Archival Description Group Wins National Award

The University Library’s Archival Description Working Group has won another award for its efforts in finding new ways to deliver information about our collections to our users. The Society of American Archivists will present the C.F.W Coker Award to the group in August for findingaids.princeton.edu, the University Library’s interface for descriptions of Princeton archives and manuscript collections. Society of American Archivists Logo The Coker Award “recognizes finding aids, finding aid systems, innovative development in archival description, or descriptive tools that enable archivists to produce more effective finding aids. To merit consideration for the award, nominees must set national standards, represent a model for archives description, or otherwise have a substantial impact on national descriptive practice.” It is awarded to archives throughout North America; previous winners include the Archivists’ Toolkit project, the Online Archives of California, and the working group that developed Encoded Archival Description.

The Award Committee noted that the team at Princeton “created a complete user experience of the Princeton University collections that is elegant in its outward simplicity and robust in its search capabilities. . . . The site is, in short, a triumph of innovative descriptive practice.” Maureen Callahan, John Delaney, Shaun Ellis, Regine Heberlein, Dan Santamaria, Jon Stroop, and Don Thornbury serve on the Working Group. The site also builds on descriptive data created by many staff involved with aggressive processing and data conversion projects over the last seven years.

The site was publicly released last September. The group was also awarded the Mid Atlantic Regional Archives Conference’s Finding Aid Award in April. As always, our biggest reward is the use of the finding aids, and the material they describe, by our patrons, but it’s great to receive recognition for all the effort that went into developing the site.

“Princeton: America’s Campus” Lecture with Barksdale Maynard

The author of “Princeton: America’s Campus” will host a discussion with The New Jersey Historical Commission later this month. The book, by Barksdale Maynard, Princeton Class of 1988, features many photographs from the Historical Photograph Collection housed here at the University Archives at Mudd Manuscript Library.

His most recent book “Princeton: America’s Campus” is the second book Maynard wrote on a Princeton topic and his third on architecture.

Founded in 1746, Princeton is America’s fourth-oldest university and one of the most beautiful places in the country. Its secrets are revealed in Barksdale Maynard’s new, landmark publication, Princeton: America’s Campus, the first book ever to deal exclusively with the architectural history of the university. The author of five prize-winning books, including the acclaimed Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency, Barksdale Maynard has uncovered surprising new information about Princeton’s centuries-old campus along with hundreds of historic photographs never reproduced before. (From the book jacket.)

The discussion will be hosted at Drumthwacket, the former estate of the prominent Princeton University alumnus and benefactor Moses Taylor Pyne, Class of 1877–and now the official residence of the Governor–for the the launch of the Historical Commission’s series “New in New Jersey.”

Drumthwacket • Sunday, September 30, 2012 — 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Make your reservations now! Register Here.

Redesigned Finding Aids Site Now Live

The Finding Aids site for Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has been completely overhauled and enhanced with many new features to make it easier to search through our holdings.

We officially released the site on September 4:  http://findingaids.princeton.edu

Main Page for the new finding aids site

Main Page for the new finding aids site

 

(The previous finding aid site will remain available until September 28 at the following URL: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/classic/)

There are many features and enhancements related to the new interface; a few are listed below. One of the most prominent features is the ability to view images of archival material directly from the finding aids:

“Thumbnail View” of image browsing feature in the new finding aid interface.

Selected Site Features:

• Delivery of images directly from the finding aid interface
• Greatly improved relevancy rankings from search results
• Advanced faceting and browsing options from search results
• Contents lists that are sortable by title, date, or physical location in the collection
• A more modular display of the finding aids – users will not be required to navigate several hundred page documents on the web (but can view the entire finding aid as a single page if they prefer)
• Enhanced topic features
• Better options for users to contact the library and connect with each other, including an “Ask a Question” (for reference requests) and a commenting feature for users wishing to request an enhancement to the description or discuss the content of the collection.
• Ability to place online requests to view material in our reading rooms.
• A much cleaner, and more modern, look and feel.

Several instructional videos which provide information on using the site are available online. We will be adding to the videos in the coming months. General help topics are also available, via the Special Collections Research Account Website.

A number of Department of Rare Books and Special Collections staff, including Maureen Callahan, John Delaney, Regine Heberlein, Dan Santamaria, and Don Thornbury, collaborated with Jon Stroop and Shaun Ellis of the Library’s Digital Initiatives Group in order to develop the new interface. It builds on descriptive data created by dozens of staff involved with aggressive processing and data conversion projects over the last seven years. We’re very proud of the results and think it is one of the most advanced archival access systems available anywhere.

We welcome your comments and questions through the “site feedback” link which is at the top of every page or the commenting feature available on finding aids themselves. We hope you’ll use the finding aids as much as possible in your work and we look forward to your feedback.

Applying “More Product, Less Process” to very large collections: Mudd archivist presents at professional conference

MARAC
Recently project archivist Adriane Hanson participated in a panel at the recent spring conference of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) in Cape May, NJ. The topic of her talk was how she is handling the size of her current project, processing 2,500 linear feet of the records of the American Civil Liberties Union Records in a two-year project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
In a nutshell, this feat is accomplished by:
1. Stay on top of the schedule through careful project management, collecting metrics to have realistic data on how long each task requires, and frequently revisiting and adjusting the timeline of the project.
2. Be flexible about the workflow, examining the way you have always done things and adjusting as needed to better work with a massive collection.
3. Think of it as data management. Use tools to repurpose data from one step of the project to another, and to analyze and transform the data once the box inventories are complete.
4. Spend extra time writing descriptions about each part of the collection to provide the researcher with important keywords to search for and context to understand the significance of the section. But do not spend time on description that is not aiding in searching, such as lists of document types in the collection inventory. Time should be spent on value-added description.
The slides and text for her presentation are available here.
If you have any questions for her, you can reach her by email: ahanson@princeton.edu

The ACLU Records: Tips for processing 2400 feet in two years

The following entry relates to our ongoing American Civil Liberties Union processing project previously described here and here.

Processing, regardless of the size of the collection, has many common features: In almost all cases, you survey the boxes to see what is there, decide what to keep and how it will be organized, arrange the boxes, create folder or box lists (inventories), and write descriptive information. Sheer size does pose some challenges, however. Below are some of the strategies I have implemented for the ACLU processing project, which consists of approximately 2,400 linear feet of records.
1. Repurpose data. The information I received from ACLU, both from inventories and from the box labels, was inputted into a spreadsheet and formed the basis of my collection survey. The survey data, after some clean up, formed the basis of the inventories created by my student assistants. And those inventories are now being used to adjust the arrangement of the records. This allowed me to do less survey work, knowing that the inventories would provide more information, and increased my students’ speed from an average of 1 foot an hour to 3-6 feet an hour for creating inventories.
2. Flexibility with inventory detail. It is at least twice as fast to make an inventory at the box level, so whenever access would be sufficient at the box level, or with a few sections per box, we stopped there. This was most apparent with legal case files, which are found throughout the collection. For each case, the records were in folders by the type of document (i.e. transcripts or briefs). Rather than type this list of documents for each case, we can summarize that in the series descriptions and simply make a list of cases. This saved significant time without sacrificing accessibility.
3. Work in iterations. While it may seem more efficient to look at each box only once, I found that repeated passes allowed me to spend just as much time as needed with each box. For the survey, I first looked at each box briefly, and then analyzed that information to see if I could place the box within the arrangement. For the remaining boxes, I went through this process a few more times, spending more time with the remaining boxes on each pass, until at the end of three months I knew where each box belonged in the organization. We also plan to make additional passes through boxes likely to contain restricted records.
4. Find ways to manipulate data. Whatever means you use to create descriptive information, you should find ways to analyze and manipulate the data. In our case, we are using Microsoft Excel. The sorting and filtering functionalities have been critical for understanding and re-ordering the survey and inventory data, and other functions and formulas have assisted in checking student work for accuracy and data clean up. We have also developed some simple macros to allow us to calculate date restrictions and prepare the data for EAD encoding, which allow the finding aids to be delivered and searched online.
5. Prioritize time. Since the primary goal of processing is to improve accessibility, the vast majority of our time is being spent on gaining intellectual control over the records: creating inventories, description, and reviewing materials for restrictions. Most of the physical work associated with processing, such as replacing boxes and folders, will not be done at all since the existing housing is sufficient, except for the replacement of damaged boxes. This is also the first collection I have processed where we are waiting until the end of the project to physically arrange the boxes. With the data from the completed inventories, I can adjust the arrangement, and only then will anything be moved so we only have to move the boxes once.

Radioactive Manhattan Project Records and Archival Serendipity

Early this year, staff from the University’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), in preparing for the move to the new chemistry building, found a filing cabinet in the Frick Laboratory (currently home of the Chemistry Department) containing material related to Princeton’s involvement with the Manhattan Project. (While the common perception of the Manhattan Project is that it was physicists doing the work, a great part of the effort involved chemists too.) Many of the documents were labeled as classified, though some were stamped with Declassified stamps from the 1950s. EHS Director Garth Walters sought advice from the General Counsel’s office and Val Fitch (emeritus professor who worked in Los Alamos during the war). Fitch did not believe any of the documents were still classified, but until that was definitively determined, the General Counsel’s office suggested that a more secure place be found for the cabinet, and hence a call to the Mudd Library in March.

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MARAC Finding Aid Awards

I am pleased to announce that four Mudd finding aids have been awarded MARAC’s 2008 Fredric M. Miller Finding Aid Award. The award, which comes with a $250 cash prize, has been given to the Mudd finding aids as a group and was presented at the Spring MARAC meeting last week. I submitted a representative sample for each of Mudd’s major processing projects in 2007 – a list of the finding aids and projects is below. Please join me in congratulating the winners: Casey Babcock, Adriane Hanson, Jennie Cole, Dan Brennan, Rosalba Varallo, and Christie Lutz. This is also a nice bit of recognition for the last several years of work on EAD and finding aids that involved many of us in RBSC Technical Services, especially Cristela Garcia-Spitz and Don Thornbury and John Delaney in Firestone.

Finding Aid Award Winners:

NHPRC Economics Papers Processing Project:

W. Arthur Lewis Papers: processing and finding aid by Adriane Hanson.

New Jersey Historical Commission General Operating Support Grant:

H. Alexander Smith Papers: processing and finding aid by Casey Babcock.

Council on Foreign Relations Processing and Digitization Project:

Council on Foreign Relations Digital Sound Recordings: processing, finding aid, and project management by Jennie Cole.

Princeton University Archives Processing Project:

Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs Records: processing and finding aid by Dan Brennan and Rosalba Varallo, processing supervision by Christie Lutz.

Digitizing Special Collections: Shifting Gears

Last Friday, Dan Linke, Don Thornbury, and I gave presentations reporting on recent conferences and workshops that we’ve attended. (See the previous post for Dan Linke’s electronic records presentation.) My presentation is available here.

Rather than give a session by session review of the last few conferences I’ve attended or presented at (the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, the Digital Library Federation’s Fall Forum, and the Society of Georgia Archivists Annual Meeting), I decided to discuss some of the more provocative ideas from the OCLC/RLG Services’ report “Shifting Gears: Gearing Up to Get Into the Flow,” which addresses many issues relevant to archives, special collections, and digital libraries, both at Princeton and elsewhere. The report was inspired by the “Digitization Matters” forum held at SAA 2007. (Audio of the forum presentations is also available online.)

Given some of the ongoing discussion we’ve been having at Princeton, one of the most resonant parts of the report for me is the portion related to description, particularly the urging to “take a page from archivists” and “stop obsessing about items.” As archivists, we have experience and expertise in describing large (and small) collections of materials; we should make use of our abilities in this area and not limit ourselves to the item-level, bibliographic cataloging approach that has dominated digital collections, especially since the majority of collections we are digitizing consist of unique and non-published material. Bill Landis’ talk at the Digitization Matters forum discusses this issue in greater detail.

For those interested in more specific information about individual sessions, the SAA 2007 wiki and DLF’s conference website have a number of presentations up and available. And as I mentioned on Friday, anyone who missed Mark Greene’s presidential address at SAA’s closing plenary session should read the text online.

Electronic records presentation in PPT

For those of you who missed my presentation “What I Learned This Summer: A Week at SAA’s First Electronic Records Summer Camp” that I delivered Friday, December 14, 2007, you can download my PowerPoint presentation here. This was for all interested Library staff and was given in conjunction with two other speakers who discussed what they learned at recent professional meetings.