When Archiving Experiments Go Bad

By: Olle Larson (BMRC Processing Intern)

Within the past month, my adventures with the BMRC as a processing archivist led me to another blog worthy event. During the week before, of, and after July fourth, Kristin and I had the opportunity to get out of the basement of UIC’s Health Library and into UIC’s Daley Library on the east end of campus. After being down in the same place for 6 months, it was awesome going somewhere new. It was nice to meet new people, work in a new environment, and be above ground for a while. The nicest part of this excursion was being able to sleep in a little longer, since it was only an 8-minute walk to Daley as opposed to a half an hour hike to the other library from my place. But I digress…

We were called to Daley by Lisa to work on the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago Records because a researcher needed it and its arrangement was not usable for anybody. It was a decent sized and very interesting collection of papers. It was also a nice break from the rather dry and expansive compilation making up the Metropolitan Planning Council Records. The approach to the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago Records was considerably different from past collections. Unlike all the other collections we have worked on in the past, the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago Records was already intellectually arranged using MPLP, but it was physically left in the order it was received. Even though it was intellectually ordered, the collection would have been extremely difficult to use as a research because the finding aid and its physical order did not match up. Furthermore, it would have been just as frustrating for library staff to search through the collection in order to get the right folders for a researcher. So basically, we were called in to make this collection useable and easier to navigate.

When working on YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago Records, I came to an important realization about processing collections. One should never do just the intellectual order or physical arrangement and leave the other untouched. It is something that needs to be finished together in my opinion. If it isn’t, then the archivists that work on completing it may not know everything the previous individual had in mind for that specific collection. So my point is…just finish the collection completely do not do just half of it.

On a funnier note, this collection reminded me a lot of those snowballing DirecTV commercials that have been on lately. I don’t know if you know of them but I will give you a brief synopsis. Basically some problem with a cable provider leads to worse and worse life altering consequences, and the commercial ends with “a don’t.” Usually that “don’t” is using cable. Well in the final paragraph, I am going to duplicate this commercial’s script but relating it to our experience with YWCA.

When you only arrange a collection intellectually, its physical arrangement is disorganized.  When its physical arrangement is disorganized, a collection is difficult for researchers and library staff to use. When a collection is difficult for researchers and staff to use, it needs to be reprocessed.  When it needs to be reprocessed, it takes up an archivist’s time from other projects.  When an archivist’s time is taken away from other projects, other collections sit still. When other collections sit still, they become inaccessible to researchers. Don’t allow collections to become inaccessible to researchers. Arrange a collection physically and intellectually- at the same time.