You are here

Chapter 2, Levels of Processing

When preparing to process a collection, archivists at the Archives begin by determining what level of processing will be performed. We define levels of processing as preliminary (tasks completed upon accession), minimal (the standard now for all but specially-funded processing projects, or collections we anticipate fully digitizing), intermediate (only undertaken with special funding), and full (typically undertaken when a collection is to be fully digitized).

To help archivists process the AV portions of their collections, the following benchmarks were created describing what is expected of archivists at each level and suggesting strategies for dealing with AV-specific processing issues. Four areas of processing are addressed for each level: a) re-housing, b) arrangement, d) description, and d) dealing with unlabeled AV media at each level. Archivists can always consider going beyond the strategies listed below for a certain level, particularly if the value of the AV in a collection seems to merit special attention. They should use their judgment as to the effort involved and benefit to the researcher.

Upon accession, the location, extent, and general content of audiovisual materials in a collection is noted by the collector, and the AV archivist surveys the audiovisual material. AV material is not played at this stage, but it is re-housed.

  1. Re-housing: Magnetic and grooved-disc media should be re-housed during preliminary processing if it is missing, dirty, deteriorated, or unsupportive. For film, detailed inspection and re-housing should be completed upon accession. Items needing re-housing upon accession are noted in the AV Survey database, and housing actions taken at this stage are also noted there.
  2. Arrangement: No physical arrangement is changed, but groups of related media are identified in the AV survey if possible, and general information collected for each group
  3. Description: A content genre and general description is recorded in AV survey database for each group of related media as well as:
    1. Media format and condition of the media and its housing,
    2. format characteristics like recording speed and size, if known
    3. known dates,
    4. an assessment of the uniqueness of the media, and
    5. an assessment of its likely rights status (recorded as “donor type”)
  1. Dealing with unlabeled media: unlabeled media is not played during preliminary processing to identify. It is surveyed as a group, collecting data about format only.
  1. Re-housing: Not required at this level. Notify AV Archivist if media appears to be in danger of damage or deterioration due to substandard or missing housing. You may also use your judgment as to whether you have time to re-house AV media yourself during processing, or ask the AV Archivist for assistance if there is extensive re-housing work needed.
  2. Arrangement: keep arrangement interventions to a minimum.
    1. grouping related media is often sufficient, without verifying specific content or sequence of media items;
    2. if media is found grouped with paper records or records in other formats, leave the arrangement as-is;
    3. if media has been separated due to format from paper records it has an obvious relation to, that relationship should be expressed in the finding aid.
    4. Duplicates and originals can be filed together without verifying or identifying which is which.
    5. Consider sorting at a more granular level if there is a media series that is well-labeled, with easily identified items, such as a series of interviews.
  3. Description should likewise aim for efficiency, and you can often save time by describing obvious series of media in groups, although there are still times to consider listing items when minimally processing. See Chapter 5 for more detailed description guidelines.
    1. If logical groupings of AV media are found, a single component might provide an adequate description for the group. Use a formal title of the group if one exists (e.g. “Artists in New York” Radio Series), or devise a title using a genre term such as “Annual meetings” or “Television news clips about [artist or gallery name].” Significant individual subjects, if known, can be referenced in a series- or file-level scope and content note.
    2. Consider describing AV at the item level when minimally processing IF the individual items are well-labeled, and items have important access points for researchers; e.g. names of important figures, exhibition titles or locations, or titles of media artworks. Use headings or subseries groupings to minimize repetition in item-level description.
    3. If any detailed documentation of AV content exists in the collection, such as transcripts, shot lists, or logs describing content, refer researchers to this documentation rather than describing any detailed content of the media itself in the finding aid. When using this approach, make sure researchers can match the paper documentation to the media items; for instance, if logs refer to tapes by tape number, include tape numbers in your description of the media components.
    4. Consult the DCD items for the collection to see if any of the AV media has been digitized and described.
    5. If arranging the AV and its documentation together physically would require significant work, leave it physically separate and cross reference related materials the finding aid.
    6. Do not undertake detailed analysis of media and its documentation if the relationship is not clear; simply note the apparent relationship.
    7. If physical media is labeled with lots of detail, it is not necessary to include all detail in the finding aid. This goes for all levels of processing. If you feel label information would be helpful to researchers, it can be noted in a series- or item-level scope note.
    8. EAD/AV description guidelines must be followed for all elements identified as required in the Archives’ guidelines for describing AV in EAD. See Chapter 5 for full details. Among these required elements are:
      1.  A “Conditions Governing Access” note at the appropriate level
      2.  Series-level scope and content notes that include description of media content
      3.  Component-level “Extents” with quantity and specific format of AV (and for film, the gauge).
  4. Dealing with unlabeled media:
    1. Playing unlabeled media to identify is not required at this level, but if you have one or two things, or a group of homogenous things that you don’t know where to arrange or what to call, the AV archivist can assist.
    2. For film, consult the film inspection database for descriptive information such as edge code/dates, duration, and content description.
    3. If AV material other than film is unlabeled and has no accompanying documentation, it can be described as “unidentified” sound recordings, video recordings, and/or motion picture film when minimally processing.

If a large quantity of AV media is unlabeled, and there is no related documentation describing its content in the collection, consider these strategies to provide some access:

    1. Sometimes AV material will appear to be from an obvious series based on the appearance of a set of tapes or containers being all the same. If any of the media can be grouped this way, play a small sample of the media and try to assign at least a genre term (i.e. “Interviews” or “Lectures”) and estimated date to the group.
    2. If the media has no obvious groups like this, you can create a series for the unidentified media. Avoid the more general “Audiovisual material” as a series title. Use “Sound recordings,” “video recordings,” and/or “motion picture film” instead, as appropriate. File-level titles within such a series can include the word “unidentified” with the general format terms again, but be sure to include the quantity and type of each specific physical format (i.e. sound cassettes, videocassettes (VHS), film reels, etc.) in the physical description for each component.
    3. If unlabeled media is found with paper records but the relationship is unclear, it is better to leave it with those records to preserve a possible relationship; the presence of AV can be noted in a general physical description note for the paper component
  1. Re-housing: re-house any AV items found in dirty, deteriorated, unsupportive, or non-existent housing. Be sure to photocopy original containers before discarding to preserve any information on them, including both handwritten information and printed information related to the tape or film stock. See AV Re-housing Instructions in Chapter 3 for more information.
  2. Arrangement:
    1. Group related media wherever logical, but at the intermediate level, items should also be logically arranged at a more granular level within groups;
    2. For AV items that span multiple tapes or reels, their sequence, or the relationship of duplicates to originals, may be unclear from existing labels. As long as the media is arranged together, the sequence and original/duplicate relationship does not need to be verified when processing to an intermediate level.
  3. Description:
    1. 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, but with intermediate processing, a more granular listing of content under group headings is encouraged.
    2. 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.
    3. If a recording has a label that adds to the description, consider transcribing that label in the physical description element at the intermediate or full level. Lengthy, detailed labels should not be transcribed in their entirety but can be noted in a scope note if information seems useful for researchers. See Chapter 5 description guidelines for more information.
    4. Consider playing a sample of any large group of AV with similar content to provide improved description of the series, even if it is labeled and can be described without playback. You can learn a lot about a recording by listening to or viewing just a minute or two.
  4. Dealing with unlabeled media:
    1. Play sound and video items with no identification or ambiguous labels in order to accurately arrange and describe, unless they are unstable or in a format that cannot be played in-house. Media should be inspected before it is played. See the AV Archivist for help.
    2. For film, consult the film inspection database for descriptive information such as edge code/dates, duration, and content description.
  1. Re-housing: re-house any AV items found in substandard housing. Be sure to photocopy original containers before discarding to preserve any information on them, including both handwritten information and printed information related to the tape or film stock. See Chapter 3 on AV re-housing for more information.
  2. Arrangement:
  1. Group any series of related media wherever logical, but at the full level, items should also be arranged at a more granular level within groups;
  2. Confirm the sequence of pieces of media in multi-piece AV items if it is unclear from labeling.
  1. Description:
    1. Consider playing any recording whose description would benefit from it at the full level, even if it is labeled, unless it is unstable or in a format that cannot be played in-house.  You should not plan to listen to or view the entirety of everything in a collection, but a minute or two of playback and add much to your understanding of a recording. Strive for fullness and clarity in your description.
    2. For film, consult the film inspection database for descriptive information such as edge code/dates, duration, and content description.
    3. If it is unclear whether something is a copy and you are able to play it, confirm that duplicates are copies by playing the tapes or examining the film. Identify originals and duplicates in the physical description.
    4. It is common for components for each intellectual item to be created at the full level; use cross references, <physfacet> notes, or <scopecontent> notes to clarify content and enhance access. Grouping items under file grouping headings is still encouraged to clarify content and relationships between items, but a more granular description, when more information is known, is appropriate at the full level.
    5. If there are multiple items on a single tape, describe each intellectual item in a separate component in the finding aid.
    6. If a recording has extensive, detailed labeling that adds to the description, transcribing media labels in the physical description element, or summarizing in an item-level scope note, is encouraged at the intermediate or full level. Extensive labeling should not be transcribed in its entirety, but can be referred to in a scope note if useful for research.
  2. Dealing with unlabeled media:
    1. Always play sound and video items with no identification or ambiguous labels at the full level in order to accurately identify and describe, unless they are unstable or in a format that cannot be played in-house. Media should be inspected before it is played. See the AV Archivist for help.
    2. For film, consult the film inspection database for descriptive information such as edge code/dates, duration, and content description.
    3. You can consider in-house digitization of AV during processing if you are uncertain about the content of a tape, if items are stable and we have equipment to play them. Digitization will make the identification and description process more efficient, particularly when comparing content that might be duplicated in the collection, determining if there are multiple items on a piece of media, or clarifying ambiguous labels.

Next Chapter: Chapter 3, Re-housing and Storage