Documenting Archival Process

Unprocessed archival donation.
Unprocessed archival donation.

One of the things I’ve been experimenting with adding into my workflow recently is documenting donations as the arrive at the archive.  Normally the contextual information, dates, extent etc are captured in a donor form and this information is further expanded on when the material is accessioned.  This is fairly standard.

What I’ve been trying to document is what donations physically look like when they arrive at the archive.  This partially came from a desire to promote new donations on social media and from an archival instruction perspective.  When I provide introduction to archives sessions I always try to include information on the role archivists play in appraisal and the challenges of arrangement.  Having photographs of what collections look like when they arrive helps provide a visual example of what unprocessed material looks like and what archivists do to get collections ready for public access.

A lot of the work archivists do happens behind the scenes and there’s a general lack of awareness around the amount of work that goes into making archival material accessible.  As a profession advocacy and raising awareness of our role is something we could definitely do a better job of.  For me one of the ways to do this is to talk about how materials come to us and outline to students the archival process and steps required to get fonds into those neat little labeled boxes.

How do you explain all the work that happens before an archival donation is made accessible to the public?