Processing Workflow at the Archives of American Art

Table of Contents

  1. SIRIS and Preliminary Research
  2. Pull the Collection
  3. Survey the Collection
  4. Processing Proposal
  5. Process to Approved Level
  6. Description
  7. Select Representative Images for Collection
  8. Review and Approval of the Finding Aid
  9. Adding Index Terms to the Finding Aid & Final Cataloging
  10. Mount on Website

1. SIRIS and Preliminary Research

  • Start any processing project with a thorough SIRIS search.
  • If this is a new accession, there may not be a SIRIS record yet. If this is a new accession, do not complete any processing work unless there is 1) a deed and 2) a completed DCD (Digital Collections Database) record.
  • From SIRIS, note all collections that include the creator name as either a creator or primary subject. These will be described in your EAD finding aid in the Related Material element. Also review any older acquisitions that are found in SIRIS as separately cataloged collections but share the same creator to determine whether it’s possible that multiple collections should be integrated into a single collection. If you feel that multiple collections should be merged, discuss this with your supervisor.
  • Note any loans from the same creator/provenance; these will be listed in the EAD finding aid in the Separated Material element. Be aware that many loans come back to the Archives as gifts at a later date.
  • Check out and review the accession file, noting any descriptive or biographical information found. The accession file often contains preliminary box inventories, microfilm inventories, accessioning documentation, collecting documentation and reports, as well as biographical or historical information about the creator.
  • Review the processing survey record in the DCD, noting the ratings of the collection for the quality of housing and the materials, and physical and intellectual access ratings. Review the Research Value Rating.
  • Review any old finding aids, lists, or inventories. These can be found in the accession file, on Sharepoint, or in the Reference Room file drawer.
  • Conduct preliminary background research about the creator. A Google search is often a good way to start.

2. Pull the Collection

  • Print out a new MARC SIRIS record—do not assume that the SIRIS printout in the file is the most recent. Make sure that the printout captures ALL of the 852 fields (shelf location) as these sometimes cut off in the printed version.
  • Locate and pull all the containers. In addition to the cubic foot boxes, there may be pams, hols, sols, and OVs stored in another location/s.
  • Update the SIRIS record 506 field: “Collection is being processed and is CLOSED to researchers” or “Collection is being processed and digitized and is CLOSED to researchers. ” If this is a very long project, include the date of estimated completion. “Collection is being processed and is CLOSED to researcher until 2012. ”
  • Update the SIRIS 852 fields by replacing the shelf number with your last name and room number (aikens of.2220) and the word CLOSED beside the box numbers in parenthesis.
  • Send an email to reference staff and registrar that you have pulled and closed the collection for processing.

3. Survey the Collection

  • Begin by printing out a blank Processing Proposal [PDF].
  • Conduct a box-by-box physical and written survey of the collection. The purpose of the survey is to become thoroughly familiar with the scope, content, and potential research value/strengths of the entire collection. Use the processing proposal to note the general and specific formats found during the survey.
  • Pay particular attention to the existing arrangement and naturally occurring series/subseries.
  • Using the processing proposal, note the various types of materials found and their extent, bulk dates. Note the numbers of important items, such as diaries and sketchbooks. Note important names and subjects, and rank the physical condition. If you are processing the records of a gallery or organization, you should also note the functions of the creating body and how the documents within the collection support those functions or major departments.
  • As you go through the collection, think about how the collection could be organized and arranged into likely series, subseries, etc. Also think about whether the original order is good, logical, easy to use, or not.
  • Outline the contents of each box by material type or function documented in the papers.

4. Processing Proposal

  • Each collection processed must have an approved Processing Proposal [PDF] completed, except for MMS (Miscellaneous Manuscripts). Complete the Processing Proposal either in printed format or electronically and send it to the Chief of Collections Processing for review and approval, or the supervisor in New York.
  • The Processing Proposal includes information about size, acquisition, previous microfilming, physical condition and/or preservation issues, types of materials found, special formats, level of proposed processing, and estimated hours and schedule for processing.
  • Attach a preliminary outline of your proposed series and subseries to the Processing Proposal, and your survey inventory and/or notes. Write down any questions or concerns you have.
  • The Processing Proposal does not become part of the collection file.
  • Be sure to include any notifications about special preservation and conservation issues, including the possibility of using more than the usual amount of typical preservation supplies (folders, special containers, interleaving paper, etc. ).
  • If the survey identified a significant amount of materials that should be disposed of, attach a cursory list of materials recommended for disposition to the Processing Proposal. Provide the box numbers and types of materials and discuss the disposition with your supervisor.
  • It is likely that the original proposed arrangement will change as the collection is being processed. Significant changes should be brought to your supervisor’s attention in writing.

5. Process to Approved Level

Once the Processing Proposal has been approved, processing may begin. AAA’s Chief of Collections Processing will provide you with up to date written guidelines and procedures, formats, standards, etc. , and is available to assist and answer any questions you may have during processing.

You will be consulting the following documents:

As you process the collection, you may weed and dispose of duplicates without your supervisor’s approval. Other materials may be weeded that are non-archival, such as utility bills, homeowners and auto insurance documents, check stubs, printed materials that add little understanding about the creator or are simply voluminous and easily found elsewhere, equipment manuals, and contemporary published books that are not annotated, not written by the creator, or do not contain illustrations by the creator.

Other materials may contain sensitive personal information, such as personnel and payroll records, medical records, social security records, tax records, etc. Most of these should be disposed of as well, but discuss with your supervisor first.

If you are proposing the disposition of a large amount of material—more than the routine archival weeding of duplicates - a disposition notice must be completed and routed to the Chief of Collections Processing who will review and route to the Registrar and Curator of Manuscripts for approval.

Level 1: Accession-level or Preliminary Processing

  • Upon accessioning, the collection will be minimally sorted and organized according to broad material types or groups of related materials and physically arranged into archival boxes. These groups of related materials could be preliminary series. Materials are not arranged further. If there is time, materials may be re-foldered, but this is not essential at this level unless materials are loose and/or fragile. Loose materials/documents should be foldered at this time and minimally identified.
  • A box inventory may be included at this level. The inventory should identify the primary types of materials in each box and circa dates. For example:

    Box 1: Correspondence, Diaries, circa 1930s.
    Box 2: Project Files, circa 1920s-1950s.
    Box 3: Unopened Letters, dates unknown.

  • It is preferred that the archivist or collector at least try to make logical archival groupings of the materials, such as pulling all of the correspondence together, or all of the writings, etc.
  • Most often, this level of work will be completed upon accessioning.

Level 2: Minimal Level Processing (MLP)

  • MLP is most appropriate for new acquisitions and large unprocessed collections in the backlog. Good candidates for MLP in the backlog include organizational and gallery records, papers of art historians comprised mostly of well-organized research files, or papers of sculptors and architects that are comprised mostly of well-organized project and commission files.
  • Level 2 Minimal Level Processing can also be completed upon accessioning.
  • The collection should be sorted into probable series, usually according to type of material or by original order, with a minimal identification of folder headings, names, and subjects. Using circa or decade dates is acceptable.
  • The collection will be re-foldered into acid-free folders, but further preservation work may not be completed, such as flattening of documents, removal of attachments, interleaving, etc. Letters, however, should be removed from envelopes.
  • Folders do not have to be physically numbered; this work may set aside for an intern or volunteer to complete at a later date. However, folder numbers should be included in the EAD finding aid.
  • If you are minimally processing a collection comprised of multiple accessions, merge and integrate the accessions according to the broad series established above. Any references to older separate collections are not expected to be maintained, nor should the collection be arranged according to old sets of microfilm.
  • An EAD Finding Aid will be completed that includes all typical finding aid administrative information elements, very brief narrative historical/biographical note and scope and content note, and container and folder lists. Series descriptions, if provided at all, will be very brief. Folder numbers should be included in the finding aid. A sample Minimal Level EAD Finding Aid is included in the Processing Manual.
  • If you are processing an addition to an existing processed collection with an EAD finding aid, you do not have to physically or intellectually integrate the addition at this level, unless the addition is small and can be simply filed into existing folders. You should simply arrange and describe the addition independently as a separate series, adding the container #s to the end of the collection.
  • There may be several ways to incorporate additional container listings and folder headings into an existing EAD finding aid—at the end of each series, or at the end of the collection as an additional series. You will need to consult with your supervisor about which is most appropriate, and how to update the existing finding aid to best reflect the addition.
  • This level of processing should be estimated and completed at 5-10 hours per foot.

Level 3: Intermediate-Level Processing

  • Most collections considered fully processed at AAA are processed at this level, except for those that will be fully digitized or are a special grant funded project, or as indicated by your supervisor.
  • The collection will be sorted and arranged into series, subseries, and file units. File units can be large groupings at this level of processing.
  • Items within folders do not have to be in strict order, but should be at least roughly arranged into either chronological, alphabetical, or some other logical order. At this level, it’s acceptable to have broader groupings. For example, rather than a strict alpha order, one could simply group all surnames beginning with “A” into a folder— ;particularly if the names are not represented by large amounts of materials. Or, you could establish file units by name, but not order each item in strict chronological order. You may want to discuss the possibilities with your supervisor. For example, it would not be very useful to the researcher to have 10 folders entitled simply “A” surnames, so archival judgment is needed.
  • The collection will be re-housed into archival acid-free containers and folders and fully identified with folder headings and dates. You do not have to write the collection title on each individual folder, just the first folder in each box. In some cases, particularly smaller collections, it is acceptable to not write the series/subseries title.
  • Folders will be numbered within each container and in the EAD finding aid.
  • Other preservation actions may be intermediate as well. The processing archivist may address only the most critical or fragile items. Not all staples need to be removed, perhaps only those that are visibly rusty; not all printed materials need to be unfolded and stored in OV folders, particularly newspapers, oversized magazines, etc. ; not all clippings or acidic materials need to be photocopied or interleaved, unless they are damaging surrounding items, etc.
  • An EAD Finding Aid will be prepared that includes all administrative information, a brief (a few paragraphs) biographical/historical note and scope and content note, very brief series descriptions, and a simple numbered  container listing with short folder headings and folder dates or circa dates. It is expected that you will follow other AAA written guidelines for both arrangement and description.
  • This level of processing should be estimated and completed at 10-25 hours per foot, depending on original order, type of collection, and number of accessions.

Level 4: Full-Level Processing

  • Collections processed at this level are those to be fully digitized and those that are part of grant projects, or as directed by your supervisor. See also Digitizing Entire Collections at the Archives of American Art for additional processing and description actions needed to prepare collections for full digitization.
  • Collection is to be fully organized and arranged at the series, subseries, folder/file, and item level. Folder groupings that share the same file title should not be large, particularly for collections to be digitized.
  • Correspondence and other series based on names will be arranged by name in alphabetical order. For collections to be digitized, indexes should be avoided.
  • Items within folders are fully arranged in an acceptable manner, such as strict chronological or alphabetical order. Any items separated for storage in another container are to be referenced by either creating a dummy blank folder or a note within the folder. Material that has been removed to an oversized container or folder must be clearly referenced back to the box and folder from which it was removed.
  • Folders have precise headings that include the name of the collection, the series (and subseries if appropriate), the file title, and inclusive dates.
  • All materials are re-housed into acid-free folders and acid-free containers. All folders are numbered.
  • Preservation actions include removal of most staples, all paper clips and rubber bands, and other fasteners. All original photographs, fragile documents, and acidic documents are interleaved with interleaving paper appropriate to the material; negatives and slides are appropriately housed; items are flattened; artwork is interleaved with the appropriate papers, including sketchbooks if possible, and provided additional support and housing if needed. Items in need of conservation action are flagged and noted in the DCD Survey Form.
  • A detailed EAD Finding Aid will be completed by the Processing Archivist. This type of finding aid will generally include a longer, well-researched biographical note; a scope and content note that provides an overview of each series, lists all important names and subjects represented in the collection, and includes some information about the research strengths (or weaknesses) of the collection.
  • This level of processing should average circa 25-30 hours per foot.

6. Description

  • All collections processed to a level 2, 3, or 4 as defined in the Processing Proposal and above will be described an EAD formatted finding aid. Collections processed to a Level 1 may also be described in an EAD preliminary finding aid; this decision will be made on an individual collection basis.
  • Generally, the processing archivist is responsible for encoding his/her own finding aid using AAA’s suite of tools, templates, and stylesheets. The depth of detail of the finding aid correlates to the degree of the processing level approved and completed for the collection.
  • Please see Creating Finding Aids at the Archives of American Art and AAA: EAD Finding Aid Encoding Guidelines for detailed instructions on creating and encoding AAA finding aids according to EAD Best Practices and AAA standards.

7. Select Representative Images for Collection

  • Each processed collection, including those for Collections Online must have one or more “representative images” selected and removed by the processing archivist for high resolution scanning.
  • At least one of the representative images should include an image of the creator if possible. If there are no images of the creator, select other documents.
  • Current instructions and workflow for selecting and removing items are found in Digitizing Entire Collections at the Archives of American Art and Appendix A: Scanning Workflow Forms [PDF].

8. Review and Approval of the Finding Aid

  • Once you have completed your final processing and draft finding aid, you will turn the Accession/Collection file over to your supervisor for review and approval. Please include a hard copy of the htm file of the finding aid.
  • At the same time, upload your draft finding aid to the DCD Collections Online Workflow. You will receive an error message if your .xml file name does not match the DCD collection code.
  • Also at the same time, update the SIRIS record.
    1. Change 506 restriction tag to “Use of original papers requires an appointment. ” UNLESS the collection will be digitized.
    2. Update the 300 extent tag with the correct extent if changed during processing.
    3. Update the 245 title field with any new date information.
    4. Add a 583 action field to state: $aProcessed $l enter level of processing, 1-4 $cdate XXXX/XX/XX $kyour name as first initial and last name.
    5. Update 852 with number of boxes and box numbers (1 bx, #1)
    6. Notify Registrar that the collection is ready for barcoding and shelving OR notify the Terra team that it is ready to be scanned.
  • New York final drafts of finding aids are to be copied into S://Barb/Finding Aids to be Reviewed/New York folder. Make sure that there is both an htm and xml file. Intern and contractor xml and htm files will also be filed in S://Barb/Finding Aids to be Reviewed folder.
  • The finding aid will be reviewed by the Chief of Collections Processing. Note that there is a backlog and this often takes a long time. If edits are minor, the Chief of Collections Processing will simply make the changes to the xml file and generate a new htm file, and re-upload the file to the Workflow. If the changes are major or require “tweaking” the arrangement, you will be asked to do so.

9. Adding Index Terms to the Finding Aid & Final Cataloging

  • The Chief of Collections Processing will notify the cataloger that the finding aid is ready for name, subject, and place index terms. If the collection is not scheduled for digitization, she will also ask the cataloger to do the final cataloging.
  • The cataloger will send the processing archivist the terms in an email. The processing archivist will then check the master xml file out of the DCD via the Collections Online Workflow and enter the terms into the finding aid and re-upload the file to the Workflow. At that time, the processing archivist goes into the Collections Online Workflow Checklist and checks off that the index terms have been added. The Chief of Collections Processing then receives an automatic notification when this has been completed. Also send an email to the chief of collections processing that the finding aid is complete and ready for deploying to the website or to await full digitization.
  • If this is a finding aid for a collection waiting to be digitized, the finding aid may also be reviewed by the information resources manager prior to final cataloging and deployment. Generally, any final edits are minor and will be completed by the chief of collections processing without notifying the processing archivist.

10. Mount on Website

  • After final cataloging (and final approval and review by the processing archivist for Collections Online collections), the Chief of Collections Processing will deploy the finding aid or Collections Online page to the public website via the Collections Online Workflow and Teamsite. She will also notify staff of the availability of the new resource.

Back to Top