How to handle accruals
An accrual, sometimes called an accretion, is additional material that forms part of an existing collection but arrives at a repository separately. Integrating accruals both physically and intellectually with related collection material is time-consuming. Because of this, a majority of accruals remain unprocessed and inaccessible. With a few small adjustments to accessioning workflows, accruals, just like any accessioned material, need not enter into a processing backlog.
A time saving measure can be to create a separate series in the existing finding aid for the accrual. The new series can be titled using the accession number. The series can remain unprocessed, accessible at the series level, or it can be minimally arranged and described assuring access beyond the series level. The collection level description can be updated to reflect any changes to extent, date, and scope and content.
The University of California Guidelines for Efficient Archival Processing provide useful guidelines that outline different levels of treatment an accrual could get.
Examples of finding aids where accruals were integrated efficiently, either by adding additional series or integrating the materials intellectually but not physically: Anthony Bailey Papers, Susanne Langer Papers
How to get and reuse structured description from donors, curators, acquisitions
Whenever possible, documentation created and acquired during the acquisition process should be shared with archives staff to streamline archival description, whether at accessioning or processing. This may include notes received from the donor or transferring office on the provenance of the material, accompanying paper or electronic folder lists created by the donor, office or acquisitions staff; or background secondary sources consulted.
Oftentimes information accumulated during the acquisitions process may inform or affect how the collection is described by the processing staff. Sharing this information can also prevent processing staff from duplicating research.
Collection summaries, or notes gathered by acquisitions staff, may be repurposed into MARC record collection descriptions; folder lists can be manipulated into finding aids, and secondary source material can be used in biographies or administrative histories in MARC records or finding aids.
Collection summaries can be created to accompany all types of accessions, including personal papers, university records, and records of associated organizations. These documents provide contextual information for accession, including historical and provenance details, highlights of the collections, related collections at the acquiring institution and beyond, and potential hazards or preservation issues. The information recorded in the summary may give processing staff additional information which could affect the manner in which it is described.
For repositories using ArchivesSpace, the document path can be listed on the accession record, and a paper copy can be filed in the control file. This allows for easy access for processing staff who may use some of this information for descriptive tasks, in MARC records and finding aids when processing, or for planning for conservation treatment.
In addition to processing staff, public services staff also find summaries very helpful for providing reference assistance to accessioned (but minimally processed) material.
Recognizing and handling university records
Whether working directly with offices on campus to transfer their records or encountering University records embedded within manuscript collections, archivists should recognize that Harvard University records that are subject to Harvard University access restrictions preventing access to the records for fifty to eighty years, depending on content. By a Harvard Corporation vote of 1995, University records “include all forms of recorded information regardless of physical characteristics, created, received, recorded, or legally filed in the course of University business or in pursuance of the University's legal obligations.” When acquiring these records, archivists should consult the General Records Schedule (GRS) to determine the permanent disposition of the records once their retention period has passed since the GRS applies to all faculties and academic centers, departments, affiliates and allied institutions, projects, and initiatives of the University.
Donor-generated and office-generated lists
Leveraging the assistance of donors and transferring offices can greatly streamline archival work from analysis in accessioning to description in processing.
Depending on the donor, it can be advantageous to ask the donor or assisting party to create a box or folder list for the acquisition. Archival staff can provide a spreadsheet template with instructions, and the donor can fill in the columns with requested information. If this is not possible, acquisitions staff, and frequently student workers, can list these accessions at the box and/or folder level upon arrival at the repository using the same spreadsheet template.
Requiring an office to submit an electronic box and folder list to transfer records to the repository can save staff time especially for these University records which may not be available to researchers for several decades. It also allows for easier GRS review of the contents by archivists and more streamlined access to the records for public services staff fielding questions from the transferring office after accessioning.
By acquiring or creating these lists at the point of accession, intellectual control of the collection or records is attained, and processing staff can manipulate this data into finding aids and make them discoverable to users. In other words, if the description is good, the processing is complete.
Completing authority work at the point of accession can streamline descriptive work for processing staff and improve discoverability of preliminary descriptive products. Consulting the Library of Congress National Authority File or HOLLIS+ for the proper form of established names, or forming creator names according to DACS or RDA at the start of the accessioning process diminishes the time needed to create a MARC record for the collection as the cataloger will not need to take the extra step of researching the creator’s history or if the office/person has a previously established names. Furthermore, the correct name to use will already be on the accession paperwork, thus simplifying filing and the creation of labels for the accession.
Library of Congress Authorities: http://authorities.loc.gov/
HOLLIS +: http://holliscatalog.harvard.edu
DACS Naming principles and Archival Authroity records: Section 2.6; Sections 9-13 : https://www2.archivists.org/groups/technical-subcommittee-on-describing-archives-a-content-standard-dacs/dacs
Example: Main Entry Authority Work Form