Processing Guidelines

Processing Guidelines AikensB July 30, 2015

This processing manual was written for local use at the Archives of American Art, but it is hoped that it will be useful to other repositories. The entire manual was revised in 2019. Questions regarding AAA's processing guidelines can be directed to Erin Kinhart, Head of Collections Processing at


Processing Guidelines: Chapter 1, Processing Workflow at the Archives of American Art

Processing Guidelines: Chapter 1, Processing Workflow at the Archives of American Art AikensB July 23, 2015

Chapter Contents:


Archival processing is defined as the activities of accessioning, arranging, describing, and properly storing archival materials according to established national standards and best practices. This chapter provides an overview of the archival processing workflow at the Archives of American Art and is intended to be consulted and further referenced with other documents in the manual. Collection accessioning is addressed in separate documentation drafted by the Archives’ Registrar.

Acronyms and the Archives-specific references used throughout this document include the following:

Staff CIS — Archives of American Art’s in-house collections management database for managing digital files, digitization workflows, EAD finding aids, and the collections online workflow for fully digitized collections. The Staff CIS also contains an accessions module, a collections assessment module, a processing jobs module, and other modules for ingesting and cataloging digital items and finding aids for output to the Archives’ website.  Staff sometimes refer to the Staff CIS using the old acronym DCD (Digital Collections Database).

SIRIS — Smithsonian Institution’s Research Information System which contains MARC records for the Smithsonian archives and library collections. MARC/SIRIS Records are accessed via the online Collections Search Center at along with additional digital content, links to finding aids, and other electronic resources. 

SOVA — Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives is an online web portal to EAD finding aids contributed by all Smithsonian archival units. Digital content is also available contextually via the finding aids. the Archives contributes all EAD finding aids to SOVA.

Collections Online — the Archives’ large scale digitization initiative for archival collections digitized in their entirety.  Also a reference to the Archives’ automated Staff CIS workflow for digitizing archival collections in their entirety.

ArchivesSpace — the EAD Authoring Tool/System implemented by SI OCIO in 2017 as a replacement for Archivists’ Toolkit.

Workflow Steps

1. Collection Assigned

Your supervisor will most likely assign your collection, or you may be provided with a list of collections to work through. Before starting any processing work or pulling a collection, send an email to the Head of Reference Services to inquire whether there are researchers scheduled to use the collection. If researchers are scheduled in the near future, you will need to select another collection.

2. Start Tracking Processing Hours

Begin tracking hours spent on the following processing tasks: 

a) survey and proposal

b) arrangement and preservation

c) finding aid and encoding

d) processing activities associated with digitization (full processing only)

The method of tracking hours is up to the archivist (notebook log, outlook calendar, spreadsheet, etc.). The total hours spent on the collection will be used to calculate and record the average number of processing hours per linear foot and added to the AAAReports Processing Job.

3. Review Collection Documentation

Print and Review collection-level SIRIS MARC record and conduct a thorough SIRIS search on the main creator’s name. The SIRIS record may indicate multiple accessions and/or list microfilm reels numbers (sometimes multiple sets of microfilm) for gifts and loans. Many of the Archives’ collections have complex provenances and may include both donated materials and materials loaned to the Archives for microfilming and then returned to the donor.  Consult with your supervisor for assistance if you need help sorting out the provenance. Review all SIRIS collection records that include the creator’s name as either a creator or in the collection title. If you find multiple individually cataloged collections that have the same creator, share the same or similar provenance, and were accessioned many years ago, consult with your supervisor. These collections should be evaluated to determine whether they should be merged with the collection you are processing.

Check out and review the Accession File and carefully review the contents of the file. If you do not see a deed, or the most recent deed matching the most recent deed date recorded in SIRIS, STOP and consult with your supervisor. A large number of the Archives’ collections were acquired in multiple accessions, so you will likely see multiple deeds in the file that should correspond to multiple accession dates in the SIRIS record. Review the file for any descriptive or arrangement information found within, including preliminary box inventories, microfilm inventories, and biographical information about the creator. You should consult these when writing the finding aid’s biographical or historical note and scope and contents note. If the descriptive information is accurate, re-purpose it! This information is also often useful for determining the original order of the collection.

Review the accession record in the Staff CIS, if available. In the Staff CIS click on the “Edit” option for accessions. This will provide access to a drop-down menu of all database accession records. Older collections will not have an accession records in the Staff CIS. If the collection consists of multiple recent accessions there will be a record for each accession. Review all accession forms for the collection, noting whether additions are expected, restriction notes, descriptions and summaries of content created by the collector, and the Research Value Rating.

Review the collection assessment record in the Staff CIS. Review the overall Needs Assessment Rating (NAR) and the Research Value Rating (RVR) in the record. If no Research Value Rating exists, enter a rating now or after you have completed processing. If the collection does not have an assessment survey record in the Staff CIS, stop and follow the instructions in Appendix B, Instructions for Completing a Collection Assessment, to create a new assessment record.

Review existing documentation on microfilm of gifted and loaned material. These are generally noted in the SIRIS record and in the accession file. Some materials loaned to the Archives for microfilming were returned to the donor after microfilming but might have been included in later gifts. Often it is not clear what only exists on microfilm and what, if any, loaned materials were included in later donations. Although you are not required to review the loan or gift microfilm nor describe it in detail in the finding aid, try to get an understanding of how the microfilm relates to the collection which you are processing. It may be helpful to quickly review microfilm of loaned materials to determine if they were included in later gifts and are now found within the papers you are processing.

If there is microfilm of the collection you are processing, it may or may not represent the entire collection. After processing, the microfilmed arrangement of the full or partial collection most likely will not match the new arrangement of the papers.

Review preliminary inventories, which may include legacy finding aids, box inventories, folder lists, and microfilm inventories. These can be located in the accession file, on Sharepoint, and occasionally in the Microfilm Reading Room. Existing inventories may contain useful information on original order, and inform arrangement and description decisions.

Take note of any oral history interviews with the creator, or that are primarily about the creator. A quick review of the transcript may provide biographical and contextual information.

4. Conduct Research About the Creator/Subject

In addition to the research completed while reviewing all collection documentation, conduct preliminary background research about the creator and/or subject of the collection. Searching the Archives’ website and Google are a good way to start. A search on the Archives’ website will allow you to make connections with other collections, subjects, and names that will help inform what should be highlighted in the finding aid. Additional resources are available at the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library and SIL’s online databases.

5. Locate and Pull All Containers

Using the SIRIS record print-out, locate and pull all the containers. In addition to the cubic foot boxes, there may be pams, hols, sols, OVs (oversized folders), BVs (bound volumes), and RD (rolled documents) stored in other locations. Notify your supervisor if you are unable to locate any containers. Make sure that the printout captures ALL of the 852 fields (shelf locations).

Update the SIRIS record indicating that the collection is now closed to researchers:

506 field:  Delete the statement and add a "closed" statement indicating that it is closed for processing or processing and digitization.

506 $a This collection is temporarily closed to researchers due to archival processing. Contact Reference Services for more information.

506 $a This collection is temporarily closed to researchers due to archival processing and digitization. Contact Reference Services for more information.

852 fields: Add “CLOSED” next to each container within the parentheses and replace the shelf number with “of.” and your last name and/or office number:

852 $3(4 bxs, reels 3524-3530, CLOSED)$c (of. Ueno) or (of. 2253)

Send an email to all staff informing them that you have pulled and closed the collection for processing/digitization. In the email, include the former box locations that were listed in SIRIS so that the Registrar can either save the space or re-allocate it.

6. Create a Processing Job in the Staff CIS

Create a new processing job in the Reports module of the Staff CIS. In the Reports module, click on the Finding Aids tab to access the link to View/Add/Edit processing jobs. When you add a processing job, select the collection from the drop-down menu, enter your name, the date the assignment started, the extent of the collection before processing, and link the processing job to a project or a grant, or both, if appropriate. If there is no link yet for your grant project, notify your supervisor. Detailed instructions for creating and updating processing jobs are found in the appendix of this manual.

7. Physically Survey the Collection

Conduct a box-by-box physical survey and analysis of the collection. Take the time to become familiar with the scope, content, arrangement, and potential research value/strengths of the entire collection. Time spent on the survey phase is worth the effort as it will help determine a preliminary logical archival arrangement. However, the survey is not conducted at the item level.

You may find it helpful to create a written outline with additional notes on the contents of each box. These are your notes and not permanent.

Identify and evaluate the existing arrangement and any obvious naturally occurring series/subseries and/or logical groupings. Think about how the collection could be organized and arranged into likely series, subseries, etc., particularly in relation to the types of materials or series found typically within the Archives collections. Also think about whether the original order is good, logical, easy to use, or not. Personal papers sometimes have an illogical original order. Be aware that the “original order” you are seeing now may not be the actual original order because the collection may have been “preliminarily processed” by the Archives staff, donors, or family members. Again, the accession file and preliminary inventory (if one exists) may provide clues about the existing arrangement.

Identify the various types of materials/formats/genres found and their extent and bulk dates.  Note important names and subjects, functions of the creating body and think about how the documents within the collection support those functions and/or the creator’s life work.

Briefly evaluate the physical condition of the collection, making note to discuss problem materials or special formats with your supervisor.

If the survey identified a significant amount of materials that should be weeded (duplicates, canceled checks, check stubs, tax forms, volumes of printed materials, etc.), make note of this on the processing proposal. If the extent to be weeded or deaccessioned is large, discuss with your supervisor. A disposition notice may be required after processing.

If the processing survey reveals audiovisual materials, review the audiovisual assessment record in the Audiovisual Survey Database and assess the AV content within collection. Instructions for accessing and searching the AV database are available in the Sharepoint folder for Audiovisual Handling and Re-formatting. Data on AV content might include logical groupings of media found within each collection, transcriptions of labels, brief descriptions, dates, quantity, format information, condition and housing issues, and intellectual access issues. This data may help you process the AV portion of the collection. The AV Archivist can also offer help using the AV Access database.

For help assessing the AV portion of your collection, you can follow the AV Assessment guidelines in the AV Processing Guidelines in Appendix F, which outlines aspects of AV material that will determine the processing work required. These include 1) the need for re-housing, 2) the quality of media labels and documentation which determines how much media needs to be played to create an effective description, and 3) the complexity of the AV material and the quality of the existing arrangement, which determines how much analysis is needed to carry out the arrangement.

For example, can you identify the items and how they might be arranged without actually playing them? If they are labeled, do you need to play the items to improve description?  Are there possible duplicates – are they obvious or do you need to play to confirm? Are the items housed appropriately? Is the media in physically good condition, or is it dirty, de-spooled, or deteriorated?  (Signs of deterioration include odor, warping or other signs of physical deformation, exuding of crystalline or other residue/s.)

The AV archivist is also available for general consult about AV materials, including identification, organization, and description. Remember to record all processing tasks associated with AV content in the AV tracking worksheet of the Processing Task Tracking spreadsheet as outlined in Step 1, including your assessment and survey of AV content.

If the survey readily reveals PII (Personally Identifiable Information), please indicate this on the processing proposal and discuss with your supervisor. The material may simply be weeded from the collection if it has limited research value or redacted once processing begins.

Determine if the collection contains born-digital materials. Make note of the format types, descriptive labels, extent, and current arrangement. Physical format types may include: electronic discs (CD), electronic discs (DVD), floppy discs, data cartridges, hard drives, and memory cards.

Determine whether the born digital media has been logged and transferred to the Archives’ network storage. Digital media collected in New York are logged and transferred by New York processing staff, and new acquisitions in DC are now being transferred by Digital Operations staff. New guidelines are being developed for the tracking of born digital content. Please contact the digital asset manager to determine if the material in your collection has been logged and transferred or if you have question about digital formats found in the collection.

For collections where media has been transferred prior to 2018, there will be a reference in the 852 note in the SIRIS record. It says, 852: $3(born digital files: network accessible) $c SAN.

For collections that include media that has not been logged, please fill out a media log spreadsheet template. For each individual piece of media found in a collection, the log documents the collection title, type of media, metadata written on the item, and box and folder location. Send the log to the digital asset manager.

Survey any transferred digital media files. Location: the Archives' internal shared drive.

As you review the contents of the digital files, consider the files in the context of the paper records, including the document types as well as the arrangement and description that may be needed for accessing these materials in the finding aid. Contact the digital asset manager if you are unable to open any of the file formats. He may be able to install software on your computer or provide training on opening or previewing files.

8. Complete and Submit Processing Proposal

Complete the Processing Proposal form by filling in the blanks and checking off appropriate types of materials/possible series and extent, based on your survey notes. The form asks for information about size, acquisition, previous microfilming actions, physical condition and/or preservation issues, types of materials found, AV and digital formats, level of proposed processing, and estimated hours and schedule for processing. The most current version of the processing proposal is included as an appendix to this processing manual.

On the Processing Proposal, note any preservation or conservation issues, including the possibility of using more than the usual amount of typical preservation supplies (folders, special containers, interleaving paper, etc.) Also reference those concerns in the email to your supervisor.

Select the level of processing from 1-4. (See Chapter 2: Processing Levles for more detailed information). Based on the proposed level of processing, estimate the approximate number of hours per linear foot and provide a proposed schedule in weeks or months. The time frame should reflect time scheduled for meetings, breaks, other assignments and duties, annual and sick leave, holidays, etc.

Attach an outline of your proposed archival arrangement of series and subseries.  Arrangement is the most important and most difficult processing task. The formats printed on the proposal form represent the most typical series/subseries/components found within the Archives collections and can be used to inform many of your arrangement decisions. Additional information is included in Chapter 3: Intellectual Arrangement. Consult with your supervisor about series/subseries arrangement and/or titling options for materials that appear to fall into or cross over categories not clearly defined in the Archives’ guidelines.

Write down any questions or concerns you have and attach to the proposal, or include them in an email to your supervisor when you submit your Processing Proposal. The Processing Proposal does not become part of the collection file.

Complete the proposal and email it to your supervisor. Your supervisor will review your Processing Proposal, discuss any issues with you, and approve the proposal and arrangement plan. The approval process should take no longer than 1-2 days. You can begin basic sorting before the proposal is approved. If the collection contains AV material, send the proposal to the AV Archivist. The AV Archivist can provide additional information regarding AV extent, condition, or format.

It is likely that your original proposed arrangement will change as you process the collection, particularly for larger collections. This is normal. Significant changes should be brought to your supervisor’s attention in writing and approved.

9. Arrange and Preserve Collection to Approved Level

Once your processing proposal is approved, arrange and preserve the collection following the Archives’ processing manual. Guidelines on tasks for each processing level can be found in Chapter 2; guidelines for intellectual arrangement are found in Chapter 3; and guidelines for preservation are found in Chapter 5. Consult with your supervisor if you have any questions about these task.

10. Describe the Collection in an EAD Finding Aid

All collections processed to a level 2, 3, or 4 will be described in an EAD formatted finding aid. Per DACS rules, the level of detail in a finding aid should correlate directly to the level of processing completed for collection. The processing archivist is responsible for encoding his/her own finding aid using ArchivesSpace according to the Archives’ written encoding guidelines and SI EAD Best Practices. the Archives also has specific guidelines for creating and encoding EAD finding aids with AV and born digital content.

After the description is completed, assign controlled access terms for names and subjects.

11. Upload and Review Finding Aid

Do a final review of your finding aid using the PDF version available in ArchivesSpace. Please remember to proofread your finding aids prior to submitting for review. Your supervisor is not your proofreader.

After completing the finding aid, export the XML record from ArchivesSpace to the Archives' internal shared export folder. Upload the XML file to the Staff CIS via the EAD Finding Aids Workflow. 

Submit the printed pdf copy of the finding aid to your supervisor for review and approval. The Head of Collections Processing may make simple changes and edits to the finding aid directly in ASpace. Thus, it is very important that you notify your supervisor if you make additional changes to your finding after submitting it for approval. If substantial changes and edits, re-writes, and arrangement tweaks are needed, the Head of Collections Processing will notify you to complete the work and resubmit the finding aid for review.  

12. Update All Collection Documentation

Update the SIRIS record for the following fields:

245 field: Update any changed title or date information.

300 field: Update any change to the collection extent.

506 field: Update access to “Use of original papers requires an appointment.” UNLESS the collection will be digitized.

583 field: Add action field to state: $aProcessed $l level of processing, 1-4 $c date XXXX/XX/XX $k your name as first initial and last name.

583  $aProcessed $l 2 $c 2017/08/17 $k E.Kinhart

852 fields: Update with the container types and numbers. Remove the word CLOSED from the note if not scheduled for digitization.

852  $3(14 bxs; #1-14)$c(of.Kinhart)

852  $3(2 hols; #15-16)$c(of.Kinhart)


Update the collection assessment record in the Staff CIS. Detailed instructions on updating survey elements can be found in Appendix B, Instructions for Completing a Collection Assessment.

Calculate the total hours and average number of processing hours per linear foot.

Finalize your Processing Job in the Staff CIS with final extent, average processing hours per linear foot, etc.

13. Select a Representative Image for the Collection

Each processed collection, including those being fully digitized must have one “representative image” selected and removed by the processing archivist for high-resolution digitization. If possible, the representative image should be a photograph of or piece of writing by the creator of the collection. If the collection already has a digitized representative image, no additional images need to be digitized. Workflow steps for digitizing items are below:

  • In the Staff CIS, verify that item has not been scanned.
  • Verify that no publication or access restrictions apply to the document.
  • Remove the physical document from the collection.
  • Complete the Removal Notice form in the Staff CIS.
    • On the first tab of the form, choose the purpose of the removal (Archival Processing).
    • On the second tab, choose the collection from which you are removing items. A list of items from that collection that have already been scanned will appear. If the item has never been digitized, select “New Item”.
    • Enter descriptive information about the item.
    • On the digitization instructions tab, record any special requests for scanning.
    • On the last tab select the date the item should be returned to you, typically three weeks after removal, and click finish.
    • Print three copies of the completed online removal notice.
  • Photocopy three copies of the collection item and staple the photocopies to the removal notice forms.
  • Place one set in the appropriate folder exactly marking the location of the original document. It should be upright so it is obvious when the box lid is opened. The second set will go in a folder with the item to hand off to the digital imaging technician. The third set is for your records.
  • Bring the documents to the digital imaging technician for digitization. Place folder in vertical sorters.
  • The digital imaging technician will create a master .tif file and upload derivatives to the Staff CIS. They will then return the folder of digitized items.
  • Return the document to the collection and take out removal notice. Place the removal notices in the registrar’s INACTIVE holder.
  • The digital projects archivist will review and finalize the item cataloging submitted in the removal notice.

14. Notify Registrar

Notify Registrar via email that the collection is ready for barcoding and shelving. Include a list of container types and counts from the updated SIRIS record 852 field.

15. Final Cataloging and Website Deploy

After final approval of the finding aid, including review of the digital images and DAO tagging for digitized collections, the Head of Collections Processing will notify the Head of Digital Operations (or an alternate member of her staff) that the collection is ready for a final cataloging check of the SIRIS MARC record.

The Head of Collections Processing will re-upload the xml file to the Staff CIS and mark the collection status as “Publish” in ArchivesSpace. The finding aid will automatically deploy to SOVA and the Archives’ website.


Processing Guidelines: Chapter 2, Processing Levels at the Archives of American Art

Processing Guidelines: Chapter 2, Processing Levels at the Archives of American Art AikensB August 27, 2015

Chapter Contents:


A nation-wide Heritage Health Index Survey of our nation’s cultural institutions was completed in 2005.  It revealed that this country’s libraries, archives, and museums hold millions, if not billions, of items and collections that have never been adequately described and preserved, representing a staggering volume of items and collections of potentially substantive intellectual value that are hidden from users. The Archives of American Art, along with most Smithsonian collecting units participated in this survey and our individual results mirror those across the country.

The Archives of American Art has been proactive in addressing the problem of its own backlog of hidden and unprocessed collections. In 2007, we completed a comprehensive assessment of nearly all of our backlog with internal Collections Care Pool Fund support and continue to assess each new acquisition. This ongoing effort allows us to precisely identify which collections are physically at-risk due to condition, format, and preservation housing needs. The assessment methodology also allows us to rate each collection’s level of physical access (archival arrangement) and intellectual access. Assessment data is maintained in our robust in-house database (the Archives' Staff CIS) which is capable of producing a wide variety of reports about the overall processing and preservation needs of our collections, both collectively and individually.

Backlogs can also be traced to traditional archival processing methodologies that have focused almost exclusively on extremely detailed full level archival processing activities, resulting in only a handful of collections being processed each year. This level of overly detailed work, combined with ever-increasing acquisitions of larger contemporary collections, has led to a national crisis of ever-growing unprocessed and unpreserved backlogs of primary source documentation. 

The Archives needs to make the most efficient use of its dwindling resources while still maintaining a strong commitment to collections stewardship. Therefore, we have joined many other national repositories who have implemented “more product, less process” (MPLP) strategies to accomplish our goal to make ALL of our collections more accessible, rather than a select few. Some collections, such as those that will be fully digitized or are associated with specific grant projects, will continue to receive the highest level of detailed processing. We will, however, employ accelerated processing tactics and strategies for processing the bulk of our existing backlog of unprocessed or under-processed collections, and all new acquisitions.

Level 1: Accession-Level (Preliminary) Processing

Preliminary Processing is completed upon accessioning. At this level, the work focuses on establishing the preliminary physical and intellectual control of the collection and documenting the legal status of the collection. This work is completed by the Archives' collecting specialists, registrar, and cataloger.   


  • The collecting specialist creates an accession record in the Staff CIS. The types and formats of materials, extent, dates, subjects, and research value rating are outlined in the accession record. He/she makes note of any audiovisual materials and born-digital materials, which, in turn, sends a notification to the Audiovisual (AV) archivist and digital assets manager.
  • The registrar creates a MARC catalog record in SIRIS based on the information in the accession record. Often the collection is an addition and the existing MARC record is enhanced and updated.  The MARC record meets DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard) standards for a "Single-Level Minimum" or “Single-Level Enhanced” description.
  • The cataloger reviews and approves the MARC record and adds basic index terms. The SIRIS record is auto-ingested into the CIS, creating a collection record. A unique collection code is assigned to the collection.  
  • The collection is re-housed into archival containers and any loose materials/documents should be foldered and minimally identified.
  • It is preferred, if possible, that the collecting specialist or registrar minimally organize the contents of the collection into broad logical archival groupings, such as pulling all of the correspondence, or all of the writings, together. The collecting specialist may enlist the assistance of an intern or volunteer if needed. These groupings are not labeled as “series” at this level and materials need not be arranged further. As noted above, special format materials should be identified and the appropriate archivist notified.
  • While not required, the collecting specialist or other staff may create a preliminary box inventory to be used by the archivist later assigned to process the collection and the reference staff who will need to assist researchers. The inventory should identify the primary types of materials in each box in the form of a summary or folder list.
  • The registrar should be notified that an inventory has been completed, and she will save the inventory in the proper folder on the shared S drive.
  • The AV archivist conducts a survey of any audiovisual material in the collection to assess its needs and enable any necessary critical intervention. Data is gathered to track the condition of the media and its housing, format, intellectual content and dates as known from existing labels, and assessments of its likely rights status and uniqueness of the content. If housing of audiovisual material is found to be broken, deteriorating, unsupportive, or non-existent, the AV Archivist will re-house it at the time of the survey. If motion picture film is found in the collection, it will be inspected, documented in the film inspection database, cored, re-canned, leadered, AD tested, and its container barcoded so that it may be stored in separate cold storage. Film re-housing will take place as soon as possible following the survey. A large film series may receive only minimal intervention upon accession, depending on its condition, to be fully inspected and re-housed at a later date.
  • A collection survey assessment is conducted by the NY or DC archivist assigned to new acquisitions. If born-digital content is located during the survey, it is logged and transferred according to workflows established by the digital assets manager.

Level 2: Minimal-Level (Accelerated) Processing

5-7 hours per linear foot

Level 2 “Accelerated Processing” is the default level of processing for all unprocessed collections that are not scheduled for digitization, unless otherwise directed by your supervisor.

Minimal-level processing at the Archives results in a DACS Multilevel description. Thus, the arrangement of the collection and the resulting finding aid will establish and reflect a hierarchical relationship of the materials within the collection, and outline all component units (series, subseries, file).

While there is no set of tactics that will work for each unique archival collection, there is a toolkit of accelerated processing tactics that can be used for most collections. Most importantly, the processing archivist must embrace the notion that “good enough” may indeed be good enough and that the Archives’ first and foremost mission is to make as many collections available to researchers as possible. In other words, it is preferable to meet a minimum standard for ALL collections, rather than exceed standards for a small percentage of collections. Consult with your supervisor about which accelerated processing tactics may or may not be appropriate for the assigned collection. Each collection is unique. For example, there may be some series within the collection that need to be more fully processed than others in order to provide searchable access points within the finding aid.

Arrangement Tasks:

  • Always merge existing multiple accessions into a logical archival arrangement. If the collection was previously filmed in multiple sets, do not arrange the collection according to the film arrangement if the filmed arrangement is illogical or incomplete.
  • Sort the collection into series, usually according to type of material or by original order. Follow the Archives' printed guidelines on intellectual arrangement for series titles and series order. Do not create “catch all” series that are not indicated by the type of material.
  • Avoid establishing small and unnecessary folder groupings or sub-subseries unless essential to understanding the content or context of the collection or the collection is very large and/or complex. However, the archivist should not destroy detailed file groupings when those groupings or folder headings reflect the original order. In other words, it is not good practice to “lose” metadata or access points found within the original folder headings by re-arranging into more general groupings. Outline any proposed subseries or folder groupings in your processing proposal and discuss with your supervisor.
  • Folders within series should be arranged in either rough chronological order or alphabetized, depending upon the series type and original order. Correspondence may be kept in chronological order, if that is the original order. However, it may need more careful review in order to establish name and subject access points. If correspondence arrives unsorted, an alphabetical arrangement is preferred.
  • Verify folder content against existing folder titles; do not review contents of each folder at an item-level unless you suspect that the original folder title is incorrect or if an original folder title does not exist. Folder titles may still need to be tweaked or modified slightly from the original titles to either accurately reflect the contents of the folders and/or to make sense to researchers. But, do not change the folder titles or the folder arrangement in such a way that eliminates existing descriptive data.
  • Do not chronologize, alphabetize, or further arrange items within folders.
  • Use circa dates of folder contents for folder unit title if it saves time.
  • If you suspect a folder contains Personally Identifiable Information, notify your supervisor.  Redacting PII may be required even when processing at this level. Redact the information by making a photocopy and blacking out the PII on the photocopy and then replacing the original in the folder with the photocopy. The original documents with PII will be filed in a separate box at the end of the collection that is not included in the finding aid.

Preservation Tasks:

  • Re-house the collection into archival containers, if needed. If existing boxes are archival, re-use with new labels placed over old labels.
  • Re-folder all content into acid-free folders. If original folders were overstuffed, place documents into multiple archival folders. Folded oversize documents do not need to be unfolded.
  • Do not weed duplicates unless easily identified and/or located.
  • Items must still be removed from envelopes.
  • Do not remove staples and paper clips, unless the fastener is causing the paper to tear.
  • Do not interleave unless critical or unless a particular item is easily identified as particularly rare or fragile. Do not wrap or sleeve items unless the item is literally falling apart. You may notify your supervisor of interleaving or preservation work that could be completed by an archives aide or intern.
  • Do not write the collection title on the folder.
  • Physically numbering the folders within the boxes is optional. Notify your supervisor if folder numbering should be completed by an intern or archives aide at a later date.

Description Tasks:

  • Write and encode an EAD Finding Aid, following the Archives' written guidelines and procedures. Include all of the Archives' required finding aid elements, but generally keep narrative text and added notes brief. Remember that the first rule of archival work is that the level of descriptive detail should match the level of processing.
  • Limit biographical/historical notes to no more than a few short paragraphs. Do not include chronologies.
  • Write a brief collection level scope and content note that reference each series and the most significant materials within the collection. Only include information that is absolutely essential to understanding the contents of the collection. For many collections, the finding aid abstract note can also serve as the entire scope and content note. 
  • Keep series descriptions to a few sentences in length; subseries descriptions are rarely needed.
  • Arrangement notes at the series level are optional, unless the series includes subseries.
  • Include folder numbers in the finding aid. It is acceptable to have a set of folders with the same title, rather than listing each physical folder individually.
  • Add details about accelerated processing tactics in the finding aid’s Processing Note only if your supervisor directs you to do so.

Addition to Processed Collection Tasks:

  • Arrange and describe recent additions to processed collections with existing finding aids as a separate series if possible. This will alleviate the need to physically or intellectually integrate the addition. You will simply add the series at the end of the collection, number the containers appropriately, and add the new data and container listing to the EAD finding aid sections accordingly. 
  • Consult with your supervisor about how to best process a large addition to a processed collection. There are a variety of means to more fully integrate an addition without reprocessing the entire collection.
  • Try to integrate small additions into existing folders.

Audiovisual Material Tasks:

Follow these additional guidelines for minimally processing and describing audiovisual materials within manuscript collections (also consult separate guidelines for processing AV materials, found as an Appendix to this Processing Manual):

  • Do not play media to identify content. If AV material is unlabeled and has no accompanying documentation, it can be described as “unidentified” sound recording, video recording, or motion picture film at this level. If motion picture film has been removed for cold storage, consult the film inspection database for information to include in your description.
  • Group AV materials with other related recordings or related non-AV material wherever possible and describe in the aggregate. If physical media is labeled in detail, it is not necessary to include all detail in the finding aid. If documentation of AV content exists in the collection, refer researchers to existing documentation rather than describing in detail in the finding aid.
  • Do not re-house audiovisual material with poor quality housing, but do provide housing if reels or tapes are found with no housing at all, leaving the media exposed. New archival containers are available for audio cassettes, audio reels, VHS videocassettes, and motion picture film reels. Recycled containers are available for U-matic (3/4”) vdeocassettes. Archival sleeves are available for grooved discs with diameters of 10” or 12”.
  • EAD/AV description guidelines must still be followed for all elements identified as “MINIMAL” in the Archives' guidelines for describing AV in EAD. Among these required elements are a collection-level “Conditions Governing Access” (<accessrestrict>) note, series-level scope and content notes that include description of media content, and component-level “Physical Description” (<physdesc> and <extent>) notes, noting count and specific formats found.

Level 3: Intermediate-Level Processing

10-15 hours per linear foot

Intermediate-level processing at the Archives is defined in DACS as a Multilevel Optimum and Multilevel Added Value description. This level may be defined as optimum/complete processing for most  collections, except for those collections being processed for full digitization. Level 3 processing may also represent an intermediate approach for collections that are highly complex and may also be applied to selected series within collections that are being processed at an overall level 2. For example, perhaps you would process the correspondence series and interviews series to a level 3, but the biographical materials series to a level 2. 

Processing Tasks:

  • Sort and arrange the collection into series, subseries, intellectual folder groupings (if needed), and file units.
  • Fully identify and verify the contents and inclusive dates of each folder, regardless of original folder title.
  • Arrange folders within each series/subseries in logical order if none exists, such as chronological or alphabetical. Retitle original folder headings if needed for clarity. At this level, it’s acceptable to arrange the materials into somewhat broader groupings, and use the finding aid to provide more detail.
  • Write the collection title, series title, folder title, inclusive dates, and folder number on each folder. 
  • Most often, each individual folder will also have an individual title entry in the finding aid.  Avoid large sets of folders listed under one title entry.
  • Re-house all collection contents into archival acid-free containers and folders, and take a sensible approach to preservation actions. Address only the most critical or fragile items. Remove metal paperclips, but do not remove all staples just for the sake of removing staples; perhaps removing 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. However, original photographic prints and artwork should be fully interleaved with the appropriate archival papers.
  • Write and encode an EAD Finding Aid, following the Archives' written guidelines and procedures. Include all of the Archives' required finding aid elements, including administrative information, and a fairly detailed biographical/historical note and scope and content note.
  • Craft series descriptions that are fully descriptive, yet not redundant of the scope and content note.  Detailed subseries descriptions may not be needed.
  • Include arrangement notes at the series level.

Audiovisual Material Tasks:

  • Re-house any AV items found in substandard housing. 
  • Play sound and video items with no identification or ambiguous labels in order to accurately identify and describe, unless they are in a format that cannot be played in-house. Consult with the AV archivist if you wish to play audiovisual material to help with processing.
  • If motion picture film is unlabeled, inspect the leader and edge code on the first few feet of film to help identify the content and date. If motion picture film has been removed for cold storage, consult the film inspection database for information to include in your description.
  • Description of groupings of media is still encouraged at this level, either as a group of related media, or as part of a mixed-media component. Or, if item-level metadata is a significant access point, a simple item-level component list can be created, e.g. a list of interview subjects.
  • Whether describing groups or items, assign unit titles that clearly identify the content of recordings, whether by work, genre, subject, location, project, or whatever heading best describes the component. If a recording has extensive, detailed labeling, it is not necessary to include all information about individual recordings in the finding aid.
  • Consider playing a sample of any large group of AV with similar material to provide improved description of the series.

Level 4: Full-Level Processing

15-20 hours per linear foot

Full-Level Processing is defined in DACS as a Multilevel Optimum and Multilevel Added Value description. At the Archives, collections that are scheduled for full digitization are processed at this level. Your supervisor will inform you which collections need to be processed to a level 4. 

Processing Tasks:

  • Fully organize and arrange the collection at the series, subseries, folder, and item level.
  • Arrange and describe folders within series and subseries in such a way that will allow the most descriptive file titles and provide the most access/search terms within the finding aid. For example, arrange correspondence files in alphabetical order by surnames or corporate name for enhanced access. Avoid any type of arrangement that might require an index to provide access terms.  For example, if the finding aid needs an index of names for a particular series, change the arrangement of the series to provide that level of access through the file titles, or folder scope notes.
  • Each individual folder will also have an individual title entry in the finding aid.
  • Avoid intellectual folder groupings as well. Establish subseries if needed or incorporate the folder grouping title into the individual folder title when feasible. 
  • Create and write folder titles that are precise and include the name of the collection, the series (and subseries if appropriate), the file title, inclusive dates, and folder number.
  • DO fully arrange items within folders in a logical order, usually chronological.
  • Create a dummy blank folder or reference note within the folder for any folders and/or items that you separate for storage in another container. In an oversized container that houses items removed from other folders, clearly reference the original box and folder from where the oversized item was removed.
  • Re-house all collection contents into acid-free folders and containers. Interleave all original vintage photographs, fragile documents, artwork, and acidic documents with the most appropriate interleaving papers. Also interleave sketchbooks with acid-free tissue if possible, providing additional support and special housing if needed.
  • Remove all staples, paper clips and rubber bands, and other fasteners.  Unfold all folded documents.
  • Prepare an EAD Finding Aid that follows all the Archives' standards and guidelines. At this level, write a detailed and robust biographical/historical note and scope and content note. Be sure to include references to many access points within the narrative sections.
  • Craft series descriptions that are fully descriptive and not redundant of the scope and content note.  Subseries descriptions are optional, but desired for complex collections.
  • Add scope notes at the folder level if needed to enhance description and access.

Audiovisual Material Tasks:

  • Re-house any AV items found in substandard housing. 
  • Play sound and video items with no identification or ambiguous labels in order to accurately identify and describe, unless they are in a format that cannot be played in-house. Consult with the AV archivist if you wish to play audiovisual material to help with processing.
  • If motion picture film is unlabeled, inspect the leader and edge code on the first few feet of film to help identify the content and date. If motion picture film has been removed for cold storage, consult the film inspection database for information to include in your description.
  • Confirm that any existing duplicate audiovisual recordings are exact copies by playing the tapes or examining the film.
  • You can consider in-house digitization of AV during processing if it is at all difficult to understand what is on them based on the labeling, if items are stable enough to be played. Digitization will make the identification and description process more efficient, particularly when comparing content that might be duplicated in the collection, or when determining if there are multiple items on a piece of media. Consult with the AV archivist if you wish to digitize AV to help with processing.
  • Item-level components are typically created for all media, with cross references, <physfacet> notes, or <scopecontent> notes to clarify content and enhance access.
  • If there are multiple items on a single tape, describe each intellectual item in a separate component in the finding aid and note where the item is found on the tape if known. Include a note that explains any discrepancies between the extent expressed in the physical description and the number of tapes in the collection. See AV description guidelines for details.



Processing Guidelines: Chapter 3, Archival Arrangement at the Archives of American Art

Processing Guidelines: Chapter 3, Archival Arrangement at the Archives of American Art AikensB July 23, 2015

Chapter Contents:


These guidelines address the most common archival arrangement schemas at the Archives of American Art, presented as potential series. However, every archival collection is unique and not all materials will fit neatly into these series. Always discuss the options for arrangement and series titles with your supervisor. 

Processing archivists arrange collection materials into series that document related activities or functions or that have common characteristics. Respect des fonds and original order are the two basic underlying concepts of archival arrangement and, when possible, the arrangement of the collection should reflect the creator’s original order. Respect des fonds instructs archivists to maintain the unity of a collection as created, as well as the evidence of the context of the collection’s creation. The tenant of original order in archival arrangement refers to preserving the original order and interrelationships among the archival materials—to whatever extent they still exist. However, often the true original order at the time of creation has been lost by the time the processing archivist begins to arrange the collection, particularly when dealing with legacy backlog collections or personal papers that either had no real order upon creation or have since been arranged by donors or family members.

The default level for processing at the Archives of American Art is Level 2, minimal as outlined in Chapter 2 of the Processing Manual. The Archives’ minimal-level processing guidelines discourage the creation of complex sub-groupings, such as subseries and sub-subseries unless the collection is particularly large and/or complex. Thus, staff will process most collections down to the series and file component levels only. Item level arrangement within folders is not to be undertaken for most collections.

When possible, audiovisual and born digital media are arranged according to content and context, not media format. It is acceptable only to establish series based on media format when the materials are unidentified.

What Kind of Collection is it and What Should it be Titled?

AAA follows DACS guidelines (Section 2.3) for creating collection titles. Most collections can be classified and titled according to 1) the name of the creator/s or collector/s and 2) the nature of the materials being described: personal papers, family papers, gallery records, association records, research collections, etc. The title should include the name of the person/s, family/families, or corporate body predominantly responsible for the creation, assembly, accumulation, and/or maintenance of the materials.

Most often, the collection-level record already has the correct form of the title. However, the processing archivist should review the accuracy of the title during the survey or when processing. For example, a title could change if the archivist discovers that there are additional substantial creators within the collection or if the title does not accurately reflect the contents.

Archival Hierarchical Arrangement

Archival arrangement involves establishing a hierarchal order of the materials found within the entire collection, such as

  • Collection
    • Series
      • Sub-series/Folder Groupings (optional)
        • Folders
          • Items

Do not establish unnecessarily complicated hierarchies and nesting numerous levels as this requires tedious data entry, is labor intensive, and can be difficult for users to follow. Although it may be necessary for particularly complex and large collections, the archivist should attempt to arrange the collection so that the hierarchy is as simple and concise as possible. For small collections and minimally processed collections, perhaps only one series is needed. All collections will be arranged into at least one series, even minimally processed collections.

Based on the contents of the collection, the following hierarchies within a series are acceptable:

  • Series containing folders—most common and preferred.
  • Series divided into subseries—often needed for larger and more complex collections, or collections of multiple creators.
  • Series divided into subseries, and further divided into sub-subseries—rarely needed.
  • Series containing folder groupings—similar to subseries and encoded as parent components, for a smaller and distinct group of materials within a series when the rest of series or subseries is arranged by file/folder. Use folder groupings sparingly and only when the extent of the material truly warrants some level of separation from the other folders in the series for ease of use.
  • Series containing items—rarely used at AAA except for special formats such as audiovisual materials. 

Extent will determine whether the processing archivist creates additional subseries or folder groupings within series. For example, Writings might be a series containing manuscripts, drafts, lectures, etc., or each of these might become subseries within the series, or a unique series if extent warrants. For small groups of files with the same or similar materials, a descriptive folder title is adequate and preferred over a complex hierarchy.

Series Titles and Arrangement

Over time, AAA staff has identified the most typical related groupings/series found in collections. These somewhat standardized groupings are based on primary functions, activities, or types of similar materials. Some of the series and groupings listed here are appropriate for personal papers, others for business or organizational records, and many could be applicable to both.

Although many of the series titles listed here appear to be based on formats, they are generally naturally occurring groupings that creators use to arrange their archives. Always follow the creator’s arrangement if it is logical and can be used by researchers. Generally, the processing archivist does not need to separate individual documents, files, or groups of files from their naturally occurring original grouping and re-arrange based on format. It is natural for series to occur based on functions, activities, projects, etc. and to contain a wide variety of materials and formats. If the creator filed varied documents (correspondence, photographs, printed materials, AV, etc.) together because they are related to a specific interest, function, or activity, then leave the materials together.

When audiovisual and born digital media exists in an archival collection, it is often related intellectually to other content found in the collection. This relationship between these special formats and other records within the collection should be maintained and expressed in the arrangement.

Again, every collection is unique and there will be materials that do not readily fit into one of these series; consult your supervisor for creative suggestions and solutions.

The list below loosely represents AAA’s preferred order of arrangement.

  1. Biographical Material
  2. Administrative Records
  3. Correspondence
  4. Interviews
  5. Diaries and Journals
  6. Writings
  7. Artist Files
  8. Exhibition Files/Gallery Files
  9. Professional Files
  10. Project Files/Commission Files
  11. Research Files/Subject Files
  12. Teaching Files
  13. Membership and Association Records
  14. Donor Files/Collector Files/Client Files
  15. Financial & Legal Records
  16. Personal Business Records
  17. Inventory and Sales Records
  18. Printed Material
  19. Scrapbooks
  20. Artwork
  21. Photographic Material


Biographical Material

Biographical Material is usually the first series for a collection of personal papers. Typically, biographical materials include:

  • Life documents, such as birth and death certificates, passports, marriage and divorce records
  • Resumes, biographical summaries, chronologies
  • Scattered legal and financial documents (if not enough for a separate series)
  • Awards and certificates
  • Membership documents and certificates
  • Address books
  • Interviews and transcripts (more than a few should form a series.)
  • Scattered family histories and papers
  • Student records
  • Scattered autobiographical essays (if not enough for a Writings series)    
  • Home movies

The series can contain a wide variety of materials and those odd items that are scattered throughout the collection in such a limited quantity that a separate series is not needed, such as one or two items or one or two folders of legal and financial documents, lists, notes, one interview, etc. However, Biographical Material should not become a “catch all” for materials that could be arranged into unique series.

Most medical records are not critical to the understanding of the work of the creator and should be disposed of. Third-party medical records of a hospital, treatment facility, or doctor are also subject to legal restrictions.

Arrangement: Biographical material is generally arranged into file units based on type of document or topical heading. Files are typically arranged alphabetically.


AnchorAdministrative Records

A series of Administrative Records may be established for the archival records of an association, organization, or gallery similar to a Biographical Material series for personal papers. The series might contain records related to the founding, organization, and administration of the entity, such as meeting minutes, charters, by-laws, lists of founders, written histories, board of directors’ files, membership lists, annual reports, etc. Scattered correspondence may also be found.

Just as with Biographical Material, the extent of one group of materials will determine whether they should form a separate series and/or subseries. For example, there may be a large quantity of board minutes or president’s files which could form a unique series, or a subseries under Administration Records.



Correspondence implies communication to and from the creator – a two-way dialog. Letters indicate a one-way dialog, such as incoming or outgoing letters. When mixed, title the entire series Correspondence, and be more specific with subseries titles if needed.

Most collections of personal papers have only a single correspondence series. However, large and/or complex personal papers, family papers, and business or organizational records may have several subseries of correspondence and/or letters. For example, there may be business correspondence with one or more correspondents, and a set of outgoing letters, or perhaps family correspondence was maintained separately from professional correspondence.

Remember, correspondence is often mixed throughout the collection in other series, such as subject files, research files, publishing files, exhibition files, artists’ files, project and commission files, teaching files, etc. These series most often contain a wide variety of materials, including correspondence that should remain with the rest of the documents in that file unit. Moreover, in some collections, correspondence may be found ONLY in these files, rather than being separated into its own series. In this case, leave it. Again, let the original order guide you.

Letterpress books, memoranda, telegrams, Christmas and greeting cards, illustrated letters, and emails should all be included in a correspondence series.

Arrangement: It is very difficult and time-consuming to create an arrangement of correspondence independent of the creator’s arrangement, particularly if the processing archivist tries to establish subject headings. This is generally not recommended. The preferred method of arranging a correspondence series or subseries is alphabetical by name of correspondent, topic, or event. This allows searchable access points. However, exceptions are made for minimal level processing. All correspondence must be arranged alphabetically if the collection is scheduled for digitization.

When arranging correspondence in alphabetical order, create a named file unit if there are five or more pieces of correspondence with/of the same person. If there are fewer than 5 pieces of correspondence associated with one name or topic, it is acceptable to create alphabetical miscellaneous file unit titles.  For example, “A, Miscellaneous”; “B, Miscellaneous.” Unidentified correspondents and letter fragments should be filed at the end of the series or subseries. The processing archivist can create a scope/list note at the file level containing the names if any or even all of the names within alphabetical miscellaneous files need to be individually identified in the finding aid. 

If the original order is chronological, or if the correspondence is unorganized and has no logical arrangement and alphabetizing would be too time consuming, arrange the correspondence in chronological order, particularly for minimally processed collections. Use scope notes at the series level or at the folder level to provide name access.



Interview recordings (both analog and digital) and interview transcripts are common in Archives’ collections. Be precise in titling series. If there are only interviews found and no transcripts, title the series Interviews. If there are transcripts only, title the series Interview Transcripts. Arrange audio and video recordings of interviews in the Interviews series. When the collection contains one or two interviews/transcripts, it is acceptable to arrange those in the Biographical Materials series. If there are more than two, a series should be established.

Interviews and transcripts are also commonly found in other series, such as writing project files, research files, and exhibition files. For context, they should always remain with those related files. If the interviews have already been separated, the processing archivist may establish a unique series, or consider whether it is more appropriate to arrange the materials with the related files if time permits. 

Always state the name of both the interviewee and the interviewer in the file title, when known. 


AnchorDiaries and Journals

Diaries and journals form their own series when there are more than two. Two or fewer can be arranged in the Writings series. It is often difficult to differentiate between a diary and a journal. Usually a journal is more reflective and records the creator’s feelings, while a diary documents activities – always use the creator’s title if labeled. Both are usually in a dated format. In some cases, diaries and journals are focused on one specific activity, such as travel or painting. If the creator has not labeled the item/s specifically as either a journal or diary, default to “diary.”

Diaries and journals of artists are sometimes illustrated (be careful not to confuse with sketchbooks). If it appears that there are more drawings within the diary or notebook than writings, either incorporate that information in the title (for example, Illustrated Journals), or alternatively arrange them as "Annotated Sketchbooks" in the Artwork series.

Arrangement: Diaries or journals are arranged in chronological order, unless there are identifiable sets of diaries/journals for separate activities. A collection of family papers might also contain diaries of more than one family member.


AnchorWritings /Writing Projects

Personal papers typically contain a wide variety of writings, manuscripts and drafts, journal articles, exhibition catalog essays, prose, poems, lists, speeches, lectures, notes and notebooks, heavily annotated calendars, etc. authored by the creator or by others about the creator and can most often be arranged into one series, with subseries if extent warrants. Be specific with the series title. For example, if lectures are the only format of writing found, then title the series Lectures.

Manuscript and published versions of books written by the creator are also arranged here. Books of interest to the creator or about the creator should be weeded from the collection, unless they are rare. Weeded books will be given to the SI Libraries. Other published materials about the creator, such as printed articles, clippings, exhibition catalogs, etc. should be filed in the series of printed materials, if archival.

If the collection contains only one or two diaries or journals, arrange these in the Writings series. If there are more than two diaries or journals, they should form a separate series.

Writings by others are arranged in this series as well, perhaps as a separate subseries if extent warrants. 

As with other series, writings are commonly found in other series, such as writing project files, exhibition files, project/commission files, teaching files, etc. (See below)

Groupings and subseries can be created based on the various forms/genres of the writings, and in chronological order after that.

The archivist may establish a Writing Project Files series when there is supplementary documentation with the completed or draft writings. This is often found in the papers of art historians. The supplementary documentations might consists of a mix of research notes, drafts, related correspondence, publication documentation, etc. If there is also a copy of the final published piece, it should be arranged here, rather than in the Writings series. In some cases, there will be both a Writings series and a Writing Project Files series, wherein only a few of the creator’s writings have supplementary documentation. 


AnchorArtist Files

Artist files are typically found in gallery records and the papers of art historians. In gallery records, artist files consist of materials relating to an artist either represented by the gallery or in which the gallery had an interest. Most often, files document a relationship that the gallery had with an artist. In some cases, artist files may represent a passive activity or general interest of the gallery and may be better arranged as research or reference files. The papers of art historians also often contain research files arranged by artists’ names. The files could document relationships (less common) with artists, document research activities, or reflect a more general research interest.

These files often contain a wide variety of materials such as correspondence, photographs, sales records, legal documentation, exhibition records, printed materials, etc.

Arrangement: Arrange in alphabetical order by name of artist. If an artist is represented by a subset of folders, consider arranging into folder groups. You will rarely need to establish subseries unless there is extensive documentation for EACH artist. In some cases the creator may have removed photographs, posters, or catalogs from the artists’ files and filed them elsewhere. Maintain the creator’s arrangement.


AnchorExhibition Files/ Gallery Files

Exhibition Files and/or Gallery Files are found in both personal papers and gallery/organizational records. The files generally contain a variety of materials related to and documenting individual named exhibitions, such as planning documents, lists of works of art, correspondence, loan forms, condition reports, insurance and shipping documents, photographs, annotated catalogs, scrapbooks, video and film, etc.

Arrange exhibition files by name of exhibition in chronological order by date of exhibition. All materials for one exhibition are maintained together, including exhibition catalogs, if other documentation of the exhibition exists. If, however, the only documentation of an exhibition is a published catalog, the catalog should be arranged in the Printed Materials series.

Titles of exhibitions are expressed in italics followed by the date/s of the exhibition in parenthesis, followed by the dates of the archival materials. The dates of the actual exhibition form part of the unit title of the file. DO NOT confuse the date/s of the exhibition with the date/s of the materials in the folder – even if they are the same date/s. 

Sometimes the archivist will not easily be able to find an exact title of an exhibition. In these cases, create a file title based on the name of the artist, venue, or date. Brackets are not necessary. 


AnchorProfessional Files

Professional Files is a valid series title when the creator arranged all of his or her work related files together, usually in some sort of comprehensive alphabetical order, or there are a substantial number of files that reflect the creator’s professional activities outside of their primary job, such as work on juried shows, their work and memberships in professional organizations, advisory and consulting work, serving on government committees, etc., or the collection contains files reflecting numerous professional activities but these files do not exist in enough quantify to justify establishing separate series for each type of activity. 


AnchorProject Files/ Commission Files

Personal papers may contain files organized according to clearly identified projects or commissioned work, particularly the papers of sculptors, muralists, architects, and curators. The processing archivist may have one series for one major named project, one series for all project files, or subseries for a number of named projects. The processing archivists may also establish a series entitled Project Files with subseries to accommodate different categories of projects, such as “curatorial projects”, “consulting projects”, etc. Remember, these files should reflect distinct, identifiable work projects in which the creator was involved.


AnchorResearch Files/ Subject Files

Research Files should be easy to identify, but only use this title if the files contain research notes and other supporting documentation about a topic of research. If the files are associated with one specific exhibition, or project, or writing project, or about artists, they should be arranged accordingly.

Sometimes these files are just all mixed together, usually by research topic. This is sometimes the case with art historians’ papers. Their files often reflect their life-long scholarly interests in which they invested substantial research and about which they wrote multiple articles, books, lectures, and presentations, and even perhaps curated a few exhibitions. It is too difficult and time consuming to sort these files by resulting “product” if the files are not already such an order. Thus, the files can remain together and be organized by research topic, which is usually apparent. When mixed, title the series appropriately, such as Research and Writing Projects.

Generally, arrange subject files or research files in alphabetical order according to subject heading. For subject files, they might represent a passive or undefined role of the creator who collated them simply because they were of a particular interest OR the files are arranged by subjects and names because they documented a specific activity. It is always best craft a series title as specific as possible when the files are arranged by subject, for example, professional files, project files, etc. 

Some creators, however, have simply merged all of their files that reflect personal and professional interests and work-related activities into one large group. The files could be arranged by a mix of subject headings and names, usually in alpha order. It is likely too difficult and time consuming to start separating documents and files according to specific activities, so the original order of the creator is preferred. In these cases, Subject Files is good series title.

It is very difficult for a processing archivist to establish a group of subject files outside of the creator’s original order. So, if the creator did not have a well identified series of subject files, it is best not to create one, or consult with your supervisor before doing so. 


AnchorTeaching Files

If extent warrants, the archivist may establish a Teaching Files series. However, if there are only a few files, they may be arranged in the Professional Files series, or in the Biographical Materials series if there is not a series for professional files. These files should document the creator’s work at the university or college level, classes taught, workshops, and seminars.

Be aware of student records in these files, which may not appropriate to keep. Student records and records of their work and grades are subject to privacy law. 


AnchorMembership and Association Files

If extent warrants, establish a Membership and/or Association Records series for files maintained by the creator documenting their activities and memberships in professional organizations. If the extent does not warrant a separate series, arrange these files in the Professional Files series, perhaps as a subseries.


AnchorCollector Files/ Client Files

Collector/Client Files are often maintained by dealers and galleries. The files document the gallery’s relationships and transactions with, and interest in donors, collectors, clients, other galleries, and museums. The files could contain a wide variety of materials and document and usually document marketing, sales, loans, relationships, interests in donors and clients.

Sometimes, the files will only document one specific transaction, such as sales or communication. If the client files consist only of correspondence, then they should be arranged in the Correspondence series, perhaps as a separate subseries. If client files contain only sales invoices and receipts, they could also be arranged with the financial records as a separate subseries or grouping. 


AnchorFinancial Records/ Legal Records

Most gallery and association records will contain some sort of financial and/or legal records documenting sales and purchases of artwork.  There can be many formats, such as purchase orders or receipts; invoices; sales receipts and ledgers; price lists; consignment invoices; account books or journals; banking records (most of these are non-archival and can be disposed of); tax records (again, many of these records are non-archival); and audit reports. Often related are shipping and insurance records. There may also be financial records related to specific projects or activities, such as publishing and printing.

Financial and legal records are usually arranged according to either the type of transaction they document or more generally into format, i.e., ledgers, or even a mix of both. It is worth taking some extra time to sort out the various types of transactions and filing systems used as these records contain rich documentation for researching provenance.

Legal records are equally varied and may include lawsuit records, estate settlement records, or personal legal records of the business owner. Legal records are usually a subseries of Financial Records and/or the title of the series can be Financial & Legal Records. However, Legal Records can also be a unique series if extent warrants.

Processing archivists must be careful not to expose private information, such as social security numbers, etc.  Employee records and resumes of employees are often non-archival and can be disposed of. Please see note at the end of this document about personally identifiable information.


AnchorPersonal Business Records

Personal papers often contain documents related to the creator’s financial, legal, and business affairs.  Examples include sales and purchases of artwork and artwork supplies, price lists, contracts, loans, gallery dealings, lawsuits, leases, banking, taxes, publishing, estate settlements, etc.  Extent will determine the need to establish a series for personal business records. If only a few scattered documents exist, they may be arranged in the Biographical Materials series.  Financial, legal, and business records may also be found within other series, such as project files, exhibition files, writing project files.


AnchorInventory Records/ Sales Records

Most galleries maintain inventory and sales records in various formats and arrangements.  They may take the form of cards, notebooks, ledgers, loose pages, or a combination of types of records.  They may include extensive photographic documentation. Some galleries maintained their inventory and sales records according to complicated filing or numbering schemas, with cross references across formats.  For example, there may be inventory cards arranged by year, referenced to notebooks arranged by name of artist.  If the processing archivist can decipher the system, it should be documented in the finding aid.


AnchorPrinted Material

Typical printed materials include exhibition catalogs not filed with exhibition files, exhibition announcements, posters, news and magazine clippings (including printed reproductions of artwork), entire newspapers and magazines, press releases, bulletins, printed reports, flyers and brochures, maps, blank postcards, etc. Printed materials may focus on the creator’s interests or life and work, or depict printed images of the work of the creator.

Printed materials are commonly found in other series as well, such as project files, research files, exhibition files, project files, artists’ files, etc. In most cases, these should remain in context. Printed materials that represent writings by the creator may be arranged with Printed Materials or with Writings. Scrapbooks containing printed materials are usually arranged in a separate series (see below).



Scrapbooks usually contain clippings and photographs focusing on the creator’s life or specific activities.  Many also contain brochures, awards, certificates, and letters. Businesses and galleries also create scrapbooks.

If the collection has one or two scrapbooks of news clippings, this can be included in the printed material series. Otherwise, scrapbooks should form their own series. Scrapbooks can be arranged by subject or chronologically.



Artwork is common in the Archives’ collections of personal papers. The Archives does not collect completed, finished works of art, but does collection preliminary artwork, such as studies, sketches, watercolor sketches, drawings, prints, and sketchbooks. Detailed genre information is not needed for minimally processed collections, nor is artwork cataloged according to museum standards. Illustrated letters and hand-made Christmas cards, are often found within a correspondence series and should remain there. Artwork can be arranged by medium, or by artist, if more than one artist is represented.

Sketchbooks are a form of artwork that can be arranged as part of an artwork series or as a separate series or subseries if there is a large extent. Sketchbooks are often numbered and/or titled by the artist.


AnchorPhotographic Material

A series of photographic material might contain a variety of formats, including snapshots, copy prints, original prints, negatives, cased photographs, photograph albums, slides, transparencies, digital photographs, and photograph albums.

Images of any number of subjects might be included such as portraits and candid images of the creator, family members, friends, the artist at work, studios, homes and houses, gallery exteriors, travels, events and parties, exhibition openings and installation views, artwork, reference and resource images, projects, etc.

Arrangement: Photographs should be arranged according to intellectual content and subject matter of the photograph. If negatives, slides, or transparencies are stored in separate folders, identify the formats and in the folder heading. As with most materials, photographs are often found in other series and should remain where they provide the most context.





Processing Guidelines: Chapter 4, Creating Finding Aids at the Archives of American Art

Processing Guidelines: Chapter 4, Creating Finding Aids at the Archives of American Art AikensB August 6, 2015

A finding aid generally provides descriptive information about a collection on varying levels, each describing the same collection, but at different levels of detail and perspective. It describes the entirety of a collection, as well as the collection’s component levels (series, subseries, folders, items). The format of a finding aid reflects the hierarchy present in the collection’s intellectual arrangement, and often the physical arrangement as well. The detail of a finding aid should also reflect the processing level of a collection. If a collection is minimally processed, the finding aid detail should be minimal as well.

AAA follows DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard) guidelines for describing archival collections. DACS and MARC reference points have been included in this guide, where applicable.

Table of Contents

DACS Principles of Archival Description

  1. Records in archives possess unique characteristics.

  2. The principle of respect des fonds is the basis of archival arrangement and description (records created together should be maintained together in their original order if an original order exists or was maintained by the creator).

  3. Archival arrangement involves the identification of groupings within the material.

  4. Archival description reflects archival arrangement and the level of processing.

  5. Rules of archival description apply to all archival materials regardless of form or medium.

  6. Principles of archival description apply equally to records created by corporate bodies, individuals, or families.

  7. Archival descriptions may be presented at varying levels of detail to produce a variety of outputs.

    • 7.1: Levels of description correspond to levels of arrangement.

    • 7.2: Relationships between levels of description must be clearly indicated.

    • 7.3: Information provided at each level of description must be appropriate to that level.

  8. The creators of archival materials, as well as the materials themselves, must be described. (**Note that as of 2009, with the creation of the EAC–Encoded Archival Context–this could change, and describing creators may become a separate descriptive practice.)

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DACS Single– Level or Multilevel Description

DACS assumes that the collection is being described as a “single level” or as a “multilevel” record.

A single level record is commonly known as a collection– level record; that is, it does not describe all of the components (series, subseries, subgroups, files, items, etc.) of a collection. A single level DACS record corresponds to the level of description found in an unlinked MARC record.

A DACS multilevel record includes all of the collection level information but adds descriptive information about the hierarchal arrangement and the component levels found within the collection. A multilevel DACS record corresponds to the level of description commonly found in a finding aid, inventory, register, multiple linked MARC records, or in– house database entry that describes materials at more than one level. All AAA finding aids are multilevel DACS records.

A DACS single level description will include a summary and overview of the types of material present, the extent, dates, significant people, events, or subjects represented, and provenance and access information. There will be information about the creator in the form of a biographical sketch or organization/corporate history and a scope and content note that provides a well– written overview of the contents of the collection.

The DACS multilevel record adds more detailed descriptions of the various groupings of materials as reflected in the archival arrangement of the collection – series, subseries, folder, and items. At a minimum, the series have narrative scope and content descriptions. Each file unit is listed, often in the form of a container or folder list that clearly mirrors the physical and intellectual arrangement of the collection. Items are usually only listed for very small collections. Additional adjunct information, such as lists, indices, and other appendices may be provided for particularly large and complex collections.


Single– level Archival Description – Minimum DACS elements

(Numbers in parenthesis are DACS reference numbers. Note that there may be additional required EAD elements for an EAD finding aid.)

  • Reference Code Element (2.1)

  • Name and Location of Repository Element (2.2)

  • Title Element (of archival collection, 2.3)

  • Date Element (of archival collection, 2.4)

  • Extent Element (2.5)

  • Name/s of Creator/s Elements (2.6)

  • Scope and Content Element (3.1, at this level, may be an abstract only)

  • Conditions Governing Access Element (4.1)

  • Language and Scripts of the Material Element (4.5)

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Single– level Archival Description – Optimal DACS elements

  • All of the above elements for a minimum DACS description.

  • Administrative/Biographical History Element (2.7)

  • Scope and Content Element (3.1, at this level expanded to a full description of the collection)

  • Access Points (see DACS: Overview of Archival Description. Could be controlled subject, names, places, documentary forms, occupations, and function terms. Could include local browsing terms.)


Multilevel Archival Description – Minimum DACS elements

Top level:

  • Reference Code Element (2.1)

  • Name and Location of Repository Element (2.2)

  • Title Element (of archival collection, 2.3)

  • Date Element (of archival collection, 2.4)

  • Extent Element (2.5)

  • Name/s of Creator/s Elements (2.6)

  • Scope and Content Element (3.1, at this level may be an abstract only)

  • Conditions Governing Access Element (4.1)

  • Language and Scripts of the Material Element (4.5)

  • Identification of the whole– part relationship of the top level to at least the next subsequent level.

Each subsequent level:

  • All of the above elements, unless the information is the same as the higher level, including the creator if the creator is same as for the top level. Scope and content elements are not required at the file or item level if the title element is sufficient.

  • Identification of the whole– part relationship (hierarchy) of each level to the next subsequent level in the multilevel description. (Ex.: c01, c02, c03, etc.)


Multilevel Archival Description – Optimal DACS elements

Top level:

  • All of the elements in the minimal multilevel above.

  • Administrative History or Biographical Note element (2.7)

  • Scope and Content element (3.1) A full description of the scope and content of the materials being described

  • Access points (names, subjects, etc.)

Each subsequent level:

  • All of the elements outlined above, unless the information is the same as that of a higher level.

  • Identification of the whole– part relationship (hierarchy) of each level to the next subsequent level in the multilevel description. (Ex.: c01, c02, c03, etc.)


Multilevel Archival Description – Added Value elements

Top level:

  • All of the elements in the optimal description, plus any other DACS elements the repository wishes to include.

Each subsequent level:

  • All of the elements outlined above, unless the information is the same as that of a higher level.

  • Identification of the whole– part relationship (hierarchy) of each level to the next subsequent level in the multilevel description. (Ex.: c01, c02, c03, etc.)

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Overview of AAA Finding Aid Structure and Elements

Below is an overview of the elements typically found in an AAA finding aid. This structure and the corresponding EAD elements have been incorporated into AAA’s EAD template. All of the elements listed below are mandatory, unless stated otherwise. (See Also AAA EAD Encoding Guidelines and SI EAD Best Practices.)

1. Title Page (bibliographic information about the finding aid)

1.1: Finding aid title and dates

1.2: Finding aid author/s

1.3: Date of publication

1.4: Sponsor (if applicable)

1.5: Contact information

2. Collection Overview (begin archival description of collection)

2.1: Creator/s (must match SIRIS MARC record; DACS 2.6 & Ch. 9 ; MARC 100/110)

2.2: Title of collection (DACS 2.3; MARC 245)

2.3: Dates (DACS 2.4; MARC 245 $f )

2.4: Abstract note (DACS 3.1; MARC 520 $a)

2.5: Extent (DACS 2.5; MARC 300)

2.6: Language of materials (DACS 4.5; MARC 546)

3. Administrative Information (information about acquisition and use of collection)

3.1: Provenance (DACS 5.2; MARC 541)

3.2: Separated Material (if applicable; DACS 6.3; MARC 544)

3.3: Location of originals (if applicable; DACS 6.1; MARC 535)

3.4: Related Material (if applicable; DACS 6.3; MARC 544)

3.5: Alternative forms available (if applicable; DACS 6.2; MARC 530)

3.6: Processing information (DACS 8.1.5; MARC 583)

3.7: Preferred citation (DACS 7; MARC 510 or 524

3.8: Restrictions on Access and Use (DACS 4.1 & 4.4; MARC 506 & 540)

Restrictions on Access

Ownership and Literary rights

3.9: Accruals (if applicable; DACS 5.4; MARC 584)

4. Biographical Note/Organization History (DACS 2.7 & 10; MARC 545)

5. Scope and Content Note (DACS 3.1; MARC 520)

6. Arrangement (DACS 3.2; MARC 351)

7. Names and Subject Terms (DACS 11– 14; MARC 6XX, 7XX)

8. Components/Series Descriptions and Container Listing (DACS Multilevel Description uses elements above as needed: titles; dates; extent; scope and content notes; arrangement, etc. No MARC equivalent)

8.1: Series Number, Title, Dates, Extent

8.2: Series Description (scope and content note)

8.3: Series Arrangement (if applicable for subseries)

8.4: Container Listing (Box #, Folder #, Folder Title, Folder Dates, Folder Physical Description, Folder Scope and Content Note, if needed)

May Add

Subseries Number, Title, Dates

Subseries Scope and Content Note, if applicable

Subseries Arrangement Note (rarely applicable)

Container Listing ( Box #, Folder Title, Folder Dates, Folder Physical Description, Folder Scope and Content, if needed)

May Also Add

Sub– subseries Number, Title, Dates

Container Listing ( Box #, Folder Title, Folder Dates, Folder Physical Description, Folder Scope and Content, if needed)

9. Other Descriptive Data – Indexes (if applicable; DACS 7, notes; MARC 500)

9.1: Collection Level Index

9.2: Series Level Index

10. Other Finding Aid (if applicable; DACS 4.6; No MARC equivalent)

11. Bibliography (if applicable; DACS 8.1.3; No MARC equivalent)

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Finding Aid Elements

1. Title Page

1.1: Finding aid title and dates

Provide the full title of the finding aid that includes the dates of collection.

A Finding Aid to the Nancy Douglas Bowditch Papers, 1888– 1979, in the Archives of American Art.

1.2: Finding aid author/s

Provide the name/s of the author of the finding aid.

by Jayna Hanson

1.3: Date of publication

Provide the date of creation/publication of the finding aid.

February 2009

1.4: Sponsor (if applicable)

Provide the name of the sponsor/s if applicable. Note that some collections will have multiple sponsors. Perhaps one sponsor funded processing and another funded digitization, etc. Be sure you provide the full and complete name of the funder.

Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Getty Foundation. Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

1.5: Contact information

Contact Information is built into the template.

Reference Department

Archives of American Art

Smithsonian Institution

Washington, D.C. 20560

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2. Collection Overview

2.1: Creator/s (DACS 2.6 and Chapter 9; also must match AAA SIRIS MARC record)

Provide the proper name of the creator, using the format of surname first for persons. For corporate names, use the proper name of the company. If a personal name is part of the corporate name, do not change the order of the names. When there are multiple creators, list only the one found in the SIRIS MARC record; co– creator names will be included in the added index terms/access points.

Pollock, Jackson (even though the title is Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner papers)

Perls Galleries (formal corporate name, not Perls, Klaus)

Leo Castelli Gallery (not Castelli, Leo)

Mills Family (for Robert Mills Family letters)

2.2: Title of collection (DACS 2.3; papers, records, family papers, letter collection, etc.)

Provide the title of the collection. Most collections can be classified and titled according to 1) the name of the creator/s or collector/s and 2) the nature of the materials being described: personal papers, family papers, gallery records, association records, research collections, autograph collections, letters, collections (assembled), audio– visual collections, etc.

The title should include the name of the person/s, family/families, or corporate body predominately responsible for the creation, assembly, accumulation, and/or maintenance of the materials. Record the name in natural order by which the creator or collector is most generally known. In the title of the collection the “p” and “r” in “papers/records” should be lower– case, as should the first letter of any other words included in the title such as “family,” “letters,” or “collection.”

Usually the AAA SIRIS/MARC collection record already has the correct form of the title in the 245 field. However, review the title when you survey the collection, or as you process the collection, as it may need re– titled. For example, processing might reveal that a collection originally titled with two creators, such as a husband and wife, might really be the papers of only one primary creator. Perhaps a collection entitled “family papers” actually have only one primary creator, or the opposite might be true as well– papers thought to have one primary creator might prove to be family papers.

If the collection consists of a particular form of material, the title should identify this e.g. “Eastman Johnson letters” (not “Eastman Johnson Letter collection”); if the collection is an intentionally assembled collection consisting of different forms of material, the title should identify this e.g. “Winslow Homer collection.”

Robert Mills family letters

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner papers

Lillian and Frederick Kiesler papers

Timothy Cole papers

Leo Castelli Gallery records

Dorothea Gilder papers regarding Cecilia Beaux

Margo Feiden Galleries printed materials regarding Al Hirschfeld

Everett Shinn collection

2.3: Dates (DACS 2.4)

Provide the inclusive dates of the entire collection, expressed in years. When describing archival collections, you will almost always use the dates of creation, except for publication dates in series titles, series descriptions, or folder titles. AAA does not use the dates of the record keeping activity for collection dates. If the material being described is a reproduction, do not state this date in the collection inclusive dates, but, rather in the scope and content note/s.

If necessary, provide bulk dates. Limit the use of bulk dates in the title to when there is a significant gap between groups of dates. For very large gaps in inclusive dates, the date spans should be expressed separately (see below). You may include a reason for the gap (or unusually long date spans) in the Abstract and Scope and Content Note, in a sentence that is very close to the dates.

Never use “undated” in the title of a collection (or series title.) Do not use ca., use circa throughout the finding aid.

Charles Henry Hart papers, 1774– 1930, bulk 1888– 1918

Timothy Cole papers, 1883– 1936

John Smith papers, 1910– 1923, 1988

2.4: Abstract (DACS 3.1)

An abstract should briefly summarize biographical/historical information about the creator, the scope and content of the collection, and assist users to quickly identify whether the collection may be relevant to their research. It should note inclusive and bulk dates (if applicable), extent, and a very brief summary of the materials being described. It should be more than a mere listing of the types of materials found and provide users with a sense of the bulk of the materials, and what the various types of materials are about. Also explain the reason for any large gaps in inclusive dates.

When describing a collection that is very small, less than 0.2 linear feet, comprised primarily of letters, provide the number of letters/documents within the collection in the abstract.

Example 1: The papers of painter, author, and designer Nancy Douglas Bowditch measure 3.9 linear feet and date from 1888 to 1979. The papers reflect Bowditch's relationship with her husband William Robert Pearmain and her father George de Forest Brush, and other family members. The majority of the collection consists of Bowditch's correspondence with family and friends and her notes and writings, particularly concerning her father and her biography of him, The Joyous Painter, and her unpublished biography of her husband. There is also correspondence between Pearmain and his family. Also found are scattered family and biographical materials and personal business records; artwork by Pearmin, Bowditch, and George de Forest Brush; printed materials; and photographs of family and works of art.

Example 2: The papers of wood engraver Timothy Cole date from 1883– 1936, and measure 0.5 linear feet. Found within the papers are letters primarily written by Timothy Cole to the editors of Century Magazine, and letters to Cole from colleagues Gifford Beal, Alice Brown, George de Forest Brush, Kenyon Cox, David Finney, Helen C. Frick, Joseph Pennell, Caroline Powell, John Singer Sargent, and Helen M. Turner. Also found are miscellaneous writings, artwork including wood engravings and printing plates, miscellaneous clippings and a photograph of Cole and his wife.

Example 3: The records of New York City Fischbach Gallery measure 24.9 linear feet and date from 1937 to 1977 with the bulk of materials dating from 1963 to 1977. The majority of the collection consists of artists files containing a wide variety of materials documenting the gallery's relationship with its stable of modern and avant– garde artists, as well as gallery exhibitions. Files include biographical materials, correspondence, printed materials, and photographs. Gallery records also include general business correspondence, access– restricted financial records; and additional printed materials.

Example 4: The papers of New York artist Lillian Kiesler and architect and sculptor Frederick Kiesler measure 48.2 linear feet and date from circa 1910s– 2003, with the bulk of the material from 1958– 2000. The collection documents their personal and professional lives and the legacy of Frederick Kiesler's work through biographical material, correspondence, legal, financial and business records, teaching files, exhibition and performance files, artwork, subject files, printed material, writings and interviews, monographs, photographic material, and sound recordings and motion picture film. Also found are papers related to Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann and the papers of artist Alice Hodges.

Example 5: The collected papers of painter Everett Shinn date from 1877– 1958, and measure 3.0 linear feet. Found within the papers are biographical material; correspondence with friends and colleagues; personal business records; art work, including two sketchbooks of designs for Belasco's Stuyvesant Theatre; notes and writings, eight scrapbooks, printed material, and numerous photographs of Shinn, his colleagues, and his work.

Example 6: The papers of sculptors Marion Sanford and Cornelia Chapin measure 3.0 linear feet and date from 1929– 1988. Sanford and Chapin were close companions and shared a studio in New York City. The papers include scattered materials created by and about both women, including biographical materials, one folder of correspondence for each woman, a few writings and essays, newsclippings, exhibition catalogs, other printed materials, and four scrapbooks (three about Chapin and one about Sanford). Photographs are of Chapin only and of artwork of both women. There is also one sound recording of a radio interview with Chapin and several motion picture films of Chapin's home movies transferred onto video, mostly of her time working in Paris.

Example 7: The Jean Gabriel Lemoine papers relating to Morgan Russell are comprised of 20 items and date from 1921– 1923, and 1964. The item dating from 1964 is a typescript of a letter fragment.

2.5: Extent (DACS 2.5)

Provide a description of the extent of the collection in linear feet or items if the collection is less than 0.2 linear feet. When describing a collection that is very small, less than 0.2 linear feet that is comprised primarily of letters, also provide the number of letters/documents in the abstract note and scope and content note.

Use the following measurements when calculating extent:

Cubic foot white storage boxes: 1.0 linear feet

Hol document/manuscript boxes: 0.4 linear feet

Pam ½ size document/manuscript boxes: 0.2 linear feet

Sol oversized gray lidded boxes: 0.3 linear feet

Oversized folders: 0.1 linear feet

2.6: Language of materials (DACS 4.5)

State the language of the collection. If one or more other languages are significantly represented in the collection mention them here.

Collection is in English.

Most of the collection is in English; some records are in Spanish.

Most of the collection is in English; some records are in French and Spanish.

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3. Administrative Information

3.1: Provenance (DACS 5.2)

Provide basic information about the immediate source of acquisition of the collection, which should include the name of the donor, the date/s of the donation, and the relationship of the donor to the papers if the donor is not the creator.

Upon re– processing of older donations, AAA may choose to combine several donations which may have been previously cataloging as separate individual collections. If you are merging collections together, you may list all of the donors here.

Sometimes AAA borrowed materials for filming from a donor, which the donor later donated as a gift. If so, you may provide that information here, but do not include any reel numbers. Note that loans on microfilm are described in the Separated Materials Note.

DO NOT list materials or provide reel numbers in this element.

Example 1: The Ben Benn papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by Benn's nephew, Peter Rosenberg, in 1988.

Example 2: Lillian Kiesler donated her papers and papers related to Frederick Kiesler in several increments between 1980– 2000. She also donated papers related to Hans Hofmann in 1981. In 2002, circa 42 linear feet of material was donated from Lillian Kiesler's estate via Maryette Charlton executrix. Lillian Kiesler also lent material related to Frederick Kiesler for microfilming in 1971, which was included in later donations. The Frederick Kiesler materials were initially cataloged separately, but have been merged with the Lillian Kiesler papers.

Example 3: The records were donated by Robert Warshaw, executor of the Madeleine Chalette Lejwa estate in two accessions in 1997 and 2005.

Example 4: The Joseph Cornell papers were donated in several installments from 1974 to 1989 by Joseph Cornell’s sister, Betty Cornell Benton. Most, but not all, of the correspondence was loaned for microfilming in 1974, but subsequently donated in 1989. Additional material was donated in 2004 by the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.

3.2: Separated Material note (if applicable; DACS 6.3)

Separated Material refers to portions of the papers related by provenance to the collection that have been physically separated or removed from the collection. Separated materials are not usually mentioned in the Provenance Note unless the material was loaned to AAA for microfilming and later donated. Separated materials are NOT described in AAA finding aids, but may be described in the SIRIS/MARC record as a loan on microfilm.

AAA defines separated materials as:

  • Material loaned to AAA for microfilming by the same donor or with the same provenance (provide specific reel #s for loaned material, if known).

  • Material donated by the same donor or with the same provenance that may have been separated from the collection in the past to form another AAA collection. This rarely occurs, but has in AAA’s past, mostly with family papers (see the Reginald Marsh example below) or corporate subsidiaries. At the time of processing, these separated collections should have been analyzed to determine if they should remain separated or merged back into the collection.

  • Do not confuse separated materials with related materials. Separated materials most likely share the same provenance and perhaps even the same creator. Related materials are collections related to the main creator – usually as a subject, a collection with a different provenance, or held by another repository.

  • Material separated/removed from the collection and transferred or given to another research repository, museum, or library.

Example 1: Originals of loaned material, including photographs of Dorothy Dehner and David Smith, sketchbooks, correspondence between Dehner and Smith, an inventory, and some printed material, were returned to Dehner after microfilming. Loaned material is available on reels D298, D298A, 1269, and 1472, but is not described in the container listing of this finding aid.

Example 2: A portion of the material donated to AAA with the Reginald Marsh papers was separated to create a new collection of Felicia Meyer Marsh and Meyer Family papers.

Example 3: Cornell’s sister, Betty Cornell Benton, donated Joseph Cornell’s source material and library, which included approximately 66 linear feet of three– dimensional and non– textual source material and 50 linear feet of books, to AAA in XXXX. AAA transferred this material to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Joseph Cornell Study Center in 1994 and 1995.

3.3: Location of Originals note (if applicable; DACS 6.1)

This element is used rarely at AAA to provide information about the existence, location and availability of originals when a portion of the collection consists of copies, such as photocopies or transcripts of letters, and the originals are maintained elsewhere. Generally, such information will be provided in the Separated Materials note; it is not necessary to repeat it here.

3.4: Related Material note (if applicable; DACS 6.3)

The Related Material/s note is used to record the existence of related archival materials and collections. Generally, these are collections at AAA or other repositories that are related by creator. They are not described in the finding aid or mentioned in the Provenance Note, and should have separate SIRIS records because they are simply different collections.

Unlike Separated Materials, Related Materials do not share the same provenance and may include AAA loans from other donors. Microfilmed loans that have a different provenance from the collection being described in the finding aid are properly classified as related collections, even though they may currently be included in the same SIRIS record. If you determine that a loan with a differing provenance is now included in the same SIRIS record, speak to the Chief of Collections Processing. She may recommend that the loan should be cataloged as a separate collection upon final cataloging.

In the past, AAA may have cataloged some collections as related, but separate, collections, even though they shared the same provenance. For example, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner were once two collections that were merged upon re– processing because they were so closely inter– related and shared the same provenance. As outlined in the processing procedures, the processing archivist should initially review all related collections that show up in SIRIS with the same creator and determine whether these collections should be merged or remain simply “related.”

Also, upon your initial review prior to processing, you may find several small “related” collections of differing provenances that could possibly be merged as well for ease of use and ease of description in one finding aid. Usually these are miscellaneous manuscripts that do not share the same provenance, but were all created by the same creator. The documents may be somewhat random in nature, but could be merged. In this case, AAA would merge the small accessions into one, and rename them as “collection.” For example, several small accessions donated by different donors, but created by Everett Shinn were merged and became the Everett Shinn collection. Consult with your supervisor before merging any collections.

Examples of material that should not be included here are published monographs by or about the creator.

The Related Materials note in the finding aid is used to note:

  • AAA oral histories with or about the Main Creator of the collection.

  • AAA collections (gift and loan) that contain a substantial amount of materials created by the Main Creator, though have a different provenance or came from a different donor. A SIRIS search on title keyword often reveals related collections sharing the same Main Creator.

  • AAA collections containing substantial materials about the Main Creator.

  • Materials loaned to AAA for microfilming by another research or manuscript repository or individual lender that have been created by the same Main Creator.

  • Materials held by other research or manuscript repositories that were created by the same Main Creator. A search in RLIN will reveal holdings in other repositories; only list significant collections. Do not list contact information or attempt a lengthy description of collections held by other repositories.

Example 1: Also found in the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Reuben Kadish conducted by Paul Karlstrom, April 15, 1992. (Always provide the name of the interviewer.)

Example 2: The Archives also holds several collections related to the Solon H. Borglum family, including the Harriet Collins Allen papers relating to Solon Borglum and the Gutzon Borglum letters to John A. Stewart (available on microfilm reel D8, frames 359– 362), and the Gutzon Borglum collection (available on microfilm only, reel 3056; originals reside at the San Antonio Museum of Art.) The Library of Congress also holds papers of Solon Hannibal Borglum and is the primary repository of the papers of Gutzon Borglum.

3.5: Alternate Forms Available note (if applicable; DACS 6.2)

This element is used to note the existence of copies and surrogates of the collection that are available for research use, such as microfilm and fully digitized versions of the collection. Do not reference microfilm versions that are no longer usable because several previously filmed and unfilmed collections have been merged or if the current arrangement of the original papers clearly bears no similarity to the arrangement of the papers when first microfilmed. If you feel the microfilm is still valid and usable because the current arrangement is close to the arrangement on film, then you should reference the reel numbers here.

Remember, the finding aid describes only the papers you are currently processing. This element does not reference loans on microfilm–these are separated materials.

For collections that have been fully digitized or where the bulk of the material has been digitized, make note of the materials that generally have not been digitized, such as duplicates, medical records, banking records, photographs of works of art, etc. (See AAA's Guidelines for Digitizing Entire Collections)

AAA’s EAD encoding template has the boilerplate language you should use for this element, which you will enhance with additional information if needed.

For collections scanned in their entirety:

This collection was digitized in its entirety in 2009 and is available on the Archives of American Art’s website.

For collections that have the bulk or significant portions of the material digitized:

The bulk of this collection was digitized in 2009 and is available on the Archives of American Art’s website.

Also include a statement about the types of materials generally not scanned.

Example 1: Materials which have not been scanned include photographs of works of art; duplicates; medical, banking, and tax records; blank pages in bound volumes; blank versos of photographs; and exhibition catalogs of other artists. In some cases, exhibition catalogs and other publications have had their covers, title pages, and relevant pages scanned.

Example 2: Portions of this collection were digitized in 2009 and are available on the Archives of American Art’s website. Germaine Seligmann’s personal papers concerning his research and personal art collection have not been scanned (Series 12).

For collections that are partially scanned and a significant portion is still available on microfilm:

Portions of this collection were digitized in 2006 and are available on the Archives of American Art’s website. The bulk of Walt Kuhn’s family papers were not scanned and are also available on microfilm reels XXXX– XXXX and for interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the papers as described in this finding aid does not/may not reflect the order of the papers on microfilm due to reprocessing.

For collections also available on microfilm:

This collection is OR Portions of this collection are available on 35 mm microfilm reels XXXX– XXXX at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. If appropriate due to reprocessing after filming, follow with: Researchers should note that the arrangement of the collection/papers as described in this finding aid may not/does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm due to reprocessing.

3.6: Processing Information Note (DACS 8.1.5)

The Processing Information note is used to document any and all relevant AAA processing and reformatting actions that have been completed over the years. Do not, however, repeat information provided in other elements, such as the Separated Material note or the Alternative Forms Available note.

If reel numbers are referenced in the Alternative Forms Available note, simply mention that the collection or portions of the collection were microfilmed. This is also the proper element at AAA to note reel numbers that are no longer in circulation because they are not a true reflection of the collection due to the merging of unfilmed materials, or because the arrangement bears no resemblance to the microfilm, and, therefore, are not listed in the Alternate Forms Available note. Remember, if the collection has been digitized, AAA prefers that the microfilm eventually be removed from service, but if you must reference it, use the Processing Information note.

Because any reformatting is an “action”, note if the collection has been fully or partially digitized and provide the year.

Always provide the name/s of funders in the Processing Note associated with the particular action they funded.

Always provide your name and year of processing. Provide the names of other archivists that may have worked on the collection earlier, if appropriate.

The Processing Information note should indicate if numerous accessions were merged, including those that may have been separate collections before processing.

If the level of processing is accession-level, minimal, or less than an AAA level 3 or 4, mention it here. You may also provide information about what portions of the collection were not fully processed, or what processing actions were not completed.

Example 1: Portions of the collection received a preliminary level of processing at some point after donation. The collection was typically microfilmed in the order in which it was received on reels 1058– 1077, and 2729, except for the last donation by Benton, which was not microfilmed; the microfilm is no longer in circulation. All previously filmed and unfilmed accessions were merged, fully processed, arranged, and described by Jennifer Meehan in 2004– 2005 with funding provided by the Getty Foundation and scanned in 2006 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Example 2: The collection was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared by Sarah Haug in 2009, with funding provided by the Smithsonian’s Collections Care Pool Fund. Minimal processing included arrangement to the series, subseries, and folder levels. Generally, items within folders were simply verified with folder titles, but not arranged further. Folders within boxes were not numbered. The collection was re-housed in archival containers and folders, but not all staples and clips were removed.

Example 3: The collection was fully processed and a finding aid prepared by Stephanie Ashley, Erin Corley, and Pat Craig in 2000 with funding provided by the Getty Foundation. Portions of the collection were digitized in 2010 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Example 4: The collection was fully processed a finding aid prepared by Jean Fitzgerald in 2010.

3.7: Preferred Citation (DACS 7)

Provide the official citation for the collection, including collection title, inclusive and bulk dates if applicable, and name of repository. Follow the same rules as above for the title and dates of the collection. The format of the citation statement is included in AAA’s EAD encoding templates.

Ralph Fabri papers, circa 1870s– 1975, bulk 1918– 1975. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

3.8: Restrictions on Access and Use (DACS 4.1 & 4.4)

Restrictions on Access

Use this element to provide a standard AAA statement of access to the original papers. The current format is always provided in AAA’s EAD encoding template and may change slightly from time to time. Occasionally, you may have to include additional information about a donor access restriction for all or part of the collection. Currently, the default statement is:

Use of original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership and Literary rights

Use this element to provide a standard AAA statement about intellectual property ownership and rights. The current format is always provided in AAA’s EAD encoding template and may change slightly from time to time. Occasionally, you may have to include additional information about a donor publication restriction or special circumstances. Currently, the default statement is:

Example 1: The person’s name papers/corporate name records are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Example 2: The person’s name papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. They may be used for research, study, and scholarship. Authorization to quote, publish or reproduce requires written permission from Leroy Neiman, One West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023.

3.9: Accruals (if applicable; DACS 5.4)

This element is rarely used at AAA, but may be used to provide information about known expected additions to the collection.

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4. Biographical/Historical Note (DACS 2.7 & 10)

Each finding aid will include a brief narrative biographical note (for personal or family papers) or historical note (for corporate and organizational records.) The note is not meant to be a fully comprehensive biography or a history, but a reference that provides researchers with an overview of the creator’s life or history and the context for the archival materials being described in the finding aid.

Biographical/Historical notes should be of a reasonable length to match the complexity and size of the collection. Most collections do not need more than one or two paragraphs, and excessively long biographical/historical notes are often not read by users. The note should relate the creator/s’ life and/or functions to the content of the collection. Include enough information to explain how and why the materials were created, assembled, accumulated or maintained and used.

For example, if the papers contain a substantial amount of correspondence with artists, the biographical note should mention the context or activities of the creator that would have led to the creation of this type of material. Emphasis should be on the activities or functions of the creator to which the bulk of the collection relates.

The first sentence or two of every biographical or historical note should provide a very concise summary overview of the creator’s life or history–including birth and death dates or dates of operation, primary occupation or function, and primary geographic area where the creator lived and worked or where the business or organization was located. It’s helpful to include a brief sentence about what is notable about the creator. If these are the papers of a family or multiple papers, include a sentence that identifies the co– creators and provides the same type of information. This information can be mapped to the MARC 545 field.

Please note that many of our finding aids do not include this concise overview because it has only been a requirement in our finding aids since 2009, and generally we do not make retrospective changes.

For collections with multiple creators, the biographical note should provide some information about all of the creators, if known. For papers of families, at minimum identify all family names that are creators of the papers.

A chronology is another form of a biographical or historical note. AAA’s finding aids are generally restricted to either a narrative note or a chronology–rarely both. Because chronologies are particularly tedious to encode in EAD, please reserve their use for the most significant or complex collections.

Below are examples of the initial concise statement included in AAA’s biographical/historical notes. Please see AAA’s online finding aids for examples of full– length biographical/historical notes.

Example 1: Surrealist painter Gertrude Abercrombie (1909– 1977) lived and worked in Chicago and was a prominent member of Chicago's Hyde Park arts community.

Example 2: Mark Green (1932– ) moved to San Francisco and became active in the "Beat Movement" as a photographer, writer, and arts advocate. He helped organize two major group exhibitions of beat– era arts and also founded the Nanny Goat Hill Gallery in San Francisco.

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5. Collection Level Scope and Content Note (DACS 3.1)

Scope and content notes are the core of archival description. Finding aids generally have several levels of scope and content notes, which would include an overall collection– level abstract note, a more detailed collection– level scope and content note, series and subseries level narrative descriptions, and added descriptive notes to folder headings if needed. This section covers the collection– level scope and content Note. Abstract notes were discussed in Section 2.

It is advised to write the scope and content note AFTER you have completed all of the processing. By then, you will have a much better understanding of the collection and its components. Often the collection– level scope and content note can be crafted by summarizing individual series descriptions.

Provide a full narrative summary description of the scope and contents of the collection. The first paragraph of the overall Scope and Content Note should simply be copied and pasted from the abstract note. (Note: best practices often dictate that a finding aid should have no redundancies. However, AAA’s finding aids must repeat the abstract note for proper display on our website.) Follow this paragraph with brief narrative descriptive overviews of each of the series within the collection, in the order of the series arrangement. More detailed descriptive information about the scope and content of individual series should be at the component/series further down in the finding aid. Series descriptions and overall scope and content notes should not be redundant.

At this level, the Scope and Content Note should provide more detail than the Abstract Note, but it is still an overview of the entire collection. The Scope and Content Note should also include summary information about documentary forms, subjects, dates, important names, geographic areas, functions, and primary research value or significance.

AAA’s cataloger will provide index terms based on the collection– level scope and content note only. Therefore, it is important that you include any significant names here, within reason. Also, list the form and genre of the materials and specify the exact number of any diaries, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, and photograph albums. Aside from these particular formats, it is not necessary to count the number of items, unless it is an extremely small collection comprised entirely of one specific format, such as letters, photographs, diaries, etc.

The information in a collection– level scope and content note should allow users to judge the potential or relevance of the collection to their specific research area, and not be so generic as to be indistinguishable from other collections. In today’s online environment, lengthy scope and content notes are generally not favored.

Information about the arrangement of the collection should not be covered in the Scope and Content Note, but detailed in a separate Arrangement Note.

Additional examples of collection– level Scope and Content Notes can be found in AAA’s online finding aids.

The papers of sculptor Hiram Powers measure 12.2 linear feet and date from 1819 to 1953, with the bulk of the material dating from 1835 to 1883. Over two– thirds of the collection consists of Powers' correspondence, which is particularly rich in documenting his artwork, methodology, and his interaction with business associates, purchasers of his artwork, and his numerous friends in the United States and Florence, Italy. Other papers include scattered biographical material, writings by Powers and others, financial and legal records, news clippings and printed items, photographs of Powers, his family, artwork, as well as an extensive collection of carte de visite and cabinet card portraits of many notable figures. Also found is a small amount of artwork by Powers and others, a scrapbook, and two autograph and memorabilia albums.

Biographical material consists of documents for honors conferred on Powers, price lists and inventories of his artwork, papers regarding his death, including a translation of his will, and ephemera, such as his studio cap.

The bulk of the collection consists of Powers’ correspondence with family, friends, business associates, and others, documenting his career as an artist and his personal life after he and his family moved to Florence, Italy, in 1837. Almost all of the letters have typed unconfirmed transcriptions completed by volunteers at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Besides details of his studio work and business dealings, his letters often discuss his views on aesthetics, American politics, slavery and the Civil War, and Spiritualism. Notable correspondence is with William B. Astor, Edward Everett, Samuel York Atlee, William and E. Clementine Kinney, George P. Marsh, George Peabody, Presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, William Cullen Bryant, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John C. Calhoun, Thomas Crawford, John A. Dix, Asher Durand, Charles Francis Fuller, Henry Peters Gray, Horace Greeley, George P. A. Healy, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Samuel F. B. Morse, W. W. Story, John Sartain, Frances Trollope, and Daniel Webster.

Writings by Powers include his "Studio Memorandum," a journal– type notebook he kept from 1841 to 1845, which contains dated notations of letters written, receipts and expenditures, business contacts, works in progress, commissions and price quotations for work, comments on problems encountered during studio work, and other notes. Additional writings include poetry and autobiographical essays and instructions for handling his sculptures. Writings by others include poetry, most of which was written in praise of Powers' artwork. Of note are handwritten transcripts of poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Bayard Taylor, and John Quincy Adams. Also found here are short writings about Powers and his artwork.

Scattered financial and legal records in this collection include patent documents for tools invented by Powers, legal agreements, account statements, and bills and receipts. Printed material consists of news clippings, two booklets, an art association brochure, and an exhibition catalog for works by Powers.

This collection contains photographs of Hiram Powers, his family, friends, notable public figures, and artwork. Many of the photographs were taken by his son, Longworth Powers, who had a private photography studio in Florence. Included are portraits of Powers and his family, as well as a collection of 267 carte de visite and cabinet card portraits of artists, performers, politicians, writers, scientists, and other public figures, many of whom were friends with the Powers family. Other photographs depict Woodstock, Vermont, the marble quarry at Carrara, Italy, and artwork by Hiram and Preston Powers. Also found here is a photograph album kept by Louisa Powers.

Artwork consists of three drawings by Hiram Powers, including a caricature of Miner Kellogg. Also found in this collection is a scrapbook containing news clippings regarding the American tour of the sculpture Greek Slave, an autograph album belonging to Louisa Powers, and an album containing pencil drawings by Preston Powers and dried flowers collected on travels.

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6. Arrangement (DACS 3.2)

This is a general statement about the intellectual arrangement of the entire collection into series and other necessary information about order and arrangement. The arrangement note should always include a list of series titles, with dates, container numbers and extent, even if the collection is so small or minimally processed that it is only arranged as one series. This list serves as an online hyperlink to each individual series.

Extent should always be stated in linear feet, unless less than 0.2 feet. If less than 0.2 linear ft., state the extent of each series as the number of folders. For small collections less than 0.2 linear feet that are only comprised of one format, state the extent in the number of items, such as “24 letters.”

Arrangement notes that are specific only to particular series should be included in the appropriate series description arrangement notes, including any lists of subseries.

Example 1: Due to the small size of this collection the papers are arranged as one series.

Series 1: Audrey McMahon Papers, 1925– 1948 (Box 1; 8 folders)

Example 2: The collection is arranged as 3 series. Records are generally arranged by material type and chronologically thereafter.

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1928– 1937, circa 1961 (Box 1; 2 folders)

Series 2: Correspondence, 1920– 1974 (Box 1; 0.8 linear feet)

Series 3: Writings, 1924– 1930 (Boxes 1– 3; 1.5 linear feet)

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7. Names and Subject Terms (DACS 11– 14; MARC 6XX, 7XX)

At AAA, the staff cataloger will provide the name and subject terms according to standard authorities, such as LOC Name and Subject Authorities and Art & Architecture Thesauri. She will provide the terms based on information found in the Scope and Content Note/Historical Note of your finding aid, so be sure to include the most important and most relevant information there.

After she provides the index terms, you will enter the terms into the finding aid, minus the delineators $. You will also need to replace some delineators with – – . For example,

Robinson, Boardman, $d1876–1952 becomes Robinson, Boardman, 1876–1952.

$aPoems$2aat becomes Poems. The $2aat means that she used aat as the authority, not the default LOC; delete LOC and replace it with aat.

$aGraphic arts$zNew York (State)$zNew York becomes Graphic arts, New York (State)–New York.

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8. Series Descriptions/Folder Inventory/Container Listing (DACS Multilevel Description or Component Descriptions

In this section of the finding aid, provide detailed information about each series represented in the hierarchical archival arrangement of the collection. The EAD format refers to each nested level in the hierarchy as a component. A component can be any easily recognizable archival entity such as a series, subseries, folder, or item. In the finding aid, the entire section is entitled Series Descriptions/Container Listing. Refer to AAA’s EAD Encoding Guidelines for detailed instructions on encoding component levels.

Based on the physical and intellectual arrangement of the collection, the finding aid may have three kinds of hierarchies within a series.

  1. Series arranged by folders—most common and usually preferred.

  2. Series arranged by subseries and folders—sometimes needed for complex collections.

  3. Series arranged as subseries, and further divided into sub– subseries.and folders—rarely needed.

As a general rule collections should only be divided into subseries if the series is complex or large enough to justify it. AAA restricts the number of component levels for each series to five which would be the equivalent of a series containing subseries, sub– subseries, folder groupings, folders, and items. It should be rare that more than 3 are ever needed. Remember, the less complex the arrangement, the easier it is for the user to understand and follow the finding aid.

For small groups of folders with the same or similar materials, a creative folder title is adequate. For example, it is not necessary to divide the following series of printed material into subseries of exhibition catalogs, news clippings and periodicals, as this can be just as clearly expressed using folder titles:

Box 1

1– 5 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1936–1987 (5 folders)

6 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1931–1990s

7 Exhibitions Catalogs for Other Artists, 1945– 1961

8– 9 New Clippings About Riveron, ca, 1930s–1983 (2 folders)

10 News Clippings About Other Artists, 1957–1985

11 Periodical, Modern Hispanic Magazine, 1935

12 Periodical, Dance International 1937– 1938, 1937

However, if each of the folder titles above represented a large quantity of folders, you would not want to repeat the same information over and over. This becomes difficult to read and understand. For example, the following display has too many folders with the same title:

Box 1

1 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1936– 1937

2 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1938– 1939

3 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1940– 1941

4 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1942– 1943

5 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1944– 1945

6 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1946– 1947

7 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1948– 1949

8 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1950– 1951

9 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1952– 1953

10 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1931– 1932

11 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1933– 1934

12 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1935– 1936

13 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1937– 1938

14 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1939– 1940

15 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1941– 1942

16 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1943– 1944

17 Exhibitions Catalogs for Other Artists, 1945– 1961

A much better way to express the above would be:

Box 1

1– 9 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1936– 1953 (9 folders)

10– 16 Exhibition Catalogs for Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1931– 1944 (7 folders)

17 Exhibitions Catalogs for Other Artists, 1945– 1961

If the collection contains even more folders with similar contents and/or titles, the material can be divided into folder groupings. This type of hierarchy is desirable when the other materials in the series cannot be broken into subseries. In other words, you cannot establish a subseries for only a portion of the material in a series, and have the remaining materials in file units only. The title of the folder or file grouping is still encoded as an EAD component level in the hierarchy, but does not include a date span. For example:

Box 1

Exhibition Catalogs

1– 9 Riveron’s Solo Exhibitions, 1936– 1953 (9 folders)

10– 16 Riveron’s Group Exhibitions, 1931– 1944 (7 folders)

17 Other Artists’ Exhibitions, 1945– 1961

If the series has large numbers of folders of many different formats or other logical groupings, establish subseries. For example:

Series #: Printed Material, XXXX– XXXX (Boxes 1– 3; 3 linear feet)

Subseries 1: Exhibition Catalogs, XXXX– XXXX

Subseries 2: Exhibition Announcements, XXXX– XXXX

Subseries 3: Newsclippings, XXXX– XXXX

Subseries 4: Travel Brochures, XXXX– XXXX

Subseries 5: Auction Catalogs, XXXX– XXXX

Provide information about each series in the following order.

  • Series ID: Series number, title, dates, container numbers, extent

Series 3: Writings, circa, 1930s–1965 (Boxes 1– 2; 0.4 linear feet)

  • Series description (scope and content note)

A series description is a brief summary of the scope and content of the series. It is mandatory at the series level, optional at the subseries level, and discouraged at the sub– subseries level. The series scope note will include additional information about the series that was not included in the overall collection– level scope and content note–additional names, relationships, formats, subjects, or more detail on subjects, etc.

Example 1: Writings date from circa 1930s–1965 and include Sheeler's journal dated from circa 1950s– 1963. The journal includes poems, writings, transcribed correspondence, transcribed articles (which were later published), and a paper delivered at a symposium on photography held at the Museum of Modern Art in October 1950. Two notebooks dating from about the same time includes miscellaneous notes and writings, addresses, and recipes. Additional writings by Sheeler include an article that he wrote for Arts Magazine, writings on artists, and a manuscript of an unpublished autobiography, along with notes and drafts.

Example 2: This series contains writings by Herman Baron concerning the founding and the history of the ACA Galleries, ACA artists, and the clash of McCarthyism and American art. Also found are writings by ACA artists Philip Evergood and Anton Refregier, and art critic Elizabeth McCausland.

Example 3: Artist and subject files contain business correspondence, sales information, photographs and transparencies, catalogs, and exhibit reviews for each artist either represented or sold by the gallery, or whom participated in an exhibition organized by the gallery. Particularly rich files are found for Alcopley, Stephen Antonakos, Alexander Calder, Pietro Consagra, Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst, Pedro Friedeberg, Sam Gilliam, Mathias Goeritz, Sarah Grilo, Roberto Sabastiano Matta, Clement Meadmore, Constantino Nivola, Sylvia Sleigh, Paul Talman, and Jack Youngerman.

  • Series arrangement note

Provide information about the arrangement of the series, if needed. Generally, this information is not required, unless the series is further divided into subseries.

Writings are arranged chronologically.

  • Series with subseries arrangement note and scope and content note

For series with subseries, the arrangement note is a list of subseries. Additional scope and content notes may be added for each subseries, if needed.

Series 3: Writings, circa, 1930s–1965 (Boxes 1– 2; 1.4 linear feet)

This series is arranged as 3 subseries:

1: Lectures by Erle Loran, XXXX– XXXX

2: Essays by Erle Loran, XXXX– XXXX

3: Writings by Others, XXXX– XXXX

  • Series with subseries and sub– subseries arrangement note

For series with subseries and sub– subseries, start by providing the series number, title, date, extent. Follow with the subseries arrangement note/list as in the example above. You will then create an additional arrangement note for each of the subseries that is a list of the sub– subseries. Extent and scope and content notes are not added to sub– subseries. (See EAD Encoding Guidelines and Template for additional examples and templates for formatting Series/Subseries/Sub– subseries arrangement notes.)

  • Container Listing and File Unit/Folder Inventory.

For each series, subseries, and subseries, you will provide a container listing and file unit/folder inventory. Each folder is numbered according to its place in a container, not its place in the series. Physical descriptions at the folder level are used for stating the number of folders, if there is more than one. Also include any reference notes for oversized separated materials in the physical description field.

You can include folder level scope and content notes if needed for clarification–often useful for detailing special items within a folder, or for providing a list of names associated with the folder.


Box Folder

1 12 Autobiographical Manuscript, 1937 (Oversized in Box 19)

1 13– 14 Notebooks, 1950–1952 (2 folders; oversized also in OV 20)

1 15 Journal, circa 1950s–1963

1 16– 20 Essays, 1952 (5 folders)

19 1 Oversized Autobiographical Manuscript, 1937 (From Box 1, F 12)

OV 20 Oversized Notebook, 1950 (From Box 1, F13)

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9. Other Descriptive Data – Indexes (if applicable; DACS 7, notes; MARC 500)

AAA’s finding aids allow only two types of indexes. You may create an index that references the entire collection, such as a list of exhibitions, association officers, etc. You may also create an index that references materials in one series, usually a list of correspondents or selected correspondents and relevant dates. Only one index per series is allowed, and, generally, no more than two indexes per finding aid. The EAD encoding for indexes is structured very specifically so that the indexes are displayed to AAA’s preferences. AAA’s EAD encoding templates contain the correct tags, format, and instructions which must be followed carefully.

Limit use of indexes as much as possible, particularly for fully digitized collections. Alternatives might include arranging the folders in a series in an alphabetical arrangement; simply listing the names of correspondents in the series descriptions if fewer than 10 names; listing names associated with a folder as a scope and content note for the folder, which usually is effective only if the names for each folder are not repetitive.

In the series index example shown below, individual letters for each correspondent’s name have been listed. For most collections, a year date/s would be sufficient. Also, it is not necessary to identify the occupation of the indexed names.

Index: Notable Correspondents from 1.3: Correspondence

  • Adams, Alva B. : 18 Oct 1938, 05 Apr 1941

  • Akerson, George (Secretary to the President): 10 Jul 1929

  • Albright, Horace M. (Director, National Park Service): 02 Dec 1932

  • Alexander, D.: undated

  • Allen, Henry J. : May 13, 1930

  • Allison, William B. : 03 Jun 1906

  • Alston, Frank H., Jr. : 22 Jul 1947

  • Anderson, Clint : 13 Sep 1945

  • Andrews, Marietta: undated, 05 Feb 1925 (illustrated letter), 16 Sep 1928 (illustrated letter), Jan 1930

  • Arnold, Oren (writer): 04 Mar 1944

Below is an example of an index references the entire collection.

Below is a chronological listing of Downtown Gallery exhibitions, culled from catalogs and checklists, invitations and announcements, press releases, newspaper reviews, advertisements, lists compiled by gallery staff, and The Archives of American Art Collection of Exhibition Catalogs (1979).


Jan. 24– Feb. 1 American Landscapes: Paintings and Water Colors

Mar. 3– 28 [1964?] Abraham Rattner: New Paintings, 1961– 1963

June Art for 13,000,000

Sept. 17– 27 Abraham Rattner: Stained Glass Window Designed for the De Waters Art Center, Flint, Michigan


Nov. [6– ] Opening Exhibition: Small Works by Leading American Contemporary Artists

Dec. [4– ] The Christmas Exhibition, $10– 50


Jan. 8– Feb. 4 American Marines

Jan. 8– Feb. 4 Print Room Selection

Feb. [5– ] George Overbury "Pop" Hart

Mar. 1– 19 George C. Ault: Water Colors and Drawings

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10. Other Finding Aid (if applicable; DACS 4.6; No MARC equivalent)

AAA rarely, if ever, notes other finding aids. The field is intended to reference other finding aids, lists, or inventories of the collection being described in the finding aid. An example might be a list of microfilm reel contents, for example.

11. Bibliography (if applicable; DACS 8.1.3; No MARC equivalent)

AAA rarely notes bibliographies in its finding aids. If used, note information about sources used or consulted when writing the finding aid.

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Style Guidelines


Dates are required for all unit titles: collection, series, subseries, and folders/file units. The exception are unit titles for folder groupings–the dates are required for the physical file units/folders that follow the title of the folder grouping.

Dates refer to the actual dates of the materials being described. If the material is a reproduction or image of an original, DO NOT use the date of the original.

Bulk dates are expressed as 1906– 1988, bulk 1945– 1988. Do not use parenthesis.

Do not use the word ca. Use circa.

Series or subseries titles may not use the word undated. According to DACS and USMARC, you must try to estimate something. DACS has some good examples: probably 1867; approximately 1925; before (or after) 1867; 1890s; circa 1975, 1970s.

Although not desirable, AAA allows the use of the word undated in the folder title. However, it is a practice to be avoided. Do not use n.d.for undated, use the full word undated.

Year date spans are expressed as: XXXX– XXXX. There is no spacing before or after the dash. It is acceptable to use circa before either or both year dates in a span of dates.

DACS states that single exact dates are expressed as year, month, day: 1906 March 17. Do not use the following format: 1 March 1969; use 1969 March 1.

Single year dates and months or a span of months are expressed as 1975 March– August.

Avoid using date formats with slashes dd/mm/yyyy in finding aids as these should be reformatted to match ISO standards.

In narrative text, it is acceptable to use other standards, such as March 1, 1978 or March 1978.

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Exhibition Titles

Exhibition titles as folder or file unit titles are expressed in quotation marks, followed by the date/s of the exhibition in parenthesis, followed by the dates of the archival materials in the date field. The dates of the actual exhibition form part of the unit title of the folder. DO NOT confuse the date/s of the exhibition with the date/s of the materials in the folder–even if they are the same date/s. For example:

“The Ties That Bind” (1988), 1988

Exhibition files often contain a copy of a published exhibition catalogs. If a published exhibition catalog is the ONLY material in the exhibition folder, the title of the exhibition in the file title should be in italics. Otherwise, do not use italics to express the title of the exhibition.

For example:

Series 9: Exhibition Files, XXXX– XXXX (Box #, extent)

Muckenthaler Cultural Center (1979), 1978– 1979

Matrix Workshop of Women Artists – "Sculpture Sacramento" (1982), 1981– 1983

Michael Duney Gallery–The Ties That Bind (1988), 1988

National Museum of Women in the Arts –“Generation of Mentors” (1994), 1992– 1995

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Use the following measurements when calculating extent for collections, series, and subseries.

Cubic foot white storage boxes: 1.0 linear feet

Hol document/manuscript boxes: 0.4 linear feet

Pam ½ size document/manuscript boxes: 0.2 linear feet

Sol oversized gray lidded boxes: 0.3 linear feet

Oversized folders: 0.1 linear feet

Less than 0.2 linear feet, express in # of folders

At the folder/file unit level, express the number of folders if more than one in the EAD physical description tag.

Exhibition catalogs, 1943– 1945 (3 folders)

Back to Table of Contents

Oversized Folders and Boxes (OVS and SOLS)

In physical arrangement and finding aids, cubic foot (white Hollinger) boxes always come first, followed by “hols,” “pams,” “sols,” and “OVs.”

All containers are numbered sequentially, regardless of type. Do not differentiate between linear foot boxes and hols, pams, and sols as container types. They are simply listed as boxes, except for OVs. In the container listing, include “OV” as part of the folder number.

References to oversized materials are made in the <physdesc> tag at the <unittitle> level. At the folder heading/unit title where the material has been removed, use the following language, in parenthesis:

<physdesc>(Oversized material/items housed in Box # or OV#)</physdesc>

At the folder heading in the oversized container, also in <physdesc>, use the following language in parenthesis:


<physdesc>(Oversized material/items from Box #, F#)</physdesc>


<physdesc> (Oversized material scanned with Box #, F#) </physdesc>

For entire folders of oversized materials removed and housed elsewhere, create a dummy folder with a folder number in the box and create a unit/folder title in the regular folder sequence.

For oversized items removed from folders, insert a handwritten note within the folder that informs the user in which oversized box/container/folder the item has been filed. In the oversized folder or oversized box create a handwritten note or that indicates the regular box number and folder title from where the material was removed.


(Oversized material housed in Box ## or OV ##)

(Oversized materials scanned with Box ##, F##)

(Oversized materials from Box ##, F##)

It is acceptable to combine these notations with other information within the <physdesc> tag, such as the # of folders, using the following format

(2 folders; Oversized material housed in Box ## or OV ##)

Back to Table of Contents


Processing Guidelines: Chapter 5, Preservation Methods and Issues at the Archives of American Art

Processing Guidelines: Chapter 5, Preservation Methods and Issues at the Archives of American Art KinhartE April 4, 2019

Chapter Contents:

Box and Folder Labeling

Box Labels:

  • Linear foot box: Avery 5168; affix completed label on the RIGHT handle-side of the box (your right-hand side with the plain side of the box facing you and the printed “Hollinger” side facing the back). On the front side of the box, pencil in the collection title and box number.
  • Hols: Avery 5164; affix completed label to side of box with pull loop.
  • Pams: Avery 5163; affix completed label to end of box (lid should open in clockwise motion).
  • Sols/shoeboxes: Avery 5163; affix 2 completed labels for each box; one on the short (handle) side and one on the long side of the box.
  • OVs: Avery 5164; affix the label to the lower left corner (folded edge) of the folder; also write the name of the collection (last name first if a personal name) in black magic marker on the folded edge of the folder.
  • Including a list of series found in the box is optional for minimal-level processing and required for full processing.

On the folder tab, the label format is as follows:

  • Left Corner:  Series title, subseries title
  • Middle: Folder title    
  • Right Corner: Inclusive dates of materials within folder
  • Left Corner Below Tab: Collection title (Full processing only)
  • Right Corner Below Tab:  Box and folder number

Container Measurements

  • Box = 1.0 linear foot
  • Hol = 0.4 linear feet
  • Pam = 0.2 linear feet
  • Sol = 0.3 linear feet
  • Oversize (OV) = 0.1 linear foot
  • Bound Volume (BV) = 0.2 linear feet
  • Rolled Document (RD) = 0.5 linear foot
  • Shoeboxes = 0.4 or 0.5 linear feet
  • Odd = default 0.5 linear feet (contact Registrar)
  • Film Can = 0.1 linear feet

Rehousing and Interleaving


Minimal/Full Processing Interleaving: When fully processing a collection, always place interleaving paper between documents and highly acidic items such as newspapers, telegrams, or thermograph paper. Older collections may contain correspondence or other typed documents on highly acidic, brown, brittle paper which should be interleaved from other documents. However, consult with your supervisor when you’ve identified an excessive amount of material requiring interleaving. It may also be necessary to place interleaving paper or sleeves around items that are especially fragile, brittle, or rapidly deteriorating. Do not use interleaving paper as a form of enclosure around documents to indicate arrangement. General document interleaving isn’t required during minimal processing, however, it may be necessary to occasionally add a sheet of interleaving paper in a folder of mixed material to separate and protect documents.

Interleaving Paper: Permalife buffered paper (letter or legal size) or non-buffered interleaving tissue (8x10 or 11x14). Buffered paper is still recommended, but not required.

Rehousing: Documents should be housed in legal-sized acid-free folders. Do not fill the folders more than approximately ½” thick. Large sets of material such as draft manuscripts should be divided into multiple folders. The folder label can indicate the part (1 of 3, 2 of 3, 3 of 3) to maintain the original order of a set of material across several folders. Use this method when rehousing items from a 3-ring binder into archival folders.

Folders should be stored in linear-foot white Hollinger cartons or, for smaller extents, in gray metal-edge boxes. Be sure to use the box size appropriate to the extent and do not leave boxes under-filled. As a test, folders can be pushed towards the front of the box, and there should not be space enough to slide your hands into the back of the box. Also, be sure not to over-stuff a box. As a test, when pulling a single folder from the box, it should slide out easily without any extra effort. If a small amount of space remains at the back of the box when it is filled, place a spacer made of corrugated board at the back of the box. Do not use tissue paper or smaller storage containers as spacers.

Re-use archival boxes and folders when possible, erasing any former labeling. However, do not reuse any materials that have a strong odor of vinegar or mildew. These should be discarded.

General Tips:

  • Relevant articles can be photocopied or cut out of magazines and the magazine discarded. Remember to also keep the cover and table of contents if this provides full citation information.
  • Preservation photocopying can be done at the discretion of the archivist. Photocopies should be made onto Permalife paper. Consult with supervisor if you plan to photocopy more than a few items in a collection. Examples of preservation photocopying would be fragile news clippings, original acidic folders, and covers of dismantled binders or notebooks.
  • Archival polyester enclosures aren’t generally used at the Archives for document storage, however, they can be used to house highly fragile and significant documents which could be handled often by researchers. Consult with supervisor if you’ve identified a need for this type of enclosure.
  • Documents should be removed from plastic sleeves, unless the collection contains a large quantity of sleeved material. For minimal processing, priority should be given to removing items from sleeves if the existing plastic pages have become brittle, discolored, sticky, or obviously deteriorating.
  • Post-it notes or other items with exposed adhesives or adhesive residue should be interleaved. Post-its found on documents should be removed and if they contain archival information, placed on a piece of interleaving paper within the original order of the documents.
  • Letters and other documents should be removed from envelopes and unfolded. Documents should be unfolded and flattened within a folder.
  • Removing fasteners (paper clips, staples, ties, etc.) from documents is required when fully processing, but is not required for minimal processing. Further details on preservation of fastened documents can be found on NARA's website at:


The physical storage requirements of scrapbooks and albums vary, depending on their size and condition. Scrapbooks may be integrated with archival materials in document boxes or folders. Volumes in boxes should be stored spine down, adjacent to materials of similar size. Corrugated board cut to the size of the folder can be placed on either side of the folder to provide additional support. Scrapbooks with weak covers or those with covers attached by strings looped through the pages can be tied together with unbleached linen or cotton tape. The bow knot should be positioned at the foredge to prevent interference indentations on the cover caused by pressure. Better protection for scrapbooks and albums is provided by wrapping them with acid-free paper/tissue or storing them in a protective box. Contact the Head of Collections Processing if you are interested in a custom box option. Oversize scrapbooks should be stored flat in a sol or odd-sized box. Flat storage for oversize volumes also provides better protection for artifacts that might be loosely attached to the pages.

Scrapbooks where the cover has become detached or the binding has come apart should be dismantled into multiple archival folders either in a regular storage box or within sol folders. Be sure to indicate the part (1 of 3, 2 of 3, 3 of 3) to maintain the original order of a set of material across several folders.

Interleaving is not recommended unless there is indication that photographs or artwork are being damaged by acidic materials on an adjacent page. Too much interleaving can damage a scrapbook binding. Items that have come loose from pages can be placed within folded interleaving paper or envelope and placed next to that page. Do not remove loose items found within scrapbooks into a separate folder unless absolutely necessary.


Artwork should always be unfolded and stored in the appropriate sized folder. Charcoal, oil crayon, soft pencil, and pastel drawings should be interleaved with smooth interleaving paper, either micro-chamber paper or Hollinger thin interleaving paper with the smooth side facing the artwork. Watercolors and small paintings on board should be interleaved using the non-buffered Hollinger thin interleaving paper, not Renaissance, Permalife, or Microchamber paper. Sketches or prints in ink, pencil sketches, or otherwise stable works on paper do not need to be interleaved.

Oversized Material

The Archives has four map-folder storage options for oversized material: 16x20 (stored in "sol" flat box), 20x24, 24x36, 30x42. When minimally processing a collection, oversized items such as blueprints, maps, posters, newspapers, can remain folded in a legal sized archival folder. If the folded items are original artwork, damaged, or highly significant, unfold them and place them in the appropriate sized map-folder. When fully processing a collection, oversized items should always be un-folded.

Always place oversized materials in the appropriate sized map folder. Single items from multiple series can be stored in one folder. Use Permalife paper or an archival folder to label the item. They should be labeled with the standard folder information, as well as a box/folder cross-reference to the archival folder that it was pulled from, if applicable.

Interleaving tissue should be used for artwork, but is not required for other types of documents. Too much interleaving tissue can cause damage to items within the folder over time. For large folders containing fragile materials, corrugated board can be placed under the item to provide support.

Items that fit within a 16x20 "sol" map-folder can be placed into a sol storage box. This box then given a container number as part of the collection. If the material fills less than ½ a sol box, then the map folders will be individually barcoded and counted as collection containers and placed into general OV storage by the registrar.

Consult with your supervisor if you have oversized items that are bulky, works of art that are framed or on canvas, or are larger than a 30x42 map-folder. Special oversized flat boxes can be ordered as needed.

Artifacts and Odd-Sized Papers

Small artifacts that are not fragile can be wrapped in acid-free tissue (optional) and placed in a pocket archival folder. Alternatively, small artifacts can be placed in a small shoebox or within its own pam or hol. Tissue can be used to wrap the items or to provide support around the item inside of the container. The Archives does have an artifact cabinet for small/medium-sized artifacts that are fragile, highly significant, or cannot easily be stored within a standard-sized box. Consult with your supervisor if you have artifacts that may need to be stored in this cabinet.

Items that are accessioned as rolled documents should be rehoused into oversize map-folders if they can be flatted without damage. Items that need to stay rolled should be interleaved with tissue as needed and wrapped in a large piece of acid free paper (an oversize map-folder can be used) and tied with cotton tying tape. Only a few items should be included in each roll.

Bound volumes include stock books, ledgers, albums, scrapbooks, etc. Consult with your supervisor if you have a volume that should be shelved vertically in the Archives' bound volume storage area. Volumes should be wrapped in archival paper and tied with cotton tying tape. The volumes should not contain any loose items that could fall from the pages when retrieving the volume from the shelf. Volumes that have been stored in the Archives' bound volume storage that contain loose items should be moved to a sol or other storage container.

Archival "shoebox" containers can be used to store notecards, inventory cards, and snapshot photographs. Snapshot photographs can be stored as sets within the appropriate-size negative envelope. The envelope should be labeled with the same information that is included on a folder label. It is recommended to barcode each of these boxes individually and not to store them within record storage boxes.

Weeding, Deaccessioning, and Redacting

You may weed and dispose of small amounts of duplicates without your supervisor’s approval. Other types of documents typically weeded include utility bills, payroll, homeowners and auto insurance documents, check stubs, bank statements, office equipment manuals, and printed materials that add little understanding to the creator’s life or work, or are simply voluminous and easily found elsewhere.

You may also remove contemporary published books that are not annotated, not written by the creator, do not contain illustrations by the creator, or are not about the creator. Published books or duplicate exhibition catalogs should be offered to SI Libraries. Published exhibition catalogs that feature the creator’s work, or are for exhibitions held at the creating gallery should NOT be weeded. Large amounts of published materials should be brought to your supervisor’s attention.

The disposition of a large amount of material – more than the routine archival weeding of duplicates and non-archival documents – requires notifying your supervisor who will review the materials with you and complete a Disposition Notice, which is a recommendation to the Registrar who provides the final approval and signature. The Registrar will decide the best way to dispose of the materials, which could include returning to the donor.

At all processing levels, you should try to identify materials that contain personally identifiable information (PII) or are highly sensitive. These might include medical records, social security records, tax records, contracts, and other legal or financial documents that contain social security numbers or financial account numbers. Some of these items are not archival and can be disposed of as routine weeding, or turned over to the Registrar for return to the donor. Some documents may have archival value, and the personally identifiable information should be redacted. Our procedure is to photocopy the document, mark out the personal information on the photocopy, and replace the original with the photocopy. The originals are removed and stored in a separate folder or box that will be closed to researchers.   

Note: Contractors should weed, but not dispose of the materials. Contractors should set aside these materials and an Archives' staff person will dispose of them.

If you have material to transfer to the AA/PG library, please contact the library before bringing over the materials at You can bring materials to the library on a cart, or they can also come over and review the material in your office if you have questions about what can be transferred. They will accept:

  • Books (any subject)
  • Exhibition Catalogs
  • Auction Catalogs
  • Art Periodicals
  • Invitations, Pamphlets, Printed Ephemera
  • Marked/annotated copies
  • Multiple duplicate copies
  • Vertical files containing printed material on artists

Preservation of Photographic Materials


Minimal Processing: it is recommended to interleave personal photographs dating before 1950. Additionally, photographs that are deteriorated (such as early color photographs), damaged, or particularly significant should also be interleaved. Photographs of works of art, copy prints, and bulk sets of photographs should not be interleaved. Interleaving may be necessary for photographs that are included in folders of mixed material to protect them from highly acidic documents such as newspapers, telegrams, or thermograph paper.

Full Processing: it is recommended to interleave all personal photographs.  It is not necessary to interleave copy prints, photographs of works of art, or bulk sets of photographs, especially color photographs dating after 1980. It is recommended to interleave all photographs that are included in folders of mixed materials. Decisions not to interleave should be considered on a case-by-case basis.  When extensive interleaving is necessary, the work could be completed by an intern or volunteer.

Existing Enclosures: Photographs should always be removed from glassine, brown paper envelopes, or envelopes from photo-processing companies. It is recommended that photographs be removed from plastic binder storage pages, especially if the plastic has become brittle, discolored, sticky, or obviously deteriorating. When minimally processing a collection, removing photographs from plastic pages is at the discretion of the processing archivist based on time, extent, and current condition of the material.

Interleaving Paper: Photographs should be interleaved using “Renaissance” paper, interleaving tissue, or MicroChamber paper. MicroChamber paper is especially recommended for photographs that smell of mildew or other odors from previous storage conditions. A full sheet of paper should be used and may be folded to enclose one photograph or multiple photographs placed side-by-side. Do not cut interleaving paper to the size of the photograph. Though it has been used in the past, Permalife paper used for general interleaving is no longer recommended for photographs because the paper has not passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). Buffered or non-buffered papers that have passed the PAT may be used. According to the NEDCC Preservation Leaflet 5.6:

In the past, conservators have recommended the use of neutral paper enclosures for storage of color images, cyanotypes, and albumen prints. It was believed that these processes were sensitive to the alkalinity in buffered papers. Recent research has indicated that buffered storage enclosures are not detrimental to photographs. Therefore whether paper is neutral or buffered is not a major criterion for choosing an enclosure.

Photographs may be stored in paper envelopes at the discretion of the processing archivist, however this is not required. If using envelopes, those without thumb cuts are recommended.

Photograph Albums

Preservation decisions for photograph albums vary greatly depending on the current condition of the album. The archivist will have to determine whether the album pages should be interleaved, whether the album should be dismantled, and whether additional interleaving is needed for photographs that have become detached from the album. When minimally processing a collection, do not take the time to interleave or dismantle albums unless they are especially significant, vintage, or damaged. Extra preservation steps could be noted and later completed by an intern or volunteer. Here are preservation methods to consider for full processing:

  • Albums composed of highly acidic paper should be interleaved. If possible use thin/tissue interleaving paper so that the book does not become overly thick.
  • Interleave detached photographs using thin/tissue interleaving paper folded within the pages where the photograph was originally attached.
  • In rare circumstances where most of the photographs from an album have become detached it may be best to dismantle the album and store the photographs in archival folders.
  • Self-adhesive photograph albums are especially damaging to photographs. Peel back the plastic and check the condition of the adhesive. If the adhesive has become dry and the photographs no longer stick, dismantle the album and store photographs in archival folders. If the photographs are still fully adhered to the pages, no preservation actions can be taken.


Slides should be stored in plastic slide pages or slide boxes. For full processing, extensive duplicate slides should be discarded and slides stored in older plastic pages should be transferred to new archival slide pages.

For minimal processing, only transfer slides to archival slide pages if the existing plastic pages have become brittle, discolored, sticky, or obviously deteriorating. Extra work, including transferring slides or weeding duplicates could be flagged for work by an intern or volunteer.   

For both minimal and full processing, slides should be rehoused into slide boxes if they were previously stored in photo-processing boxes, carousels, or cases. Remember to keep any existing paper labels, tabs, and dividers, or transcribe existing descriptive information onto archival dividers that are included with the slide boxes.


Film-based negatives found within archival collections are cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, or polyester. To learn how to identify these three types, please refer to the Image Permanence Institute online guide.

Negatives should always be removed from glassine, brown paper envelopes, or envelopes from photo-processing companies.

Nitrate and acetate negatives are unstable formats and will continue to deteriorate unless they are in cold/frozen storage conditions. When conducting a survey of a collection, if you find nitrate negatives or acetate negatives displaying vinegar syndrome, please notify the Head of Collections Processing to determine whether these negatives should be discarded. Extensive exposure to degrading film can be hazardous to your health. Please wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area if you need to handle this material. If the decision is made to keep nitrate negatives or acetate negatives showing signs of vinegar syndrome, they should always be stored in separate containers from other collection material.

Nitrate negatives can be digitized and deaccessioned from the collection. Nitrate negatives should be isolated and discarded during SI calls for hazardous waste disposal; this is managed by the registrar and not the responsibility of the archivist.

Acetate negatives that are not showing signs of vinegar syndrome may be stored in a box containing other material; however they should be placed in a separate folder because they will continue to deteriorate. If fully processing the collection, interleave acetate negatives with MicroChamber paper or use negative envelopes.

Polyester negatives are a very stable format and can be stored with other photographic or mixed material. It is still recommended that negatives be placed in a negative envelope or folded piece of interleaving paper to separate it from other items in a folder. They can be interleaved as a group and not each individually.

Glass Plate Negatives and Lantern Slides

Glass plate negatives should be stored in a negative storage box appropriate for their size (8x10, 5x7, 4x5). Each glass plate should be placed in a paper envelope with the emulsion size facing away from the envelope adhesive. Corrugated board can be used as support within negative storage boxes. Odd sized glass plates should be placed in an envelope for the next size up, or in a handmade four-flap enclosure. If odd sized negatives are stored with other negatives, use corrugated board to provide extra support.

If removing glass plates from old enclosures (small boxes, folders, or envelopes), transcribe any descriptive information onto the new negative envelope.

If the collection contains enough negatives of one size to fill at least half of a storage container, rehouse the items into that container and label it according to our collection labeling guidelines. If the collection contains just a few negatives, they should be added to an existing “Miscellaneous Glass Plate” storage container. Miscellaneous containers are available for all three standard sizes. Each envelope will need to be barcoded and added to the collection holdings record.

Lantern slides are typically a smaller format than glass plate negatives. They are usually color images (transparencies) placed within two pieces of glass and masked with tape on the edges. The Archives has not fully established a standard method of housing lantern slides, however, if a collection has large quantities, appropriate sized boxes (similar to Hollinger brand slide boxes) and four-flap enclosures can be ordered.

Please consult the Head of Collections Processing if special supplies are needed for rehousing glass plates or lantern slides.

Preservation of Audiovisual Material

Introduction and Policy

These instructions outline the expectations for processing staff regarding housing and storage for AV media found in collections they are processing. The steps below are considered basic measures for providing adequate housing for AV media.

All supplies mentioned are included in a list in this document. Most supplies should be on-hand, available in the AV processing room or the large processing room. Check the black supply cabinets in each room. If you don’t find something you need, let the AV Archivist know.

Beginning in 2018, newly accessioned collections with poorly-housed audiovisual media will be re-housed by the AV Archivist following the AV survey of that collection, where housing issues are noted, and a retrospective re-housing project will be planned. However, collections acquired through 2017 containing poorly-housed media will continue to be pulled for processing for some time.

Pending retrospective re-housing, processing archivists who find poorly-housed AV media in collections may always use their judgment as to whether they can afford the time required to re-house media if existing housing is broken, deteriorating, or unsupportive. If archivists choose to re-house AV media during processing, please follow the guidelines in this document. All archivists should follow instructions below for orienting AV media objects properly in their collection storage boxes.

See the Preservation Self-Assessment Program’s Collection ID Guide on audiovisual materials for a comprehensive resource on AV handling, housing, and storage.


In general:

  • Media housing should provide structured support for media, and be acid-free, and vented or loose. Some original housing is sufficient if it meets these criteria. Original paper or plastic housing that is not broken, dirty, or acidic is adequate and can be left alone.
  • Remove any acidic or damaged housing as you would for any other record.
  • Remove any documentation found inside the original container and maintain the relationship between the media and its enclosures in your arrangement.
  • When replacing housing, unless the original housing is completely blank, preserve all information on the original housing by either 1) keeping the original housing or filing it with the newly housed media if it is not bulky or potentially damaging, or 2) photocopying old housing on acid-free paper.
    • Be sure to include all printed and handwritten information in the copy. Information such as brand, footage length, tape thickness, etc., is useful for preservation and reformatting purposes.
    • Photocopies of original housing can be filed in collection folders along with rehoused media, or in “dummy” reference folders for media that is stored apart from its intellectual arrangement, such as film or grooved discs in sols.
  • Four-flaps and pocket envelopes are not sufficiently supportive for housing media on reels or in cassettes or cartridges. Media on reels especially can easily be crushed in unsupportive housing.

Magnetic media:

  • If original housing is clean, unbroken, and doesn’t show signs of acidity or plastic degradation, leave the tape in its original housing.
  • Newly purchased polyester containers are available for three formats: audio reels and cassettes, and VHS videocassettes. Recycled plastic containers are available for U-matic videocassettes. Most of these supplies are available in the tall black storage cabinet in room 2264.
  • For open reel tapes, add hold-down tape to loose ends to prevent unraveling of reels in the box; use tape with gentle adhesive such as white paper tape or silver tape. Do not pull on end of tape to tighten the wind as it can damage the recording.
  • Replacement containers are not available for ½” video reels (Usually square and labeled “SONY helical scan”), various Beta-type video, MiniDVs, HDCam, and other video tapes, so original containers should be cleaned and retained. Clean original plastic containers using lint-free cloths if necessary. If these types of tapes have no existing housing, consult with AV archivist.
  • For any cassette format, if stored in housing with an open side, be sure the exposed edge or door of the cassette is stored facing the inside, unexposed side of the housing.

Motion picture film:

The film inspection database is located on the Archives' internal shared drive Inspection Database. See AV processing guidelines or the AV archivist for help accessing the documentation of the films for your collection.

If collections pulled for processing have films still in the collection, bring them to the AV Archivist for assessment and rehousing. For informational purposes, the following represents the most minimal re-housing attention films should receive.

  • Film in airtight (difficult to open) or rusted metal cans or cardboard boxes should be re-housed in plastic, vented cans. If original housing consists of clean metal cans with loosely fitting lids, they are acceptable to retain.
  • If replacing film cans, be careful not to let films wound on cores with loose winds unravel. Place the new can over the film in its original can, and flip it over to transfer the film to the new can intact. A video demonstration of that is here:
  • Photocopy original housing if it has any labeling on it, and file the photocopy in a dummy folder arranged in the series in which the film reel is intellectually arranged. Any paper found with the original film, or in the original housing, should also go in such a folder.
  • If end of film is loose, tape it down with white paper tape. Do not pull the end to tighten the wind – this can scratch the emulsion and permanently damage the images on the film.
  • Film with odor (usually vinegar) should be Acid Detection, “AD,” strip tested to determine the extent of deterioration due to vinegar syndrome. Films found to be over 1.5 on the AD strip scale are at a critical state of deterioration and must be packaged for frozen storage. Bring any films with odor to the AV Archivist for AD strip testing.
  • Film with any sign of mold should also be frozen until it can be cleaned.  Bring any films with signs of mold to the AV Archivist.

Grooved discs:

  • Ideally, any paper supplies used in re-housing grooved discs should be acid- and lignin-free and pass the PAT (photo activity test).
  • Grooved discs are sometimes found in albums in collections. These albums are typically made of acidic paper and discs should be removed from them.
  • Grooved discs come in many forms. Bring any discs you are unsure about to the AV archivist.
    • The late 20th century form of the vinyl disc, lightweight and slightly flexible, is not fragile, although its grooves should be protected from chafing or scratching.
    • Prior to vinyl, many grooved discs were made with a lacquer or acetate coating over a base that was either aluminum, cardboard, steel, or glass. Glass discs are especially fragile and should be housed with extra support. You can tell if a disc has a glass base by inspecting its spindle hole at the center, and its edges. If those areas are shiny and the disc is heavy, it has a glass base. If it is shiny but not lightweight it is probably aluminum-based. Glass-based discs should be housed with extra support by encapsulating between acid-free board stock cut to size and tied with cotton tape. Aluminum, cardboard, and steel-based discs do not need extra support.
    • In addition to a potentially fragile base, lacquer discs can also have condition issues on the surface layer; the coating layer delaminating (cracking or flaking off), or exuding palmitic acid (white greasy powder). Any discs showing signs of delamination should not be housed in sleeves because inserting and removing them can increase damage. Instead, create a 4-flap sleeve. Palmitic acid can be cleaned by a media preservation lab. Do not attempt to clean during processing.
    • Another fragile type of grooved disc is shellac, usually a commercial distribution format often called a “78” because that was the typical recording speed, 78 rpm. Shellac is inflexible but prone to breaking and should be housed with cardboard support.
  • For any disc that isn’t showing signs of delamination or palmitic acid, archival replacement sleeves are available for 10” and 12” diameter discs in the supply cabinet in room 2264. Sleeves of other sizes can be made out of folder-weight paper, using the 4-flap method. 7” diameter disc sleeves are not kept on hand but can be ordered. If one or two 7” discs are found needing housing, they can be enclosed in an 8x10” Light Impressions pocket envelope, trimmed at the top to size.
  • For discs that need extra support (glass-based, shellac, and lacquer discs showing signs of delamination), cut two pieces of acid-free cardboard to size, and tie the whole package with cloth tape.

Seating in collection containers

In general:

Typically, most magnetic media and grooved discs can be physically arranged in boxes and folders like any other type of documentation. Special collection containers can be considered for large-sized media objects, or for large volumes of smaller-sized media objects. Typical storage alternatives in these cases include:

  • Sols (oversized flat boxes) for large grooved discs (records) that do not fit vertically in collection containers; such items should be described the same way oversized materials are described. If more than a few grooved discs are found in a collection, special housing will be required to store them vertically.
  • Shoeboxes can be used when there are a large number of sound cassettes, micro-cassettes, or small videocassettes. Dividers may be cut from folder stock to provide unit title information as you would on a folder.
  • OV folders are not suitable for any type of AV material.

Magnetic media:

  • All sound reels, sound cassettes, videocassettes, and video reels should be stored vertically, not flat.  It does not matter which edge they rest on.

Motion picture film:

  • Inspected and re-housed films are individually barcoded and stored flat in stacks directly on the storage shelf. Each film can stored this way is treated as an individual collection container.
  • Small reels of 8mm or Super8mm films (50’ in length, circa 2.5” in diameter) are housed in individual cardboard boxes and stored vertically in shoeboxes called “Miscellaneous film boxes” with other 50’ reels.

Grooved discs:

  • Discs 10” in diameter or smaller can be stored vertically in regular collection containers and folders. Larger discs can be stored flat in sols if there is only one or a few discs.
  • Fragile or deteriorated discs, encapsulated in cardboard supports, should be stored flat and must never have anything stored on top of them. If you have two or three in a collection they can be stacked flat but no more. It is advisable to make a note reinforcing to users that nothing can be stored on top of them, and placing the note on top of the item(s) in the box.
  • Any large group of discs 12” size or greater will need specialized storage containers; bring them to the attention of the AV archivist.

Audiovisual re-housing Supplies used at the Archives of American Art

Cases, cans, and boxes:

  • Polypropylene audio cassette cases
  • Vented polypropylene 5”and 7” audio reel cases; use 5” box for 3” reels
  • Vented polypropylene VHS videocassette cases
  • Vented polypropylene 16mm film cans for reels sized by footage: 200’, 400’, 800’, etc.
  • Polystyrene reels and cases for 8mm and super 8 mm film
  • For 8mm and super8mm reels of 3” diameter, we make our own boxes from folder stock.
  • Sleeves for phonograph records, 10”, and 12” diameter
  • Tyvek CD/DVD sleeves
  • Polypropylene CD/DVD sleeves
  • Acid-free 10.5” diameter audio reel boxes with hub
  • Acid-free solander boxes (flat boxes)
  • Hinged lid phonograph record boxes for 10, 12, 16” discs, 3” wide box

Tape, paper, and tissue:

  • White paper tape
  • Silver tape
  • Cotton cloth tape
  • Buffered tissue paper approved for use with film-based photographs
  • Acid-free cardboard
  • Folder-weight acid-free paper

Supplies for cleaning:

  • Diluted alcohol
  • Lint-free paper cloths
  • Micro-fiber cloths

Supplies for more detailed re-housing:

  • 16mm film cores
  • 16mm, 8mm, and super8mm plastic leader
  • ¼” audio reel leader
  • Splicing tape for audio reels and cassettes
  • Tape splicer for 16mm, 8mm, super 8mm film
  • Double-sided tape
  • Acid-free pocket envelopes

Freezing film

Motion picture films should be considered for frozen storage when they either exhibit mold or have been tested with A/D strips and test at 1.5 or above, showing that acetate deterioration has reached its auto-catalytic point.

Types of film that should not be frozen include any full-coat magnetic soundtrack or any film with magnetic stripe soundtrack. Either of these formats found to be at a critical state of deterioration should be prioritized for reformatting.

Instructions for freezing film and for accessing frozen film safely are found in a separate document, “Policy and Procedure for Freezing Motion Picture Films” found with the Archives' AV Preservation and Digitization procedures.