The Process of Processing in the Detre Library and Archives

One of the primary responsibilities of an archivist is to ensure accessibility to the collections that their organization acquires and preserves. This involves archival processing, or, organizing and arranging materials physically while creating descriptive guides providing context to the content. In October 2011, the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives began a two-year project to reduce its amount of unprocessed collections by 75 percent.

Gloria Hendrickson, a graduate intern from the University of Pittsburgh, begins processing a collection as part of the NHPRC project.

Gloria Hendrickson, a graduate intern from the University of Pittsburgh, begins processing a collection as part of the NHPRC project.

Funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the project is being carried out by a team consisting of Library and Archives staff, graduate student interns, and volunteers.  Thus far, we have processed over 400 previously unprocessed collections, which exceeds 2,000 linear feet. By implementing a strategic focus and framework based on an archival methodology known as More Product, Less Process, we’ve been able to greatly surpass our usual processing output.

Unprocessed collections were found in varying conditions.

Unprocessed collections were found in varying conditions.

Throughout the course of the project we’ve encountered a variety of small and large collections in varying conditions, from somewhat orderly and clean, to disorganized and black with soot. Once we’ve physically arranged and housed the materials, we create access documents that help guide users to our resources. Finding aids – historical guides that act as road maps to the materials – provide historical context, content descriptions, and acquisition information about the collections. This descriptive information is available electronically through our own catalog and shared with Historic Pittsburgh, the global databases WorldCat and ArchiveGrid, and via outreach efforts like this blog.

An internal database contains content descriptions, collection tracking, and administration metadata for future detailed processing.

An internal database contains content descriptions, collection tracking, and administration metadata for future detailed processing.

In addition to enhancing the accessibility of a large portion of our holdings, the entire process has spawned additional benefits within the Detre Library and Archives. We’ve pieced together related donations to form cohesive collections, reorganized our stacks for better use of storage space, and compiled a collections database that will help guide future digitization and preservation initiatives.

A collection before and after NHPRC processing.

A collection before and after NHPRC processing.

With a few months remaining on the grant, it’s full steam ahead here in the Detre Library and Archives. The more collections we are able to process, the more researchers, students, teachers, and anyone interested in the history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania will be able to benefit from them.

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About Alex J. Toner

I’ve been a project archivist in the Detre Library and Archives since 2011, and started in the department in 2010 as a graduate assistant. Our project is aimed at reducing our archival backlog over the course of two years utilizing MPLP-based strategies. I’m tasked (among other things) with processing collections, creating access documents, and coordinating graduate interns. I earned my MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011, and received a BA in History from Kent State University. Contact me at ajtoner@heinzhistorycenter.org.
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3 Responses to The Process of Processing in the Detre Library and Archives

  1. Alexis says:

    Great job!!

  2. Cassie Nespor says:

    This makes me happy. The History Center has so many great collections that were “hidden.”

  3. Pingback: A.M. Brown’s Union Executive Committee letter book. | Heinz History Center Library and Archives

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