Archival Processing Methodology: Part 7 – Big Company vs. Small Company

While the challenges presented by languages and dates in the Vinson collection have already been discussed, a remaining challenge to explore is the varied depth of the materials for each make. What I mean by this is that some companies have twenty or more boxes packed to the gills (think Audi, Ford, Chevy). Others, have just five items or sometimes just one item. How does one find an arrangement scheme that can accommodate both the small and large companies?

Well, what I’ve done is developed a distinction between what we call big companies and small companies. Big companies feature the regular arrangement detailed in previous methodology posts, where large numbers of items are broken down into folders by model or publication types and such. Small companies (those with just a handful of items) instead use the subseries names as the folder titles.

Let me explain by way of an example. A small company might have three brochures: two trade catalogs for different specific models and a color sample. We could give each of these separate folders. However, that would be wasteful, both in terms of supplies and wasted space in boxes through an overabundance of folders. This also creates subseries with just one item, which is simply unnecessary.

To combat this, the folder for that make will read: General Publication and Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 1956-1970. Then, the narrative series description above will contain the usual information (languages, quantity of material) and also say: The general publication is a color sample and the trade catalogs are for model X and model Y. As you can see, the information that would have been your folder title, is now just moved to the series note.

There is no hard and fast rule about the size a company would be to be classified as big or small. It often comes down to the variety of materials present.  It is my hope that the consistent use of the same series names and sorting terms will help simplify access. It is important to keep in mind that both big and small companies will tell you the same information; you would just have to look to a folder title in a big company and the series note in a small company.

Previous methodology posts can be found here.

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

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 6 – Dates

In our last methodology post, we discussed the challenge presented by the international scope of the collection and the wide array of languages which accompany that diversity. Today’s discussion will focus on another challenge in the collection: undated materials.

Depending on the era and the company, car catalogs and other printed materials contain important date information, sometimes even down to the month. These dates are often included as part of the literature code on the back cover, which identify the specific publication for a company. However, there are also many catalogs that do NOT provide this information. In an arrangement scheme where all the folders are dated and much of the material is being arranged chronologically, this can be somewhat problematic.

Often, the best context clues will be the style of the cars being advertised or even the format brochure itself (such as condition, type of paper, etc.). Additionally, the style of clothing on people can also be clues. This evidence often provides enough information to narrow it down to a decade or two. When this is the best we can do, the date will be listed on the folder and finding aid as “ca. 1960s” or “ca. 1970s-1980.”

Sometimes, if the material is for a particular model that we can use a reference work to determine the years during which it was produced. When this is a short span of years, this information allows us to achieve slightly better precision than just the decades. We can then use dates such as “ca. 1964-1968” or “ca. 1994-2000.” Other similar context clues suggest whether a particular company was only around for a few years. We can use such tentative information to narrow down the date range for the item.

Any of the estimated dates will always include “ca.” before the date to let you know that it is an estimate supplied during processing and not from the actual item itself.

Despite all of these available clues, sometimes the date span for an item cannot be easily discerned. In this case, instead of using a poor guess, the item is labeled “n.d.” which is short for no date. Undated materials are filed at the end of a chronological run. If a particular folder contains chronologically arranged materials, the dated materials come first and the undated ones at the back of the folder. The date will be written on the folder like this: “1970-1981, n.d.”

Another factor in trying to assign estimated dates comes down to available time. A large part of the More Product, Less Process strategy that we are implementing involves not getting bogged down in item level description. The scope of what we have to accomplish is so wide that often it’s not that we can’t find a date for an item but that the time value of such information is to low for the necessary investment of effort. Surely with enough time and research, most models or body styles can be discerned. However, we lack the time to do this, and instead must keep progress moving forward and use circa (ca.) or undated (n.d.).

Past methodology posts can be viewed here.

Don’t forget to come out to Winterthur Museum on Saturday for their Historic Autos and to hear a talk about the Vinson Collection!

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

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 5 – Languages

One of the aspects of the Vinson Collection that make it such a valuable research tool is its international scope. However, this also presents one of its challenges because with that global scope comes a wide variety of languages! They include English, French, German, Italian, Afrikaans, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, Spanish, Norwegian, Greek, Ukrainian, Russian, Arabic, and even more. The variety in these languages presents a few different issues.

The first challenge in processing these materials is to identify which language it is. This job is made much simpler through the use of Google Translate. For those of you not familiar with this tool, one can enter the text they have and either select to translate it from Language A to Language B. Or even more helpfully in our case, it can be set on Detect Language and it will attempt identify the language based on the words that you input. Where even this impressive tool can sometimes fail you is with the languages using non-Latin character sets, since one cannot easily just type in the text to translate. In this case, one can utilize the “on screen keyboard” option, which is extremely helpful for Cyrillic languages.

However, if Google Translate fails us, all is not lost. Often based on our own knowledge, we can guess a region or potential country for the language. Then using the wealth of resources available online, we can pull up images of the characters and compare each language to the item we have. We also frequently consult with coworkers around the library to see if anyone else has the knowledge to identify a different language.

If all of these efforts fail (which, on rare occasions, they do), we resort to “unidentified languages” as the description in the finding aid. Then, once the collection is open, we hope that a patron might come in and be able to identify these few mystery languages.

The second challenge, once one identifies the language (or even if it can’t be), is to figure out what type of item it is. Though it is not necessary to get a full translation, one needs to be able to understand enough of it to get a sense of what it is. Is it a catalog? Great! But is it a catalog for one model? Multiple models? Fleet vehicles? Thankfully, the pictures are extremely helpful to identifying these distinctions. Though the distinctions sometimes grow fuzzier in a subseries like General Publications, one can still usually use context clues to infer what type of item at which one is looking.

Languages of materials are noted on the finding aid at the subseries level. For example, there will be a note that the Trade Catalogs: Specific Models are in languages X, Y, and Z or General Publications are all in language X. Additionally, an attempt is made to provide quantitative description, so that a researcher can tell that the material is almost all in English with one or two things in Dutch or something like that.

Past methodology posts discussing arrangement can be found here.

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

Archival Processing Methdology: Part 4

The last methodology post left off with a discussion of the General Publications subseries. The last two subseries to discuss are Media Information and Serials.

As usual, I’d like to start with a refresher of the arrangement hierarchy (click on the linked subseries names below to read more about their arrangements in our previous methodology posts):

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

The Media Information subseries contains press releases and media kits. These come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Many are just traditional folders containing printed press releases, with a selection of photographs and slides. Others are shaped like gas tanks or are wrapped in bandanas and contain electronic media such as floppy discs, CDs, or flash drives.

These kits are arranged by motor show, model, or subject. Motor shows represented prominently include North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), Frankfurt Motor Show, Geneva Motor Show, Paris Motor Show, and New York International Auto Show, among others. If the kit is not indicated for a specific show, but instead a model, it is filed under that model’s name. If the kit is not for a show or a model, but instead discusses a particular subject, such as safety features or new hybrid or environmental advances, the kit will be filed under the subject (i.e. Safety Features or Environmental Initiatives). Lastly, if a kit covers multiple topics or models, it is simply filed under Press Releases and arranged chronologically. This is where you will find many kits advertising a company’s full line-up when kits were not designed for a specific motor show.

Serials are largely made up of reprints of articles from automotive magazines. Frequently represented titles include The Motor, Road & Track, Autocar, and Car and Driver. Also included in this group are complete issues of serials published by particular companies, often directed at owners of their vehicles. The number of issues varies from company to company. Sometimes decades are represented with every issue included; other times, there is just a scattered issue here or there.

Keep in mind that the serials contained in this section are only those that are produced by a specific company or about a specific company. General automotive serials will be cataloged in the regular Library Catalog.

This wraps up all of the subseries in the Automobile Makes series. Future methodology posts will highlight challenges such as foreign languages and undated materials. Use the comments section for any questions or comments.

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

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 3

So far our methodology discussion has covered corporate hierarchy changes, as well as the first subseries, Trade Catalogs. As you may recall, this subseries is separated into Specific Model, Various Model, and Fleet Vehicle trade catalogs. Today, I’d like to describe the second subseries, called General Publications. Before we dive in, here is a quick refresher of the collection’s overall hierarchy:

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

The simplest way to understand the General Publications category is as the “Everything but…” subseries. It includes everything but trade catalogs, media kits, and serials. As you might imagine, this can include an extremely wide array of items. To make sense of it all, we sort them by topic or subject.

Here is a list of frequently used divisions:

  • Accessory Catalogs
  • Apparel Catalogs
  • Color and Upholstery Selections
  • Company Overviews (includes corporate histories)
  • Dealer Mailings
  • Environmental Initiatives
  • Narrative Catalogs
  • Owner’s Manuals
  • Price Lists
  • Promotional Items (i.e. coloring books, comic books, other two-dimensional freebies.)
  • Safety Features
  • Salesman Literature
  • Technology and Innovation

This list is just a small sample of the categories that you will see on the finished finding aid. Also, our list is always expanding and changing since processing a new company often means finding a type of publication that you haven’t encountered before. If there are any particular items of note within one of these categories (something rare or that is likely to be of interest to researchers), there will be specific mention in the narrative portion of the finding aid. (As a reminder, each subseries of the finding aid will have a narrative description, as well as a complete box and folder list displaying all the folders in the subseries.)

Feel free to post any questions you might have about the methodology or arrangement in the comments section below.

In the coming weeks, our next methodology post will explore the final two subseries, Media Information and Serials. Until then, come back next week to learn about some of the oldest items in the Vinson Collection.

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

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 2

One of the major challenges we have faced is the frequently changing corporate hierarchy of the automobile industry. Companies are sold, merged, separated, and sold again almost too many times to count. Mapping out these corporate structures could become a three-year project in and of itself!

To help overcome this problem, we have two tools in our arsenal: research and original order. We can use research to try and track down as much as we can about a particular company.

One useful tool for seeing how these companies exist in their present incarnation is the Automotive Family Tree. However, for information about the pasts of these companies, we have turned most often to The Beaulieu Encyclopædia of the Automobile (Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of The Automobile (2 Volume Set) Volume 1: A-L; Volume 2: M-Z. Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000.) This reference set came as part of the Vinson Collection and is available for use at the Library.

The collection is also full of extremely valuable corporate histories. These include small pamphlets and publications that are being included in the foldered and not individually cataloged items. However, a large number of these are also full-length monographs and can be found in the Library Catalog by searching for whatever company is of interest. It is also important to note that these histories come in many languages besides English – French, German, Italian, Japanese and more.

Sometimes research fails us, particularly because some companies were so small or existed so fleetingly that little or nothing has been written about them. Or when we encounter the opposite and there is so much information that uncovers a corporate lineage too complex to grasp quickly (since we are using More Product, Less Process here we don’t have days to dedicate to researching just one company), we use the archival principle of original order. Original order basically states that an archivist should attempt to leave the collection the way the creator had it arranged.

What that translates to in this case is that if Mr. Vinson had it filed under a particular make, we will leave it with that make. The exceptions to this being that if an item is clearly misfiled, we will attempt to find its proper home or if there is a strong usability argument for moving an item to be with similar items, sometimes we alter the original order.

Our next methodology installment will continue our discussion from the first methodology post on the organization of the collection and tackle the second sub-series called General Publications. Until then, check back in the coming weeks for articles about De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company and another of Vinson’s treasures, a Ford 1955 Thunderbird catalog.

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

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.