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Archival Processing: Accessioning

A guide to processing archival collections


Accessioning is the process of formally accepting material into the archives. This process enables staff to gain preliminary and immediate intellectual control over the materials. Accessioning provides the information necessary for maintaining accurate, up-to-date inventory control over archival and manuscript holdings, and for providing immediate reference service on newly acquired collections. To document new accessions, curators complete an Accession and Ratings Form which provides the basic information necessary for the Processing Archivist to create the accession record. Well documented accessions are vital to facilitate future processing.


1. Curators notify the Processing Archivist (Matt Kruse) about newly acquired collections (or additions).

2. Curators submit an Accession and Ratings Form to the Processing Archivist along with additional supplemental documents (inventories, donor e-mail, and other background information).

3. The Processing Archivist creates an accession record in ArchivesSpace and assigns a collection number. A new resource record (finding aid) is also created as a PLACEHOLDER. An electronic file, is created to store supplemental documents (inventories, donor e-mail, and other relevant background information). If necessary a physical case file is also created and stored with the collection case files in room 200C.

4. The Processing Archivist assists with physically accessioning the materials including re-housing, creating temporary labels, and transporting materials to temporary storage. If conservation treatment is deemed necessary (typically freezing to kill mold/bug contamination) a Conservation Request Form should be filled out and submitted to Conservation and the materials transported to ILF (this process typically takes two weeks). Conservation will notify the Curator and Processing Archivist when materials are ready. This process can be tracked from the Assessment record created by Conservation staff in ArchivesSpace.

5. If time permits, the Processing Archivist works with the Curator to survey the collection and create a processing plan to aid with future processing.



Supplemental Documents

The accessioning form documents only the most basic information about a collection. It is also important to include any additional supplemental documentation that is available. Inventories, donor e-mails, processing plans, disposition decisions, appraisal reports, vendor’s descriptions, obituaries, family and organizational histories, and other relevant background information are all excellent resources to help shed light on the collection and assist with future processing.

When selecting supplemental documents, consider including materials that help answer these questions:

  • Where did the collection originate? Who created the documents?
  • What is the chain of custody?
  • When was the collection acquired?
  • Why was the collection acquired?
  • What is included in the collection?
  • What types of material are included?
  • Is there biographical information on the creator available?
  • Are there any restrictions on access, usage, or copyright?
  • Are there any preservation concerns?
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