Artifacts in the Archives

The following slides and text are from a presentation at the Society of Florida Archivists/Society of Georgia Archivists Joint Annual Meeting in Savannah, GA on October 14, 2016.

The full data-set can be downloaded here.

slide01So with this transition from the grant-funded project to our regular UF operations, I was tasked with creating a processing plan for what remained unprocessed from the museum collection. This included a large assortment of artifacts and artwork, along with your more standard archival documents and photographs. John and I met with the three members of the Panama grant project team and went over the work they had done so far and tried to gain an understanding of their processes and the work that had been completed. While the ways in which processing had been done over the previous 2 years with the project did not meet with how we would have preferred the work to be completed – and somewhat complicated things from our archival viewpoint – it was decided to continue in the same manner to assure that the entire collection got processed and, while it wasn’t ideal, keeping with the earlier practices would at least create fairly consistent control and description of the collection.

slide02I set out to create the processing plan – what actually was my first ever solo processing plan – by surveying the collection holdings at our off-site storage facility where the majority of the unprocessed items and records were held. The results of the survey showed that we had about 7 linear feet of archival documents; over 200 framed art pieces, maps, and similar works; and almost 4,000 artifacts left to process. Now, I’m well-trained in archival processing and come from a long line of MPLP-style work, having received my early hands-on processing training with one of the PACSCL Hidden Collections projects in Philadelphia. I keep stats on my own processing whether administrators request it or not, and I’ve implemented some of the same processes for metrics tracking at UF. So, I was pretty secure in estimating the needs for processing those 7 linear feet of archival records and photographs.

slide03What I wasn’t sure about was how to estimate processing of the art and artifacts. At PACSCL, we dealt with a small number of artifacts and tended to keep them within the archival collections. I also worked with the National Park Service for about a year, but there, artifacts were removed and processed by someone else. I headed to the web, as you do, to look for information on processing times for artifacts, but didn’t coming up with anything of much use. The Park Service has a lot of information on how to budget money for artifact processing, but doesn’t include information about time in their manuals. There was scant information available from other sources, so I ended up making an educated guess and crossed my fingers (in the end, I guessed a bit too low).

slide04But, this made me question – with our love of stats and assessment – why aren’t some general numbers for artifact processing available somewhere.

slide05I posed this question to John and he agreed. He had looked for this type of data before and found very little. He recalled a few times in the past where archivists or other professionals would pose this question to the SAA listserv and noted that they would generally be met with responses noting the unique nature of artifacts and how one couldn’t possibly generalize processing times for artifacts or artwork. Having learned how archivists used to say this all the time about our own paper collections, but knowing that we somehow managed to move on to the understanding that minimal processing usually takes around 4 hours per linear foot and item-level processing tends to take 8 to 10 hours per foot, I thought, we can do better. And with the advice and encouragement of my dear supervisor … a research project was born.

Along with John, I formed a small but professionally-diverse group of people including Lourdes and Jessica, John’s highly knowledgeable wife Laura Nemmers, and a colleague from the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Jarred Wilson. We started working on a survey to pose to archivists and museum professionals to try to figure out what data people had and how we could aggregate that into a generalized form that would be useful for budgeting and planning future processing projects. As is the focus of our talk here, this issue is becoming more and more common and we all thought these sorts of metrics would prove useful to others in the future.

slide06In our first meeting we spent a lot of time deciding how to collect the data and also discussing terminology. Having a group with mixed archival and museum backgrounds led to discussions of what exactly each of us meant when we said accessioning, processing, inventorying, and other such terms. Where I say process, Jessica may say accession. Where I say minimal record, she may say inventory entry. Further research and discussions showed that even within one segment of the community, these terms didn’t describe the same tasks for everyone. So, we began to think that we should survey people about terminology before surveying them about data – to make sure we asked the right questions.

When we next met, we went over the survey I had devised to try to get a grip on the terminology questions – but it was still confusing and not actually getting at the point we were after. And we also knew that surveys tend to have a small response rate and we didn’t want to over-burden the people that might participate in this project. So, back to the drawing board we went. We decided instead of asking people what they meant by each term and then asking how much time they spent doing the tasks described, we would cut to the chase and describe the actions we meant and see if they had data they could share or if they would agree to collect some data and send it to us.

slide07I sent out a general email asking for people who might be interested in taking part in a research survey regarding artifact processing within archival settings. From that first request, I received 31 responses from people interested in taking part in or learning more about the project. Then, once we had sorted out exactly what to ask for and how to format the data, I sent another, more specific request to just the people that had initially responded. After sending out that request, a number of people dropped out, and in the end only 6 people submitted data.

slide08But within those 6 institutions (7 when we include UF) were a wide variety of institution- and record-types – including archivists, curators, and managers from academic institutions, museums, federal and city government, and public libraries.

slide09As for the data, we had devised a set of 9 categories of artifacts that grouped different sorts of items together based on size or complexity, and a general idea of how long they would take to describe. Of the institutions who participated, 4 used these categories to collect data, while the other 2 sent in more generalized information from how they normally collect or devise processing times. At UF, we did a bit more processing of the artifacts with these categories in mind since metrics were not collected during the first 2 years of the project and having our own data involved seemed like a good idea.

slide10Here you can see the data parsed out by the categories showing the average amount of time for either minimal or full processing for the assorted 9 categories. The entries marked “null” meant that no data was received in that category for that level of processing. (And you may notice that one outlier in category 3 where each item took almost 3 hours to process. Those were some pretty intense dioramas that skewed the data wildly for that category, but it doesn’t have much of an impact on the final averages.)

slide11 Here you can see the average overall processing times in a few different ways. Processing time for the categorized items comes in at around 8 minutes per item for minimal processing and almost 22 minutes per item for full processing. All of the categorized processing averages out to just over 19 minutes per item. When I couple this data with the numbers from the other 2 institutions that only sent in generalized data, you can see that the final number only goes up by about 20 seconds in the end. So what we have in the end is that, with or without the categories, an artifact can generally be expected to take roughly 20 minutes to process (I had estimated 10 minutes in my processing plan). This is an aggregate, so obviously the processing times of individual items will vary dramatically. But for large collections of objects, knowing that you have, say, 2,000 or so items to process, at roughly 20 minutes per item, allows an institution to at least propose a relatively reliable timeline (5 to 6 months) for project planning and budgeting.

I would like to see a larger data-set to create more useful guidelines for processors going forward, and we’re continuing to collect numbers at UF, but for now, this is what we have. Also, just a quick thanks to everyone who participated in this study.


Shuck it!

I was recently reminded of the usefulness of the oyster shucker as archival implement. Yes, that’s right, the humble oyster shucker.


It’s not something I ever envisioned using in the archives. It’s not something I took courses on in library school. It was never mentioned during my internships. But it is a tool I feel we all need to be a bit more educated about. Is has a multitude of uses, and it’s just kind of fun to say.

It expertly assists with:



and shucking oysters – of course
(though perhaps don’t use the same one you use in the archives)Oyster shuckers at Apalachicola, Fla. This work is carried on by many young boys during the busy seasons. This is a... - NARA - 523162

So, here’s to the wonderful and versatile oyster shucker! And thanks to the National Park Service in Anchorage for bringing this shucker into my life.

Metrics for hybrid collections

Archival repositories are, more and more, finding themselves in the position of processing and housing hybrid collections of standard archival documents and what would generally be referred to as artifacts or museum-style objects. While archivists have become quite adept at tracking timing statistics for processing paper-based collections, few similar, timing-based metrics appear to exist, at least in professional literature, to aid in planning for processing of these hybrid collections.

Our group of archivists and museum professionals are interested in closing this gap in metrics for the information science community as a whole. If you or your institution currently keep metrics on such holdings, and would be willing to participate in a future survey regarding your collecting and processing habits, please email me at I would appreciate hearing from you by February 29, 2016.

Please feel free to share this message with other interested parties. Thank you.

Steve Duckworth | Processing Archivist
Department of Special & Area Studies Collections
George A. Smathers Libraries
University of Florida
200A Smathers Library

On Chronological Order

I’m just going to put this out into the world, but in a place I can easily find it again. Dating archival material can get rather specific. Frequently, materials are then filed in chronological order and those specific and extensive dates can get a bit tricky to organize. So, with former colleagues from PACSCL (h/t to Annalise Berdini, among others), we’ve come up with this example list of what order these things go in, from most specific (or first) to least specific (or last). I find that I refer to it quite frequently when doing physical arrangement. Perhaps one day it will become ingrained in me and I can stop checking this list, but until that day comes, and perhaps as a small benefit to other archives processors out there, the list is as follows:

1931 January 1
1931 January
circa 1931
1931, 1945
1931, 1945-1946
1931, undated

One can then use this established sequence for further expansion. For example, something like “circa 1931, 1945” would go after  “1931, 1945”  and so on. I still sometimes have my qualms about the position of entries with circa dates, but I think this list is accurate and helpful. So, that’s it. Go put things in order!

From Student to Professional

This post originally appeared on the SAA Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable Blog in their “Transitions” series, “which highlights the experiences of recent graduates and early career archivists.”

I graduated from the MSLIS program at Drexel University, with a concentration in Archives, in December of 2013. About 6 months later, I found myself gainfully employed (although temporarily) as a Project Archivist with the National Park Service in Anchorage, Alaska. My move from student to new professional, while rife with the standard issues we all face, was also compounded with issues of moving roughly 4,000 miles away from almost everyone I know and all the support structures I had built for myself over the years. Luckily, the education and preparatory experience I had in Philadelphia gave me a solid foundation to succeed in this new adventure.

I came to the archives field late in life. In my “youth,” I earned degrees in music performance and spent much of my 20s and early 30s working as a freelance cellist in various locales. As I begin to question the future and what I could see myself happily doing for the rest of my life, but in a more stable environment, I began to look at Library Science as a perfect option.

Fast forwarding to about three months before graduation, I had just begun work as an Archives Processor with the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) Hidden Collections project. This was the perfect environment to learn real-world processing skills and put all the theoretical knowledge I had learned at school to work. In this collaborative environment, working with other students near graduation and under the direction of a remarkable supervisor and mentor, we all gained skills that will serve us well throughout our professional careers. Taking that position was a leap for me. I left a full-time job with great benefits for a part-time job with none in the hopes that it would help pave the road for a career in my new profession. It turned out to be one of the best choices in my life. If you are a student currently, I urge you to seek out situations where you can work with people that will teach and challenge you wherever possible. Attaining the degree alone is not enough.

Thanks in large part to the work with PACSCL, I was hired for my position in Alaska. This was another huge leap that I felt I had to take. It was a great position that would give me further experience in the field and it was a bit of an adventure. As a musician and a rather independent person, I’d become somewhat of a gypsy – moving from place to place and never really feeling like staying put, so I thought, “What the [heck],” and said yes.

My position in Anchorage is basically a processing archivist. I’m working through all the records (close to 200 linear feet) of the largest national park in America. I’m using the principles of minimal[i] and maximal[ii] processing to streamline the way the park service here has traditionally cared for its paper records. Thanks to these more efficient processing ideals, I’ve been able to process all of the park’s records rather than roughly half of them, as was originally proposed. Additionally, I’ve also gotten to do some accessioning, budgeting, forecasting, and reference work while here. Working as somewhat of a “lone arranger” has also allowed me to take more responsibility for arrangement and description decisions, given me more project management experience, and increased the trust I have in my own instincts. So, all-in-all, the experience I’ve gained has been wonderful.

There are, of course, some downsides. Though I work with others in the Cultural Resources department, I am the only archivist on staff here. My supervisor is very knowledgeable and helpful, but for certain issues of processing and preservation, I generally find myself turning to colleagues from Philadelphia and beyond. By maintaining those relationships, which are now a comfortable blend of professional and personal, I can reach out for advice and also to share interesting and humorous finds.

Another downside I’ve noticed stems from the temporary nature of my position. Knowing that my time here is limited has created certain social restraints. It’s difficult to invest too much in a place when you know from the start that you won’t be around all that long. This has lead to some isolation, both socially and professionally. I’ve also come to see that these project positions aren’t just hard on the archivist; they’re hard on the institution too. After working through 200 feet of documents, I feel I’m just getting a somewhat-solid grasp on the inner workings of the National Park Service. And with each state or region and each park having its own unique issues, moving on to the next collection would only add to my understanding. However, I’m not going to be adding on; I’m going to be moving on. I’ll move on to a new position with new issues and, when funding becomes available, the park service will have to find another archivist for their next project who will have to go through all of this learning and adjustment again. This story could go similarly for any institution. I understand the financial reasons behind the system we’ve created here – project funding, grants, etc. – however, I think the drawbacks from that system may be pricier than it seems at first glance. But I digress.

A poster[iii] I saw at the 2014 SAA meeting showed that it generally takes 6 to 12 months for people to assimilate into a new location and I can attest that it has taken me about 6 months to start feeling like I have a small support base of friends here, and soon I’ll be moving on. While the work I’ve done here has been fulfilling, and I’ve seen some amazing things in Alaska, I am now of the mindset that my next position needs to be permanent, or at least in a place where I plan on spending a significant portion of the rest of my life. Everyone handles these changes differently, and Alaska is obviously more remote than most temporary positions will take you, but keep this idea in mind as you look for your first professional position and be honest about how you’ll deal with feeling isolated for an extended period of time. For me, I think my gypsy days are numbered.

Be that as it may, the training I received from Drexel has served me well. I have a strong foundation of theories and principles on which to grow, I know where to look for further information on topics that arise, and I have a broad base of knowledge concerning general library and information system topics that support further growth in the field. However, and not to discount anything taught in library science programs (even with the issues we know they all have), the training I received through internships and entry-level positions during and just after graduate school, have given me the most help for transitioning into a professional role. That training and experience, coupled with the professional contacts and connections I’ve made, is more far-reaching than anything I learned in a classroom. My advice to all students and new professionals is to make and cultivate professional connections in your own life and to take calculated risks when they arise.


[i] Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing,” The American Archivist 68, no. 2 (2005): 208-263.

[ii] Robert Cox, “Maximal Processing, or, Archivist on a Pale Horse,” Journal of Archival Organization 8, no. 2 (2010): 134-148.

[iii] Wendy Cole, Steven Wade, Karen Dafoe, and Victoria Hess (Louisiana State University SAA Student Chapter), “Leaving Home: Taking a Job Outside Your Comfort Zone” (poster at the Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists, Washington, DC, August 10-16, 2014).


Step Two: Process All the Data

Where was I? Oh yes, in my last processing-related post, I had just finished the physical processing of my collection. I’ve now finished all of the folder title data entry and am in the final stages of editing scope notes and other descriptive text. (Side note: I probably need a “Step One-Point-Five: Arrange All the Records” post, but frankly, it’s not that intriguing. “Put things in order.” Done! Back to step two.)

Excel and the joys of XML (which I hardly understand myself) saved me a bunch of time in this process. This collection has 534 boxes (plus some flat files and records not physically in my possession), with 4,631 folder titles. And I spent about 50 hours typing them all into the computer. So far, I’ve also spent about 35 hours editing that data and the scope notes for the collection.

The actual final (post-arrangement and error checking) numbers on the collection size are this:

  • Original collection size: 220 linear feet
  • Final collection size: 184.38 linear feet (or 180.48 cubic feet) (about a 16% reduction in physical size)
Wrangell-St. Elias National park and Preserve
awaiting labels

Processing speed depends on how you look at it. Based on the original size of the collection (which is how I’ve always done this), I’m at just over 3 hours per linear foot. Very speedy. Based on the final size, I’m at 3.50 hours per linear foot or 3.66 hours per cubic foot. Still pretty speedy. Data entry averaged out to a bit over 3.5 feet per hour. And now I’m left with writing and editing narrative text for the finding aid and putting labels on things (post-its are not exactly kosher in archives-land), which is great because . . .

I’m moving to Florida in 2 weeks. I’ve accepted the position of “Processing Archivist” at the University of Florida and I’m very happy to be moving back close to home and taking a job which sounds interesting and has no attached end-date. I’ll be processing across all of their collections, so stay tuned for further tales of processing and, hopefully, humorous finds via Instagram/Twitter (see buttons above). While Alaska has been a unique experience, I’m overjoyed for this new opportunity and happy to be ahead of schedule and finishing up this project before leaving.

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.

Processing After PACSCL

So, here I am in Anchorage, Alaska. It’s been roughly three months since I arrived and I’m slowly settling in. While my social life has all but disappeared here, my work life has been moving along at speeds apparently unanticipated. When I accepted the position, the plan was to process about 500 linear feet of records pertaining to the nation’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. When I arrived, I was shown about 100 feet of records to process, with the rest of the collection remaining in the park’s archives at a far off location (deemed unnecessary for this current project due to having been previously processed). Having now physically processed all of the boxes, removing unnecessarily duplicated documents, bulky binders and spiral bindings, and excessive amounts of empty space, I’m left with just over 76 linear feet of records. 500 feet down to 76 is amazingly reductive. And I still have (a proposed) 9 months left here.

Luckily, a plan was put in place in anticipation of this. After initially surveying the collection in early June, I spoke to my supervisor and let her know that at the speed I’ve been trained to process (4 hours per linear foot, thank you very much PACSCL), it should take only about 3 to 4 months to complete the records on the shelves. Even factoring in the government’s love of meetings, I’ve managed to remain under 3 hours per foot, so far (granted, I still need to do some writing and data entry, but the rough stuff is done). She decided that we would head back to the park (next week!) and get the rest of their records so that I can incorporate those into the new collection arrangement and make one, hopefully coherent, collection of all of the park’s records. Due to the Park Service’s penchant for item level cataloging, we’re not exactly sure how much is left – somewhere between 100 and 200 linear feet. And, there is another project in the works after that (depending on funding and my availability).

The point here is – plan ahead. Especially if you come from a fast-paced, minimal processing background, the archival world you are entering will more than likely expect you to move slower than you do. Former PACSCL project processors have found this to be overwhelmingly the case. Keep your supervisor informed. Don’t try to hide the fact that you are efficient and skilled. Work together to plan ahead. You’ll avoid sitting around with little to do, your employer will (I hope) be happy to get more accomplished than s/he had anticipated, and you may also prove that you are worth keeping on for a longer period than originally planned.

Reprocessing: The Trials and Tribulations of Previously Processed Collections

from the poster presented at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, August 2014, Washington, D.C.

by Annalise Berdini, Steven Duckworth, Jessica Hoffman, Alina Josan, Amanda Mita, & Evan Peugh; Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL)


PACSCL’s current project, “Uncovering Philadelphia’s Past: A Regional Solution to Revealing Hidden Collections,” will process 46 high research value collections, totaling 1,539 linear feet, from 16 Philadelphia-area institutions that document life in the region. Since the start of processing in October 2013, the team has completed 31 collections at 13 repositories, totaling over 1,225 linear feet. Plans have evolved over the course of the project due to previous processing in many collections. As the processing teams tackled the collections, the solutions devised for the various challenges they encountered developed into a helpful body of information regarding minimal processing. Future archivists and collaborators can use this knowledge to choose appropriate collections for minimal processing projects, and be prepared to handle unexpected challenges as they arise.


  • Novice Archivists: Volunteers and novice archivists, while well meaning, can make simple mistakes that lead to larger problems.
    • Learn about the previous processors; their background and level of knowledge with the materials. Having a better idea of their relationship to the collection helps guide decisions in the new iteration of processing.
    • “Miscellaneous.” It is a very popular word, even with seasoned archivists. Attempts should be made to more accurately describe the contents of a folder, such as “Assorted records” or “Correspondence, assorted,” followed by examples of record types or 1 to 3 names of individuals represented.
  • Losing Original Order: Processors with good intentions can disrupt original order through poor arrangement, item-level processing, and removing items for exhibits or other purposes.
    • Use what original order remains to influence arrangement in a way that might bring separated records back together.
    • Lone items may require more detailed description to provide links back to other documents.
    • Be aware of handwriting: Previous folder titling can serve as a clue for separated items and original order.
  • Item-Level Description: Item-level description can render the collection’s original order impossible to discern and greatly diminish access.
    • Gain a broad perspective of the collection in order to determine the most intelligible arrangement of materials with an awareness of grouping like with like.
    • For item-level reference materials, such as newspaper and magazine clippings, merge materials into larger subject files and include a rough date span.
    • Be cautious when merging other records, such as correspondence. Arrange materials into a loose chronological order and include in the folder title the names of recurring correspondents, if possible.
    • Make sure to account for the new arrangement in one’s arrangement note. Reuniting item-level materials and describing those materials to the new level of arrangement will greatly enhance access to the collection.
  • Legacy Finding Aids: It can be difficult to tell how accurate an existing finding aid is, and the decisions made on how much of it to preserve can be complicated.
    • Again, knowledge of the previous processors’ education and history with the collection will prove helpful.
    • Consider the fate of the legacy finding aid. If the collection will be entirely reprocessed, is anything in the legacy finding aid worth keeping? Should the old and new simply be linked or should parts of the old finding aid be incorporated into the new one?
    • Proofread! Anything retained from a legacy finding aid should be proofread very carefully.
    • Keep ideas of continuity in mind while creating new folder titles and dates.
    • Format can be a problem. Will the format (e.g., hardcopy only) prove problematic for import? Scanning and OCR can be a time-consuming process.
  • Collection Size and Type: Size and type of collection can have a drastic impact on processing speeds.
    • If possible, choose larger collections to economize on time and money. Multiple smaller collections require more effort than one larger one.
    • Institutional records average a faster processing speed than family or personal papers. Keep this in mind when choosing which collections to process.


  • Work closely with current staff; understand the history of the collection and the desired shape of its future.
  • Learn about previous processors to understand their training, background, and history with the records.
  • Edit and expand upon non-descriptive terms (e.g., miscellaneous) when possible. More detailed descriptions can assist in linking separated records back together.
  • Merge clippings and reference files together when feasible.
  • Make note of reprocessing decisions in the finding aid.
  • Proofread any reused documents or folder titles, keeping ideas of consistency in mind.
  • Be mindful of donor relationships in discussing past problems, especially in any public forum, such as a project blog.
  • Plan carefully from the outset. If possible, choose collections that best fit the project goals.
  • Remain flexible and be prepared to compromise.


"Reprocessing" poster for Society of American Archivists 2014 Annual Meeting
Poster for Society of American Archivists 2014 Annual Meeting
Processing speed by collection size graph
Average processing speed by collection size
Processing speed by collection type graph
Average processing speed by collection type

Learn more about the project at

Minimal Deaccessioning

This post originally appeared on the PACSCL project blog.

The parameters of our Hidden Collections project generally preclude any deaccessioning efforts from being part of the process. We’re tasked with moving at a relatively swift pace – roughly twice the speed of “traditional” archival processing – and this doesn’t leave a lot of time to go through and check to see if some items could or should be removed from the collections. Additionally, being archival interlopers, fairly unfamiliar with the collections and procedures of our temporary homes, leads us to err on the side of caution and leave the task of deaccessioning for another time and, usually, another archivist. However, I’ve found that from time to time, some deaccessioning can take place with relatively no additional time taken for the process.

Obvious duplicates
Obvious duplicates

A prime example of this came in the past couple of weeks with our collection at the Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCOM) Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections. At DUCOM, we are processing about 250 feet of materials in the Academic Affairs records group of Hahnemann University. This group is made up of many smaller collections of papers from administrators and faculty, as well as broader collections from academic units, assorted publications, and more. While processing each of these collections, we often noted files that we knew we had seen before and were obviously duplications, but due to time constraints and issues of provenance, we let this fact bother us momentarily and then moved on. But when it came to the series of publications, the rules changed a bit.

Deaccessioned publications
Deaccessioned publications

As the materials in the series came from a variety of smaller collections of publications, the aim was to file them all together, leaving issues of provenance out of the picture. And, as we decided to file them chronologically within four subseries, picking out the duplicates became quite simple during the final process of arranging and boxing. As can be seen in the accompanying pictures, duplicated publications were blatantly obvious. After a quick glance through each set of duplicates, three copies of each were retained, consisting of the versions in the best condition or any annotated copies. The excess duplicates were removed from the collection and given to the main archivists who will decide upon their ultimate fate. Though it may not seem like much in a collection of roughly 250 feet, we were able to remove over a foot of redundant material in this manner without slowing down our process. We consider this a win-win situation and recommend using this idea of minimal deaccessioning when possible with future collections.