Course:3: Processing
Lesson:Lesson 2: Arrangement
Topic:Step 2: Look for Collections and Series
 

Step 2: Look for Collections and Series

In this step, you are looking for an overall sense of how much work and what kind of work processing this particular collection is going to involve. When you are done with this initial review you should have:

  • Identified collections and record series and physically divided the records into collections as necessary
      
  • Decided whether or not maintaining original order is possible
       

When you open the boxes, you will most likely find one of three situations.

Case 1) The records are well organized, record series are easy to determine, and the arrangement necessary seems almost obvious.

Case 2) The records are relatively organized, but more work needs to be done to analyze collections and record series.

Case 3) The records are a mess.

Letís look at these situations one at a time and go over what steps you need to take for each of them.


Appraising a collection
You're likely to encounter one of three situations when you open a box of records.


  

Case 1) The records are well organized, record series are easy to determine, and the arrangement necessary seems almost obvious.

When you look through the records ask yourself these questions: Are the records in good order? Can you identify the original order? Do they make up a single collection? Are the record series obvious? If all your answers are yes, then you can move right on to Step 3!


organized and unorganized folders
Sometimes the records are in good order and ready for Step 3.

 


 

Case 2) The records are relatively organized, but more work needs to be done to analyze collections and record series.

If the records need to be divided into collections and series, you should do so now.

  1. Identify the record series that exist.
       
  2. Evaluate how large and complex each series is.
       
  3. Decide whether the records should be organized as one collection or as a collection with several series.
        
  4. If more than one series, physically separate out the series (keeping the records in their original order within each series) and label them with temporary labels so you can keep track of them.  Make sure the series are correct before you move anything. 
       
  5. Answer these questions:

      o   Are the records in good order?

      o   Can you identify the original order?

      o   What should the order be if original order is
..  unclear?

Make sure you jot down your observations and notes about the arrangement; then move on to Step 3.  If the original order isnít apparent and the records still seem like a mess to you, take a look at Case 3 to learn how to handle these more complex situations.


 Dividing records into series
At work dividing records into series.

 


 

Case 3) The records are a mess.

Are the records a mess? Unfortunately, sometimes records arrive and are accessioned in great disarray--as if someone dumped the contents of a desk or file cabinet into a box and shipped them off to you.

This can be a daunting and time-consuming situation. Just making sense of the records may seem almost impossible. Take your time. Go through the materials, take notes on what you find Ė look specifically for record series if you can find them. If you canít, try to get an overall sense of the kinds of records you have.

 If you can identify records series:

1)     Evaluate how large and complex each series is.

2)     Decide if the records should be organized as one collection or several collections.

3)     If more than one collection, physically separate out collections and label them with temporary labels so you can keep track of them. Make sure the collections are correct before you move anything.

4)     Answer these questions:

o         Are the records in good order?

o         Can you identify the original order?

o         What should the order be, if original order is unclear?

If you cannot identify series or original order:
In these cases you may be forced to create an order for the records. Archivists generally arrange these kinds of collections in one of four ways. 

  • Types of materials.  Records are divided into groups based on what they are--correspondence, diaries, photographs, and minutes, for example. Click here to see an example.
       
  • Functions or roles of the creator.  Records are divided into groups based on activities. A college professorís papers might be divided into personal life, teaching and research, professional service, and community service. Click here to see an example.
      
  • Chronology.  Regardless of the type of record, everything is placed in chronological order.
      
  • Topic.  Topics are identified and the records grouped by topic. The topics should reflect the personís life or activitiesónot the subjects the archivist thinks people will want to research because research trends change over time.  

Be careful! If you must impose an order on the records, pick one of these arrangement schemes and stick with it. Donít organize some of the collection chronologically and the rest of it topically. In these cases you should seek advice and input from a professional archivist.


records in disarray
If the records are in complete disarray, you will need to re-organize them in the simplest way that makes sense for the records.

Chaos and order
order

Pick one arrangement scheme (here it's type) and stick with it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Resource icon

Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts
Roe, Kathleen. Click here.