10 thoughts on “Informal Survey: How Does Your Institution Publicize Unprocessed Collections?

  1. I publish a partial list of our unprocessed collection on our website.
    In the past, archives staff not process/arrange materials as collections. They more or less turned the archives into a vertical file filing materials by topic rather than by collection. The archivist before me began pulling collections together, and I’m still working on that project myself. Once I’ve pulled together a collection, I add it to the list (Word Document pdf) on our website.

    As a result of past practices, only a very few of our collections have finding aids. Therefore, when I’m contacted about what we have on a certain topic, I have to search the lists and databases that have been created for staff usage. I then make a “research guide” listing the materials we have on a requested topic. Depending on the topic, that can take me up to several hours to complete. I save the guides and reuse the ones concerning popular research topics.

    When patrons want an unprocessed, or under-processed, collection, I give the collection to them as is. By the time I’ve accessioned a collection, I usually have the collection in a box and it is more or less presentable.

    The only time I’ve processed a collection for a patron request was when a German gentleman gave me several months notice he was visiting our archives. He also wanted to see materials pertaining to the exhibits our museum have created. The institutional archives had almost no description, so I had to organize and describe those records just to find what he wanted. I’m working on the institutional records regularly now, because we will be celebration our 50th year in 2020.

    Most of my patrons are very thankful for the materials they are allowed to research.

    No, we have not pursued funding for processing specific closed or backlogged collections.

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  2. Here at Indiana University South Bend, here’s what I do and/or my institution (or don’t do):

    a) creates public basic collection-level records upon accession
    I don’t do this.

    b) publishes a list of unprocessed collections on their websites
    I don’t do this.
    c) provides publicly accessible information about their existing unprocessed collections in any other way (please specify).
    I do this if someone/a group/a requester asks me – and if that’s a group conversation, I’m happy to have it.

    In terms of highlighting challenges unprocessed collections pose for lone arrangers specifically. Is it harder to respond to research interest in unprocessed collections with limited staff?
    Absolutely – I try – when I get requests where I know that it means digging into, and accessing, my unprocessed collections – make it clear with a good and transparent and open conversation with the requestor(s) at that point that it will take more time, and here’s why, etc.

    Does your institution employ MPLP or another approach for on-demand access to unprocessed collections?
    Yes – I do often employ MPLP as I work through requests.

    Do researchers typically appreciate having access to unorganized materials?
    Yes – I have had my patrons who have had such access appreciate that they’re getting access (rather than not). Again – it draws back to having a clear, good, transparent conversation with your patron(s) about what it is, what state it’s in, time constraints, etc. – and thus what their options are.

    Has your institution pursued funding for processing specific closed or backlogged collections?
    No.

    Alison Stankrauff
    Archivist and Associate Librarian
    Franklin D. Schurz Library
    Indiana University South Bend
    P.O. Box 7111
    South Bend, Indiana 46634
    (574) 520-4392
    astankra@iusb.edu

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  3. We create a record for our unprocessed collections in the Library’s OPAC. If we get a request for use of that collection, we will attempt to have it – or at least the requested parts – processed so the researcher may view it.

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  4. a) This hasn’t always been done in the past, but I do it now, and have just about caught up with the backlog. At least the name of the collection/fonds, approximate extent, and a couple of access points entered into our database.

    b) No separate list of unprocessed collections, but the listings in a) are publicly accessible.

    c) I’m not drawing attention to unprocessed collections as a rule, though sometimes they come up in public talks about various subjects.

    We have pursued funding for specific unprocessed collections, based on language requirements (written in a language I do not speak or read.)

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  5. a) creates public basic collection-level records upon accession
    I don’t do this.

    b) publishes a list of unprocessed collections on their websites
    I don’t do this.

    c) provides publicly accessible information about their existing unprocessed collections in any other way (please specify).

    A few of our unprocessed collections are listed on research guides that we make available to those researching the topic.
    I will also mention them if a requester asks me.

    Is it harder to respond to research interest in unprocessed collections with limited staff?
    Yes. When I get requests where I know that it means digging into, and accessing, my unprocessed collections l make it clear to the requestor(s) that it will take more time, and here’s why, etc.

    Does your institution employ MPLP or another approach for on-demand access to unprocessed collections?
    No, although I would like to.

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  6. At my small private liberal arts college, I do not create public notices on accession, so patrons would only know of my backlog by asking about a particular type of material. I do use MPLP principles on collections that warrant it and they are noted as “(unprocessed)” in the Finding Aid. I don’t restrict access to unprocessed collections and researchers who have used them don’t seem to mind. One even said he liked the idea that no one else knew what he might find in the boxes!

    Finally, I haven’t received funding specifically for my backlog. In the past I’ve included temporary staff funding in grant requests and have received feedback (from my grants office) that staffing isn’t something granting agencies like to fund.

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  7. We currently do not provide information about unprocessed collections, but the plan is to begin making basic collection-level data available for all of our collections when possible. I would like to provide basic access to everything before doing more detailed processing on anything. I say “when possible” because one of the many challenges we face is a lack of institutional records that show when we received donations and from whom, so much of the work we have ahead of us will require a lot of work to determine what belongs where before we can do much of anything else. Thanks for the work you’re doing!

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  8. Every year our Historical Society Journal asks the archives/museums around the state to submit a list of the past year’s acquisitions. Other than that list, I do not promote unprocessed collections normally. Every once in a while, I have been asked to prepare a press release when we acquire a particularly interesting collection, letting people know we have the collection but that rarely means that the collection is ready for researchers to come calling. I have found myself sitting beside a researcher as they are looking for information from an unprocessed collection, processing it while they’re going through it with me. That’s often the best I can do in situations like that.

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  9. We (Mercy Heritage Center, archives of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas) do B (a basic, series/subseries level finding aid). We note in the finding aids that unprocessed series/subseries may be restricted. If a researcher wants to view that unprocessed material, from there it depends on the resources we have, at the time, to review the material before they come in/request copies if we grant access. It’s usually easier for us to grant access if it’s a remote request with a flexible timeline.

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