Thursday, August 2, 2007

Rate me, equate me, any way you want me

One of the stated goals of this project is to develop a common "assessment culture" among PACSCL institutions when it comes to unprocessed collections. This will help institutions across the consortium generate ideas for collaborative projects, as well as give them a common language and methodology for prioritizing the collections in their backlogs going forward. To do this, we’re applying the same survey method and rating system to all the collections in this project, regardless of their format and regardless of their institutional context. As you might imagine, this isn’t easy – not when one week you’re evaluating an order book from a 19th century wigmaker in a university special collections and the next you’re poring over a prominent 20th century ornithologist’s research materials in one of the nation’s oldest scientific research museums – but we’ve worked hard with the participating institutions to smooth out all those little idiosyncrasies that often get in the way of coordinated planning for special collections materials.

The direct predecessor to our project is a comprehensive survey project at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania that took place from 2000-2002 – in fact, the general methodology we’re using, albeit with some modifications, is sometimes referred to as "The Historical Society of Pennsylvania protocols." Other institutions, like Columbia University and the University of Virginia, have adapted this model for their own use, and have some interesting resources online. Their resources don't appear to be online yet, but also using a similar model are institutions as diverse as WGBH public radio and television in Boston and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Of course, the assessment model we’re using is one among many. I was interested to read this article in ARL’s bimonthly newsletter about UNCAP, a project at the University of Chicago in which faculty and graduate students identify, assess and process collections. There are a range of models for preservation surveys, including this one developed at Washington State University that was detailed in an article in the last issue of the American Archivist. And various archival appraisal models, particularly the Minnesota Method, developed by Mark Greene and Todd Daniels-Howell, could easily be adapted to the assessment of collections for processing, not just for acquisition.

I’m curious to hear about other assessment models people have applied to their collections, for either processing or preservation. When faced with a backlog of unprocessed material, how do you decide what to tackle next?

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