The University of Maryland’s archival processing manual suggests, “A collection is processed when an individual can make productive use of it for research.”
This does NOT imply that a collection is processed when items within a folder are arranged chronologically. Or when folder titles within a box all begin at the same point on the folder. We are better serving our users when we focus on clear and helpful description of materials than when we worry about whether the folders in the box are arranged chronologically.
This is not to suggest that we lose physical control over our material, that we not list folder titles, that we not number folders (although many repositories may not do so), but merely that we begin by taking a more holistic approach to the management and practices of archival processing and realize that not all archival collections require the same amount of work in order to be used productively for research.
Expanding our idea of what “processed” looks like and means is the first step in developing efficient processing practices.
In practice, this can mean:
Accepting that work done at the point of accessioning can/must often be good enough to get a collection into a user’s hands.
Prioritizing baseline description for all collections, and prioritizing staff descriptive expertise for high-use collections or for robust scope notes. Using paraprofessional and student work time to create file lists if they are appropriate for a collection.
Utilizing professional assessment and appraisal skills to make informed decisions about which collections need which types of interventions.
By using a framework of articulated processing levels in conjunction with our professional archival appraisal skills, we can expand our ideas of what “processed” means, and gain expertise at determining the best level of description for each archival collection in our repositories. By being mindful of ways we can use “accessioning as processing,” we can better manage the lifecycle of our materials and get them into the hands of users -- the main goal of our work -- much quicker.