Archives Basics: Part 3
Sorry it’s been a while since my last post but I’ve been out and about the diocese visiting some of our congregations and talking about – guess what? – Archives and History.
Here's a photo of some of the folks at Church of Our Saviour in Monroe, WA where I had a great morning - first at their worship service and then as their program speaker. They even named the day after me, "Diane Wells Day." Now that was a FIRST for me and I do thank them for their wonderful hospitality.
However, now it’s time to get back to archives basics with my third post on this topic. Last time I talked about identifying archival records. Now let’s look at how to arrange and describe them.
If you’ve followed the procedures outlined in my first archives basics post and have sorted your records by provenance - the group, department or person who created the records – you’ve already done much of the arrangement. Of course you can refine the arrangement by creating sub-groups and by filing your records either chronologically, alphabetically, or geographically within those groups depending on the type of records and their original order – but the basic tenet here is to keep it as simple as possible. When I was taking records management courses one of our basic principles was abbreviated “KISS” or “Keep It Simple Stupid,” perhaps not the most flattering principle but one that gets the message across. Elaborate arrangement/filing schemes are, for the most part, counter-productive.
In our diocesan archives I’ve assigned thirteen record groups, each of which corresponds to a major administrative unit, and then sub-divided these groups as necessary. The Archives of the Episcopal Church http://www.episcopalarchives.org/archives.html has a resource entitled Sample Classification Scheme for the Arrangement of Diocesan Archives of the Episcopal Church http://www.episcopalarchives.org/class_scheme.html which provides an excellent example of an arrangement scheme.
Once your archival records are arranged, the next step is to describe them so that a researcher or other interested party can determine what they’re about without having to do a physical search and so that you – the archivist – can easily retrieve needed information. The tool archivists use to describe records is commonly known as a finding aid.
Finding Aid - Diocese of Olympia Archives
The content of a finding aid may differ depending on the type of material it is describing. Usually, a finding aid includes a description of the scope of the collection, biographical and historical information related to the collection, restrictions on use of or access to the materials and the location of the material within the archives. Finding aids today can be created in various electronic and print formats, including word processor document, spreadsheet, database, paper list, index card, etc. I am currently working on a database for the Diocese of Olympia Archives that I hope will be online by the first of next year.
Examples of finding aids abound on the Internet and you will undoubtedly find one that fits your needs. As with many other things, when it comes to finding aids there is absolutely no reason to re-invent the “wheel.”
Now that you have some of the basics, I think we'll take a break from the work of archives to enjoy some of materials that we go to so much trouble to protect and preserve. So stay tuned for a few highlights from our collections.
Archives of the Diocese of Olympia
Diane Wells, CA