Implementing efficient processing practices will require changing some practices or shifting priorities in many repositories. Communicating these changes with both internal and external stakeholders is extremely important. Recognizing the value of clear and open communication will facilitate dialogue that can lead to better assessment and use of archival collections.


Internal communication

Repositories across Harvard differ greatly both in staff size and in work responsibilities of staff. Some of the following suggestions are geared more toward repositories with larger, and more differentiated, staff.


Impact on research or public services staff

When accessioning, consider not only the end user, but also research or public services staff. Whether fulfilling requests for outside users or for offices on campus, accurate accession descriptions can greatly help research services staff locate the resources that they need, even with minimal collection processing. 


As the first point of contact in many repositories, research services staff may feel the impact of changes in accessioning procedures that allow more collections to be open for research with less granular descriptions. A clear articulation of changes to accessioning and processing practices, the reasoning behind them, as well as the benefits, will greatly help research services staff in their work with users.


Some research services staff may expect to see only very orderly and traditionally processed collections in the reading room, so it is advantageous to spend time outlining how this might change if accessioned material is made immediately available. Clear communication on what to expect can quell uncertainty and anxiety, and input from research services staff is critical for accessioning/processing managers or practitioners to hear.


Potential impact on research services procedures and policies

Repositories have a number of different access policies in place; some of these may be affected by changes in accessioning, processing, and granting access to collections as outlined in these guidelines.  


While the benefits of opening all collections (even if unprocessed) will appeal to users, and reducing (at least intellectually) repository backlogs will please archives staff, both groups will likely be faced with different responsibilities and workflows when compared with those used to traditionally processed collections.  


Fulfilling off-site reproduction requests may become more difficult, e.g., if a collection is open to research with just a high-level description, an interested user might require more in-person mediation in order to get more information or order a reproduction of a part of the collection. This is the kind of topic that should be discussed throughout a repository, so that all staff are aware of the interdependence of different departments.


Repositories should also consider how to handle user discovery of material potentially posing privacy concerns.


Additionally, tracking use of collections will determine if collections are in high demand, if the level of description is not adequate for user needs, or if the materials are found to be at risk. It’s good to remember that processing is iterative and knowing from users what is and isn’t working is a great way to prioritize processing work.


Impact on collections/curatorial departments

It is important to communicate changes within archives processing departments as widely as possible, this includes up and down and across the organization. A key group is those responsible for working with donors and/or transferring materials between departments. Changes to accessioning/processing practices can result in positive outcomes for curators. For instance, with a shift in processing practices, curators can expect to see a basic collection level description within a standard amount of time. This timeline is something that the curator could relay to donors. Take time to show curatorial/collections staff what a typical collection may look like when processed to Level I, Level II, and Level III.


Curatorial staff also play an important role in gathering, creating, or contributing to the collection summary needed at the point of accession. Open communication lines can greatly assist in repurposing such data, a needed efficiency.


Curators can be instrumental in communicating with donors the importance of donor-created description as well. In addition, how a donor’s collection will be impacted by this new workflow can and should be communicated to donors. They should be made aware that their donation will likely be immediately made open for research with minimal processing. Explanations on added value processing may even result in donor providing financial support for more in-depth processing.


External communication

Impact on users

In general, the impact on users of opening access to all collections is a positive one. By providing a full picture of a repository’s holdings, users can use their own expertise in determining what is and is not relevant for their research. Without a collection level description, users have no way of knowing what we have.


Finding clear ways to communicate to users what they might expect from a less restrictive approach to “what a processed collection looks like” is important. Users who are used to working with folders where correspondence is filed by date can be confused when they are given a box with correspondence filed by year, or a range of years, or interspersed throughout the collection. In general, collections with minimal processing will likely result in users needing more time for research as they may have to go through more material to find what is relevant to their research. Repositories should consider finding a way to articulate the level of processing to users in language that is meaningful to them. Even the use of the term “unprocessed” is often not meaningful to users, therefore shared access statements as described below may assist in communications about collections.


Reproduction requests from remote users may be made more difficult if more collections are made open to research with less granular level of detail. Individual repositories must be aware of this and be prepared to change their policies on reproductions if necessary.

Proposed Harvard-wide standard access statements

Providing clear, user-friendly information regarding the conditions under which a collection may be accessed is essential to enabling its use. Because the HOLLIS record is often the first discovery point for users, we recommend providing a brief access statement in the MARC 506 for all collections, which can be expanded upon in the finding aid within the Conditions Governing Access note.


In an effort to provide informative, transparent, and consistent information about access to collections across Harvard, a list of standard access statements recommended for use in the MARC 506 is provided below (in bold). These statements are designed to be specific enough to communicate to users what they need to know to make access arrangements, but generic enough to be applied across repositories at Harvard for the sake of consistency. The statements are also designed to represent DACS elements 4.1 (required), 4.2, and 4.3. Information in brackets is intended to be completed with local or collection-specific information.

Statements for open collections

Open collections (base statement):

Collection is open for research.

Append additional statements below to the above open statement as needed (“mix-and-match”):


Off site/appointment required:

Access requires advance notice; contact public services to request access or for more information: [contact info].


Some files restricted for a term:

Some files [or Series #, etc] are closed [for XX years OR until 20XX] due to [the presence of restricted student/personal/health information OR university records OR donor-stipulated restrictions].


Audio-visual or electronic media:

Access to [audio-visual or electronic] media is premised on the availability of requisite [equipment and/or software].


Fragile materials:

Use of reproductions may be required for fragile materials.


Statements for closed collections

Closed pending processing:

Collection is closed pending archival processing to prepare it for access. Please contact public services to inquire about availability: [contact info].


Closed pending processing with possibility of access after content screening:

Collection is closed pending archival processing to prepare it for access. Access may be granted at the discretion of public services staff pending screening of requested materials. Please contact public services to inquire about availability: [contact info].


Closed for a term:

Collection is closed [for XX years or until 20XX] due to [the presence of restricted student/personal/health information OR university records OR donor-stipulated restrictions]. Contact public services for more information: [contact info].


Closed for a term with option of petitioning for access:

Collection is closed [for XX years or until 20XX] due to [the presence of restricted student/personal/health information OR university records OR donor-stipulated restrictions]. Access may be granted via a petition to the Institutional Review Board [or other permission-granting body, such as a department, office, or donor]. Contact public services for more information: [contact info].