Archival Issues: Driven by Change

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives,

The Archival profession is a dynamic and exciting profession with real issues.  Like many other professions, the archival profession is plagued by technological changes, user needs, and finite resources.  The greatest issues facing archives today are those related to how archival collections are created and how an archive decides to make those collections available to its users and other researchers.

Once items are identified as being archival materials thru the appraisal process, they are brought to the archives to be processed and eventually made accessible to archival users.  The process by which these materials are made available and accessible to users is unique to each archive.  However, depending on the material, backlogs of different materials to be processed can be created when certain aspects of the process are not considered.  Additionally, the advancement of technology has once again created new ways for archival materials to be created and accessed.

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Touring an Archival Collection With the University Archivist

Courtesy of Manuscripts Archives & Special Collections @ WSU Libraries,

This past semester I took a tour of the archives where I work, Manuscripts Archives & Special Collections at Washington State University Libraries in Pullman, WA.  The actual date of the tour was February 2, 2012.

Touring the university archives was a fun and informative experience.  I cannot think of a better way to start to understand the archiving profession than to tour an archival collection with the actual archivist.  Our guide for our tour was Mark O’English, the University Archivist for Washington State University.

The take-aways from this visit are the following:

60,000 rare additions, some dating back to the 16th century

it takes approximately ten hours to process one linear foot of recently acquired materials

Archives audience: scholars nation-wide, scholars in the Pacific Northwest, and university constituents

It serves the “collective memory of the institution

Acquisition of materials is primarily through individual donations and private purchases

Materials collected include manuscripts, photographs, audio and video tapes, films, printed and published materials (books, maps, broadsides, etc.)

MASC’s total collection holds approximately 17,000 linear feet of primary source material and 38,000 printed items, or roughly 5,000 linear feet of printed material

If you’d like to read about my entire experience please read on.

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The Driving Force Behind the Archival Profession

Courtesy of Penn Law – Biddle Law Library Archives,

One of the discussions we had in my archives and manuscripts course this past spring semester was what we see as the driving force behind the archival profession, why even bother, why it’s important, and what keeps it going.

There is an inherent value in the activities undertaken by human beings, no matter what the source of those activities may be.  The results of these activities are usually represented by some type of documentation, such as written works, pictures, or sound or visual recordings.  Archiving the documents representing human activities is how society eventually “remembers” and ultimately this material provides additional value (secondary value) to future researchers and others.

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Understanding the Process: Archival Finding Aid Sample

courtesy of

One of my archives and manuscripts course assignments was to develop a finding aid for a collection of papers given to me by my instructor. The materials were in PDF format and there were over 70 files, many had multiple pages, which made the arrangement and subsequent description of the materials interesting, fun, and time consuming.

So much goes into creating a finding aid. An archivist’s job here is to describe and list the materials in a manner that will assist researchers in the most effective way while also making the material accessible to researchers from, in this case, the archive’s Web site. This is done by the use of keywords and searchable terms from the archive’s search functions.

Another factor in the creation process is an archivist’s time. They cannot devote a great deal of time to creating finding aids, since this is not their only job duty. However, archivists are responsible for creating a finding aid for every aspect of their archival collection. Most archival collections have not accomplished this, making it that much more important and also drawing attention to the amount of time it takes to create them and the daunting task faced by archivists.

What follows is the finding aid I created for these materials, including an inventory list.

Let me know your thoughts regarding this finding aid.

Also what experiences have you had with using finding aids?

Thanks for reading!

The finding aid is below.
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