Last week I had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes with the newest intern in Special Collections. What was originally supposed to be a quick explanation of what I do everyday, turned into 45 minutes of archival theory and processing!
At this point, I take for granted archival processing: the terms, the organization and execution. Speaking with our intern, her excitement was infectious and gave me an opportunity to educate someone new in the archival profession. So gentle reader, I’m going to go over a few terms that I use all the time, but you may no know at all!
Archival Processing – is defined as the action of “surveying, arranging, describing, and performing basic preservation activities on the recorded material of an individual, family, or organization, after they are permanently transferred to an archive.” (Basically, I look over a collection, decide how it should be organized, write down what materials are in the collection and any defining features, conserve where necessary and provide stable storage for research)
Finding Aid – “A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records. or a description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.” (A finding aid is your guide to the collection. It tells you whats there, where it is located and can give the items context in the greater scope of the collection)
Original Order – “The organization and sequence of records established by the creator of the records.” (this is where an archival processor with keep the items in the same order as given by the donor)
Series – “A group of similar records that are arranged according to a filing system and that are related as the result of being created, received, or used in the same activity; a file group; a record series.” (for example the Allan Blank Papers Collection has a series called ‘Original Compositions’ and all related items fall under this category)
Metadata – “A characterization or description documenting the identification, management, nature, use, or location of information resources (data).” (this boils down to writing in-depth descriptions of items from size info to contents…speaking of content…)
Scope and Content – “A narrative statement summarizing the characteristics of the described materials, the functions and activities that produced them, and the types of information contained therein.” (the scope and content notes are usually located in the finding aid and give an over all sense of what is contained in the collection)
These are by no means all of the definitions you will need to know when working in an archive, just a small sampling. Additionally, many institutions create their own vocabulary and acronyms. Forewarning, libraries love acronyms (ALA, VLA, AMH, ILL…the list goes on and on)!
COMMENT BELOW if you have any questions regarding archival terminology, processing, or definitions. Also, you can always utilize ODU’s Ask-A-Librarian for more in-dept inquiries. It is literally my job (and privilege) to help any and all budding archivists, historians, musicians and scholars, so ask away!