Step One: Process All the Papers

Today I reached a small(-ish) but significant milestone: I have finished the physical processing portion of my project. Up here in Anchorage, I’m working to process and describe all the records of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (the largest National Park in America, I might add). Now I just have to do some arranging and a ton of data entry and write some descriptive text and, voilà, done!

post-processing, but pre-arrangement
the records after processing, but before final arrangement

So – numbers. Everyone enjoys numbers. I’ve been clipping along pretty quickly, doing mainly ‘minimal processing’-inspired work (with preservation aspects thrown in for various media formats). When I first arrived, I was presented with about 100 linear feet of materials. A few months later, another 120 or so linear feet were added, making up pretty much the entire archival collection of park records (I later learned that there are some boxes scattered about the park office still, but it’s winter here and the office is hundreds of miles away, so those records will likely be added to this collection a bit later, perhaps in spring).

Sharpening an axe, undated image
culling collections like a skilled lumberjack (from the collection, undated)

All-told, the collection came to 223 linear feet (pre-processing). After processing, it is down to 176 linear feet. This will likely change as the final arrangement comes into play, but that’s where it stands at the moment. So – where did all that stuff go anyway? Did I magically get rid of over 47 linear feet of material? Well, no. As much as I love to throw things away, the vast majority of that decrease is simply due to housing. Of the 47 linear feet, I’m responsible for removing just over 8. This material was either out of scope or redundant. (A funny thing happens when you amass decades’ worth of small collections that aren’t cross-checked with each other – you get a lot of the same stuff repeating itself.) Anywho, the remaining 39 linear feet came from removing notebooks; providing better housing for photographs, slides, and assorted video formats; and by simply not leaving excess empty space in the back of boxes.

Additionally, from tracking the time spent on various tasks, I know my current processing rate is at about 2.5 linear feet per hour. Obviously this will increase as I continue with arrangement and description, but it’s good and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far. Coming fairly fresh from university and rather collaborative processing environments, it’s been quite the experience being largely on my own here and learning to trust my instincts and training more. However, it’s definitely been a great thing to have that support network of friends and archivists to reach out to for advice. Now, on to those 40-50 pound boxes I keep reading about.