SPEC Kit 314: Processing Decisions for Manuscripts & Archives (November 2009)

This SPEC Kit examines the current policies and practices for processing manuscript and archival collections in Special Collections.   It is organized around four general areas: personnel, job responsibilities and training; processing policies, procedures, and priorities; impacts on processing decisions; and management tools.

By the May deadline, responses had been submitted by 76 of the 123 ARL member libraries for a response rate of 62%. Half of the responding institutions have a combined special collections/archives department and all but a few of these process all types of rare books, rare serials, manuscripts, and archival materials. Twenty-seven respondents (36%) indicated that the cataloging of rare books and rare serials was done in another department or unit within the library, usually cataloging or technical services.   Only five respondents indicated that manuscripts and archival materials were processed outside of special collections/archives.

The survey responses speak to the classic issues of the management of processing: how to process collections efficiently but yet adequately so that collections are usable with minimal meditation; how to balance demands for more description and item-level cataloging (digitization) with initiatives to make more collections available (“more product, less processing”); and how to manage staff effectively and to assess processing progress.   From the survey results it is clear that the respondents agree on core principles for processing (such as what is fully processed collection, what makes a good processor, and the challenges facing processors), but in practice the application of these principles are tempered by institutional practices, traditions, and resources.

This SPEC Kit includes documentation from respondents in the form of processing policies and procedures, processing worksheets, statistics, and job descriptions.

Table of Contents

SPEC Kit 314: Processing Decisions for Manuscripts & Archives (November 2009)