Archival records vary in scope, content, research value, and complexity as do repository resources and priorities. Within the Harvard Library system alone the range of resources is wide, from those with one staff member who rely mainly on students to those with as many as nine staff dedicated to archival processing. Common to all, however, is an abundance of special collections material in need of archival intervention and stewardship in order to be discovered and used by our research community. True also is that for most repositories, additional staff dedicated to processing is unlikely. As a result, shared approaches and practices for efficient archival processing are essential if we are to make Harvard’s unique and extensive archival holdings transparently accessible and open to research.
We know the following to be true:
● Archival description enables discovery, use, and good stewardship.
● For a sustainable model of discovery and use, efficient archival processing is necessary. Good enough processing is better than no processing.
● To best meet the demands of our users and adequately care for all of our holdings, we must always make informed decisions about levels of arrangement, description, and preservation.
How can the Harvard community respond to these challenges?
The Joint Processing Guidelines Working Group established a set of recommendations that can serve as guidelines for efficient archival processing across special collections within Harvard Library. These guidelines provide detailed guidance on practices that
support efficient archival processing. These practices rest on a set of shared principles:
Strive to make all collections, even those that are unprocessed, open for research.
● Exceptions may be made for collections with institutional, legal, and donor-stipulated restrictions.
Strive to provide a publicly discoverable collection-level description for each collection within a repository.
● Repositories should prioritize gaining collection-level control over all holdings. Detailed description should wait until after all collections are discoverable at a baseline level.
Aim to provide the “golden minimum” in processing and description.
● Analyze and assess each collection in order to perform the appropriate amount of work necessary to make each collection useable.
● Further description should be justified by research value or other repository priorities.
Make assessment-based, data-driven decisions regarding processing priorities, policies, workflows, and staff and resource allocations. Assessment measures should reflect and support local needs and practices.
Clear and consistent communication across functions (technical services, public services, curatorial) is necessary to support efficient archival processing.
Documentation of our policies and practices provides continuity and promotes transparency, both of which strengthen our relationships with our users and other stakeholders.