Dwight C. Steele Papers: Manuscript Processing Lessons Learned

My internship at U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library is coming along. The manuscript collection I am processing, the Dwight C. Steele Papers, is coming along, and I am feeling good about my work. I will finish labeling the folders and cartons and work on the finding aid next time I am in. Then it will be time to move on to the next collection.

Before I do, though, I realize I’ve learned so much through the processing of this first collection. The biggest difficulty I have had is in sticking to the institutional priority of “MPLP” or “More Product, Less Process” which reflects an approach to processing proposed by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner (2005) published in The American Archivist.  While Bancroft is using a modified Greene and Meissner approach, meaning there is flexibility in processing, with much more detailed work allowed on a case by case basis, my natural inclination is to be very detailed in my work, which typically takes too much time, considering the backlog of materials that needs to be processed. So, as I’ve gone through the collection survey and processing process, I’ve been forced to seek strategies to speed things along. Some of the time, this happens after the fact, so that on my next collection, I won’t make the same types of mistakes.

Yesterday, while at the job site, I had to do some backtracking, as I was horrified to discover my collection had grown over the course of my processing due to extensive refoldering (the new folders were taking up more space than they were originally, as I wasn’t filling each folder as much as I should have been). This turned out to be unjustified by the time I had the collection arranged. As I’d been working, I painstakingly made chronological folders for each year for some series, as I planned to add to each folder and fill it as I processed. Unfortunately, the majority of these folders were not filled, some of which only had one or two documents inside.

This turned out to be a waste of space and resources. So, in order to avoid adding another box or carton to the collection, I began to consolidate some of these folders and was able to fit the collection into the original space allotment. I may do a bit more of this before I create the finding aid and add the container list. The fewer individual folders I have, the easier this will be to do, and the more time I will save. Of course, backtracking takes time, too. But the lesson is learned, and will save me time both in creation of the finding aid and in the processing of future collections. In just a couple of work days, I will be started on the next collection and able to apply all that I’ve learned along the way. I believe I will be much more successful in adhering to MPLP.

Further, I am excited that Mr. Steele’s collection will finally be accessible to researchers and the public. What a payoff. I get to see the collection move from a disorganized state, through to a neatly foldered and organized collection that will be of use to patrons of the Bancroft Library.

 

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