A Tale of Three Styles

By: Olle Larson (BMRC Processing Intern)

My journey with the BMRC as an undergraduate-processing assistant has been amazing. Most of my time has be spent at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Library of Health Sciences working along side my knowledgeable graduate partner Kristin Moo. So far, we have completed three collections, each with different types of processing. Each processing type can be categorized into three different styles: true MPLP, mop up, and item level. I will describe each style and the collections briefly in the following paragraphs.

Our first collection, “The Shorebank Corporation Records,” can be described as our only true MPLP collection during our time at UIC. Consisting of banking plans, budgets, business materials, correspondence, and anything else imaginable dealing with the Shorebank Corporation, we quickly moved through these papers, which made MPLP seem amazing. While MPLP does not allow for an in depth assessment of each item in the collection, we still found some interesting things, like Hillary Clinton’s resignation letter from its Arkansas Board of Executives. However, we hit some bumps toward the end of processing. Stamping the collection name on 646 folders took us a long time, but the worst part was hand writing the titles for all 646 folders. While this part was an inconvenience, I attribute it more towards our newness to archiving and the system here at UIC rather than MPLP.

Our second collection was a mop up of the “Cook County School of Nursing Records,” processing about 5.5 linear feet of material. The phrase “mop up,” means the collection had been mostly processed except for a small amount of material left out during original processing. Also, it was our first item level processing, rather than MPLP, since the rest of the collection was originally processed this way. What made this collection somewhat enjoyable were the mass amounts of interesting artifacts we found, like a gold-layered scrapbook, and it’s relatively easy because it came with an item level description of each object. Yet it still took us some time to accomplish. Most of our time was spent locating the misplaced items because some objects were not in their assigned boxes, but rather, on the shelves or wedged into other folders by accident. While it was short, straight forward, and full of cool stuff, it was probably my least favorite collection thus far.

“Michael Reese School of Nursing Records” was the final collection we have completed. I have decided to label this collection true item level processing. This collection consisted of each individual’s student records from the 1890s to 1981. It was pretty cool working with some very old records, and the admission letters revealed a unique window into the shifting views of womanhood and its norms over time. At first, we were skeptical on doing a large scale, item-level project, since we were trained for MPLP. After a day, we discovered item level processing was not terrible, and it was probably best for this collection. Our version of item level processing was entering each name into an excel spreadsheet and then checking to make sure it was spelled correctly based on the records inside the folder. Since it was all about making student records available, it is probably best to name each person in a folder in case someone wants to view a family member’s record. While this may seem like it would take a long time, it flew by extremely fast because of the system Kristin and I developed. Another fun part of this collection was Kevin had us take out the old file containers and throw them in the dumpster. Sometimes, after sitting in a chair typing in names for hours, nothing beats using brute strength and throwing a few file cabinets into the dumpster.

My thoughts on the three different types of processing

Mop up---By far the least enjoyable in my experience. While the work was already done down to the item level, you are stuck doing the previously used system of processing. Then there is the searching for items that got misplaced, which can also be discouraging. Next, there is the constant reshuffling of materials, especially if you find the ever-elusive item or items in order to make room for these newly found treasures.

Item level--- Item level is very useful in appropriate situations. Item level on Shorebank, for instance, would have been extremely time-consuming and served no point in my opinion. However for collections like Michael Reese, it was logical because of the possibility of someone wanting to look up a specific student’s record. Imagine doing this the MPLP way and having a folder labeled only “student records.” In this case, it would be extremely cumbersome on the individual looking for the folder with the specific record. My advice, use item level sparingly.

MPLP----Overall, this system is the best based on my experiences. Using this method, we tore through Shorebank much quicker compared to item level processing. In fact, we may still be doing Shorebank if we had to use item level processing. MPLP is quick, effective, and gets the materials out for researchers to use while making new discoveries themselves. MPLP is like drawing the treasure map and leaving the “chest full of doubloons” for the researcher to find.

Conclusion--- In working with all of these styles of processing, I would say MPLP is the way to go in most cases because it saves a lot of time, and gets collection out for researchers quickly; however, MPLP can have its down falls. When MPLP doesn’t work in situations like student records, then item level processing is probably best suited for the task.