Let’s start at the beginning. When I was only a babe in the womb, the waters came down heavy in Tulsa. Whoops! I don’t want to go back that far. Let’s take it back to the fall of 2015.
With the help of Bill Coxsey (reel-to-reel aficionado) and Scott (sound genius), I started digitizing the 2-track reels in the KTRU radio records. KTRU is Rice University’s student run radio station. The recordings range from 1968-1988. While immersed in everything 70s, I stumbled upon concerts and live in studio performances by local folk musicians. Not being a Texas-native, I was unaware of the Houston folk scene (1960s-1980s) that centered around venues like the Sand Mountain Coffeehouse, Anderson Fair, The Old Quarter, Theodore’s, and Corky’s (among others).
After noting that no other institutions were archiving this scene and getting approval from my superior, I decided to get moving. In January, I created the Houston Folk Music Archive. We’ve already gotten some interesting collections and have many more planned.
Now all of that is on the table, let’s move on to the business at hand: what happens after we receive a collection. I’ll break this down into steps. (If you need to, you can rewrite NKOTB’s masterpiece “Step by Step,” but use words like “process,” “re-folder,” and “acid-free.”)
Step 1: Get a Deed of Gift
The donor signs a legal form that transfers ownership to the institution. Within the document, the donor can provide an inventory and show how much copyright control s/he wants to keep.
Why do we do this? It proves that the owner wanted to transfer the materials.
Step 2: Immediately Rebox
Step 3: Ascertain what is in the collection
Before becoming one with the collection, we need to know what is in it. We’re going to spend a bit of time looking through the boxes. We need to know the different formats (paper, photographs, negatives, audio, video, memorabilia). We also check out the condition of the stuff. For example, has there been water damage? Is there rust? Are there any silver fish? This helps us determine what supplies we need, what might need extra attention, and a rough idea of how to organize it.
Step 4: Process the collection
- Remove rubberbands, paper clips, rusty staples.
- Unfold paper.
- Weed the collection of multiple copies, tax information, or items not related to the focus of the collection.
- Place like-minded items in acid-free folders -- or, if already well-organized, transfer into an acid-free folder.
- Label the folders.
- Isolate items that need conservation or more TLC.
- Organize photographs.
- Place in protective mylar sleeves if needed, or in acid-free envelopes.
- Place slides and negatives in special sleeves.
Ascertain if the audio and video are good candidates for digitization. Then, move forward with a digital preservation workflow.
This requires a digital preservation workflow, which we will address in a later post.
Step 5: Organize the folders
We organize them into “Series” -- in other words, categories. The series can be organized by subject or date. Folders within each series could be organized alphabetically by title, year, or subject. It depends on the collection and the archivist.
Step 6: Create a finding aid
Now that everything is organized in boxes, we create an inventory down to the folder level. Then, we write other information that spells out if there are any restrictions, who donated it, citation information, among other bits, and most importantly a biographical/historical note. This is called a finding aid. At the Woodson Research Center, we place the finding aid online, so people can get to it using Google. Click here for an example of the Wheatfield and St. Elmo’s Fire collection.
University and public library archives and special collections generally want to make information available to the public. We want researchers to look at it; we want it to be used in the classroom. We don’t want to hoard the world’s knowledge, we want to put new information and new voices out into the world.
Other institutions might have slightly different archival workflows, but this is how we do it. Sadly, Montell Jordan doesn’t do it the same way, but then he doesn’t process archives. He specializes in being “faded.”