Archival Processing Methodology: Part 1

As was mentioned in our first post, the unique aspect of our project is the application of archival methods to a collection of published and printed materials. Since individual cataloging is not feasible for a collection of this size (around 700 cubic feet), we are using folder level archival description instead.

Normally in a library, materials are assigned a specific call number and each cataloged individually. In folder level arrangement, we simply try to group like items together so that a researcher has a specific folder or group of folders to look through, even though they won’t have a list ahead of time of the actual items contained in each folder.

Each folder title tells a researcher the topic of materials in that folder, as well as a date span (if known). Undated materials in the collection are either labeled as n.d., or dates were supplied by the processing team if based on a particular model’s production years, a reasonable estimate could be made. Estimated dates are all noted as “ca. 19XX.”

The method we are using is called More Product, Less Process. What this boils down to is focusing less on extremely detailed processing and more on getting as much out and accessible to the public as possible. For those who are interested in reading more about this method, the article by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner which originally appeared in American Archivist is available full text from the Society of American Archivists.

The first step in the arrangement process was to write a processing plan. Based on an initial survey of material, they were broken down into series and subseries. Materials are being grouped by make and model wherever possible, with the largest series consisting of sub-series for each of the makes.

The problem with arranging materials by make and model is that a large number of companies produce one catalog for multiple cars in their lineup. If there is a catalog for the Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta, would you file it under Focus or Fiesta? Putting it under either seemed misleading for researchers, since there was no way of knowing which models might have been grouped in catalogs together.

Out of this conundrum, we devised the following breakdown for trade catalogs: Specific Models, Various Models, and Fleet Vehicles. Catalogs dealing with one model only are filed in Specific Models. Those covering an entire model line or more than one car are arranged in a straight chronological run in Various Models. Cars used as fleet vehicle such as ambulances, taxis, police cars, limos, funeral cars, etc. are filed as Fleet Vehicles.

An important note relates to the differences between models and body styles. Particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, cars came in a variety of body styles. If a catalog featured one model with ten different body styles, it is still being treated as a specific model catalog.

What this all boils down to for the researchers is that if somebody comes in researching the Ford Focus, they need to check in the relevant Focus folders, but also check the Various Model range catalogs for the particular years they are researching.

This issue is just one of the hurdles we have encountered while attempting to apply archival principles to a collection of printed materials. This post has discussed only the trade catalog sub-series arrangement, but below is a preview of the entire series hierarchy. Over the coming months, we will continue to discuss the challenges faced in determining this arrangement, as well as giving a more in-depth discussion of the other subseries.

Here is how the hierarchy looks:

Series 1. Automobile Makes
1.1 Car Make
1.1.1 Trade catalogs Specific Models Various Models Fleet Vehicles
1.1.2. General Publications
1.1.3. Media Information
1.1.4. Serials

Please feel free to use the comments section to ask questions or to continue the discussion of our arrangement scheme. Also be sure to come back next week to learn about Dodge’s Scat Pack.

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Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

One thought on “Archival Processing Methodology: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Archival Processing Methodology: Part 2 | Z. Taylor Vinson Transportation Collection

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