure above for an example of how to layout information on folders):
► Collection name and/or number, or at least a consistently applied abbreviation of the collection name (Generally a combination is used (e.g., Haskins MSS 0327); consult with your supervisor to obtain the correct collection number.)
► Folder title
► Dates
► Box number and folder number (if numbering folders)

Existing adhesive folder labels, common in 20th century collections, should be removed, if possible, and the information transcribed directly onto the folder label tabs. For extremely large collections, new folder labels may be used. Consult with a supervisor regarding this option. If supply availability allows, refoldering collections is recommended.

Multiple processing projects have determined that refoldering collections is no more time consuming than re-labeling existing folders. Information provided on labels may be minimal, and refoldered collections are better labeled and easier to use post-processing. Processors are also less likely to forget to include pertinent information on folder labels and there are fewer mistakes in data entry.


Use standard sentence capitalization rules. See the Style Guide for more on this topic.

Abbreviations are not acceptable!

Adding subjective descriptive words like "large" or "small" provide no additional subject-based information and are usually not helpful to reference archivists or researchers.

Processors should avoid spending significant time with any aspect of the collection, so it is important to pay attention to details that are readily available or have been noted in the existing descriptive documents, reviewed during Surveying

Restricting Materials

According to the Society of American Archivists, "archivists may place restriction on access for the protection of privacy or confidentiality of information in the records." However, according to Mark Greene, "imposing restrictions where neither law nor donor wishes demand is a danger." While it is often important to restrict records to protect the privacy of the record(s)’s creator or third parties, it is also important to remember the primary role of the archivist - to provide access to information and to enable accountability.

If a collection houses sensitive or restricted material, include a collection level note in the finding aid alerting researchers to the restrictions. In addition, folders containing restricted items should be noted at the folder level, both on the physical folder and in the finding aid. 

Folder titles should include the notation "[RESTRICTED]" at the end. If an entire series will be restricted, it is not necessary to write "restricted" on each folder. 

Social Security Numbers: In most 20th century collections, processors will encounter Social Security numbers, which, if attached to living individuals, are problematic. Social Security was not instituted until 1935, however, so they are not an issue in collections pre-1935. Social Security numbers are also never reused. If processors can prove that an individual is deceased, their Social Security number does not need to be a concern. For individuals who are (or may be) still living, Social Security numbers will need to be redacted from records that are being retained or records can be restricted if redaction is too time or labor intensive.

Other sensitive issues: What is considered sensitive will vary between collections and repositories. Consider the following as potentially, but not necessarily, sensitive topics: Native American topics, court records that are not official, board minutes that are not official or are recent, field notes in anthropological or archeological collections, to name a few. Please review Sensitive Materials Processing Guidelines, produced by the University of North Carolina, which identifies sensitive issues and proposes solutions on how to handle them.

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