Behind the Scenes: Processing a Collection

Processing a collection in any archives is a lengthy, involved project. A typical way to process a collection is to start with an inventory of all materials. It is important at this time to take note of the original order the materials are in, and decide if this order makes sense for researchers to work with, or if a new order should be created. Usually an archivist will rearrange the materials according to the simplest organizational method, either chronologically, alphabetically or by subject matter. Once this is decided upon, all of the materials are cleaned as is necessary, identified, researched, labeled and re-housed in material that will preserve the individual items. Items are housed in differing materials which will ensure their survival over the years. Bulky items and artifacts are often wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and stored in archival boxes, while many photographs and photographic materials are stored in acid-free archival paper envelopes, with extra padding as needed for more fragile objects. When all of this is completed, an item list and finding aid are created for each series within the collection, which allows researchers, students, and the public to view materials available in the archives. Requests may be made by anyone wishing to view or learn more about each collection.


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Botany Libraries * Harvard University
22 Divinity Avenue * Cambridge, MA 02138
phone 617.495.2366 * fax 617.495.8654