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International Congress on Archives 2004 - pres 206 ONUF ZUSABERK 01 (Page 5)

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International Congress on Archives 2004 - pres 206 ONUF ZUSABERK 01
International Congress on Archives
Once the surveying was complete the assessment kicked into high gear in order to report to the Mellon
Foundation and develop a plan for prioritizing the backlog. Many interesting facts came out of the
survey process. We surveyed 4,332 collections totaling nearly 15,000 LF, taking on average about ½
hour to survey each collection. We had much more 20th century material than anyone thought. We
had about 1,000 collections to which researchers did not have access. In consultation with David I
developed fairly crude formulas (using the ratings, extent, and the estimated processing times) to give
rough estimates of the costs that would be associated with the preservation and access work needed by
each collection to process it to the appropriate level. These money and time estimates along with the
ability to query the database for all collections that meet a certain criteria make exploring potential
groupings of collections for projects pretty straightforward.
Now, although we had been writing conservation notes as we surveyed none of us had a background in
conservation, so it behooved us to call in the experts. Therefore while the survey was still underway
we applied for and received a Preservation Assistance grant from the National Endowment for the
Humanities (NEH), which allowed us to bring in staff from the Conservation Center for Art and
Historic Artifacts to review the collections we knew we wanted to prioritize: those with a high
research value (7 or higher) and a low condition rating (1 or 2). Their report helped inform our
subsequent Preservation and Access proposal to the NEH. We also cherry -picked my personal
favorite, family papers collections that had received a high research value -- and developed a
processing project to present to Mellon. Both proposals were successful and are 2 of five grants
currently underway in the archives department.
The survey model lives on. We are currently using it, with slight tweaks to the criteria language, to
survey the archival collections of the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, which, as I mentioned earlier,
merged into the Society in 2002. A number of other institutions, including the Virginia Historical
Society, the University of Virginia, and Columbia University have already adapted this model to their
own needs for prioritization of their backlogs, however they have chosen to define them. They have
used project staff, permanent staff, and students during the survey. They have revised the criteria for
the ratings to fit their own shops. Most radically, in Columbia's case, they tossed out the RVR rating,
in part because they had long-term curatorial staff who knew which collections were rich. Many other
institutions from around the world have contacted me for a packet of information about the survey -- I
think mostly because the Mellon Foundation told them to.
There are also a couple other initiatives in the works that aim to test just how malleable and scalable
this model is. The HSP is exploring ways to adapt the model to conduct a survey and assessment of
our un or undercataloged printed materials -- particularly tens of thousands of pamphlets that are sorted
by topic. We are exploring ways of applying archival methods and treating each topic as a "collection"
that could be surveyed and could then get a collection-level record in the OPAC. PACSCL, the
Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, is developing a proposal to Mellon that
would use the model to survey and assess the backlogs of 22 members of the consortium, which is
estimated to include 3,350 collections totaling nearly 35,000 linear feet. This would enable us to
collectively and as individual institutions prioritize future processing projects, based on high RVR,
common themes, or some other rubric. Data gathered during the survey would be used to generate an
accession-level record which would be made available to the research public.
Our survey database lives on as our main collections management tool for the archival holdings of the
Society and I continue to refer to it on a daily basis. Public services staff use a version of it to locate
collections and to assist researchers. The results of the survey will continue to inform our development
of grant proposals. As we learn from our current projects, time estimates and formulas for estimating
costs can also be easily adjusted. Those results can then be used to crank out a revised prioritization
plan for the coming years. The Mellon survey and assessment project has truly provided us with a
solid foundation upon which to build for many years to come.

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