What do archivists do? What do you think is the coolest item in your collection? Why are archives important?
Want to know more about the Museum and what our archives hold? Tomorrow is Ask An Archivist Day and we will be answering your questions from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Follow along on Twitter and send us your questions.
In case anyone is wondering what archivists actually do when they say they’re processing collections and writing finding aids, here’s me doing it. And making stupid faces because I like doing that, too.
When you get a collection to process that’s been in the archives for a while, it generally comes in an acid-free box. Oftentimes there will be subfolders within the box. When a new collection comes in, you often just get stacks of paper thrown into a random box and have to make the folders yourself and rehouse fragile materials and documents in acid-free folders and boxes before getting started (including removing staples and paper clips in some cases). In this case, I’m processing a collection that’s been here for a while, so it’s already in folders.
The next step is going through each folder to determine exactly what’s in the collection. This helps you choose information to put into the finding aid. I usually take very extensive notes during this step because I take very extensive notes on everything ever, but whatever helps you remember what’s in each folder is fine.
Once you know what’s in all your folders, you can move on to working on making the collection accessible for researchers. The collection I’m currently working on in these photos is a bit disjointed, so right now I’m rehousing some of the individual pieces into folders that make more sense for them to be in. You usually don’t do this unless you have to - there’s something called original order that means that you try to keep things in the order the creator of the collection had them in - but sometimes things are rearranged slightly for researchers, especially if there appears to be no significance to the order the documents are in.
Now it’s time to put together our finding aid. To do that, we use a form document so all our finding aids are consistent. We put in all the metadata information - gross, I know - and then fill out container and box lists. Those work like this:
Series: A subdivision of a collection that is self-contained (not physically as some series are really long)
Box: Sometimes collections physically come in more than one box, so list the box number
Folder: Each folder in a series gets a number so that the files stay organized
Notes, encompassing dates, etc.
So as you can see, there’s a reason I take all those notes when I’m going through the collection - when I add something to the ‘notes’ section, it’s usually about anything important in the folder so that a researcher can find it with a keyword search when the finding aid goes online!
And that is what an archivist is doing when they tell you they’re processing a collection or writing a finding aid.
We’ll be participating in #AskAnArchivist Day again this year on Twitter. On October 5 talk directly to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s archivists
about what we do, why it’s important and, of course, the interesting materials with which we work! What are you most interested in learning about from our archives and archivists?
How Does It Work?
Ask questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist, and we’ll respond to all questions posed to us. As we get closer to the date, we’ll let you know which of our archivists will be monitoring the account at what time, so that if you have a question specific to one of them you can ask them directly!
Reading a New Scientist from earlier this year, in the ads section at the back was one for 'Absolutely Anything Achieved---on your behalf' which ended their blurb with 'We think outside the box; we go the extra mile. We act within the law.' Apparently fixers advertise in science magazines! :D (their website is [anything-achieved]co[uk])
Oh my god, last night I was reading this and I read it as ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING ARCHIVED. Throughout the entire ask. I only realized you said Achieved this morning. I thought it was like, if you needed an animal preserved or a dress wrapped in shrinkwrap to keep it clean and safe from bugs and stuff. We can archive anything.
So you got to “we act within the law” and I was like wait, what, do archivists normally break the law to archive things? I guess if you were to archive like, a human body against the wishes of the deceased. Or if you wanted to archive a million dollars you stole from a bank.
Still. ROGUE MERCENARY ARCHIVISTS. I was gonna say “I’d watch that show” but that’s basically The Librarians, so it turns out I already do.