The Allan Blank Paper Collection is large; encompassing twenty seven acid-free boxes and an entire shelving unit. And this is only part of the original collection. To ensure that all of these materials continue to be accessible for generations to come, the papers must be processed.
Yet, what does processing mean? Isn’t that just a fancy term for organizing?
In one word, yes. However, it is the steps of the organizational process that make things a bit more complicated. The Processor of the Allan Blank Papers (i.e. me) starts by making a general condition report of the boxes. This gives me a good indication of how I should move forward, how the papers and other materials are faring and also the scope of the collection.
As I move from box to box, I have created a spread sheet which allows me to inventory, write down the material’s condition (is the paper yellowing, is it torn, creased, or have rust stains from metal paperclips) and perform minor preservation on paper in the most danger of degrading. This also allows me to maintain original order.
Allan Blank was a composer and more importantly, a creative mind by respecting how his papers were arranged, it gives outsiders a glimpse of his artistic process. The creative mind does present more than a few challenges for the archival processor and Mr. Blank is no different. From just looking over his papers, it has become apparent that when inspiration struck, he simply picked up a nearby piece of paper and went to work. Pieces of paper such as torn off notebook pages, the backs of old resumes and the backs of sent envelopes have a couple of lines of music, or entire scores written on them. Absolutely fascinating, but also a bit difficult to ensure good preservation.
From the condition reporting, I will move on to the creation of Finding Aids and more in-depth preservation tactics for all the paperwork (not simply objects in immediate danger). This may mean transferring objects to different boxes, placing everything in folders and removing hazards such as notebook spirals that might seem harmless now, but in the future will degrade the papers.
By utilizing my condition report, the creation of finding aids will be much quicker and easier. A finding aid is a set of documents which give an overview of the collection’s subject and detailed accounts of what the collection contains. For the Allan Blank Papers, the finding aid with give a brief description of the composer’s life and works and the contents of each box. Many researchers use the information found in finding aids to quickly determine whether or not a collection will fit their needs without delving into multiple boxes.
Processing a collection is all about making sense out of boxes of papers and making sure that no additional harm comes to the papers. In the end, it is my goal to create easy access to the collection for many generations of future researchers.