A Case for Processing Proposals

It seems to me that processing proposals are the homework assignments of the archival processing world. We know we should do them, but sometimes we skip them. Sometimes we opt to have an informal meeting and vaguely talk about our plans rather than formalize them in a written document. Sometimes we look at a box of jumbled papers and think, well, by the time I write down what I’m going to do, I could be halfway done sorting this. So, I get it. In my experience, though, the act of writing a processing proposal is a useful exercise that forces you to think through your project. Even though I occasionally skip them too, I’ve never regretted writing a processing proposal. Whether you end up following it or not (more on that below), writing a proposal breaks down the act of processing into digestible components. It is a super valuable resource for your manager and other project stakeholders, which in turn makes your life a bit easier. And finally, it is important for institutional memory — just in case you happen to leave your job before the project is finished.

What should be included in a processing proposal?

  1. Basic information about the collection: Title, creator, dates, extent, formats present, languages present
  2. Collection provenance: Where did it come from? When? Who’s the collector and why did they acquire it?
  3. Collection condition and preservation concerns: Did it come from a moldy basement? Is it in beautiful file folders and perfectly arranged already? (Hopefully some version of the latter.) More specifically: Is there acidic paper? Rolled items? Photographs or negatives? Scrapbooks? Nitrate, glass negatives, or other highly fragile materials? Oversize materials or objects? Audiovisual materials? Electronic records?
  4. Collection “significance,” or some estimation of its research potential and value. This is a squishy value judgment, but I think it’s useful. Here’s why: we want to devote our energy and resources to processing collections at the appropriate level, and to providing a reasonable (but not excessive) amount of description. If you are working on a collection that you and the curator expect will be barely used, then you can probably process at a less-detailed level, which moves the collection through Technical Services much more quickly. By recording your reasoning here, you offer justification for your subsequent proposed rehousing, arrangement, and description scheme. It gives the other stakeholders an opportunity to respond to your judgment. Whether they agree or not, it is better to come together on these issues ahead of the processing itself.
  5. Restrictions. Always better to think about restricted material up front. Most of the time this field will relate to donor-specified or repository-instituted restrictions, but it could also stem from anticipated access issues. Plus, you can build on the “significance” field if you believe that the material is so valuable or vulnerable that it should require special housing or access policies.
  6. Accessions included: If you’re going to process a collection, best to make sure you have all the pieces. (Or at least acknowledge there are others besides what you will be processing.)
  7. Current arrangement and description. Has your repository owned this collection for generations? Oh dear, what did your forefathers do? Or, maybe it was recently acquired from the professor’s office. Oh dear, what did that sweet professor do?
  8. Additions expected? Use this proposal to have a conversation with your curator about their plans for this collection. If there are going to be annual additions, adjust your plans accordingly.
  9. Proposed arrangement: List proposed series and subseries, with title, brief description, size, date range, and anticipated processing level. This is where you can share alternative approaches to different arrangement schemes, if there are any — it would subsequently be discussed with the relevant stakeholders connected with this collection. It is also where you should describe any rehousing, reformatting, or disk imaging you will do as part of processing.
  10. Staff assigned, estimated time processing, special equipment, patron access during processing. Are you able to stop everything and help a patron who might show up and ask to see your collection? (Would it be possible to find what they wanted mid-processing?) If it’s not going to be feasible, it’s better to lay those ground rules in the proposal.
  11. Cost: I have found estimating processing costs to be challenging but ultimately worthwhile. Even if your repository is flush with cash, estimating anticipated supplies and staff time is putting a concrete value on Technical Services work, which translates well to both stakeholders and potential donors outside the department. It is especially important if you know there are reformatting, custom housing, or other “unusual” costs that will add to your project’s expenses. Round up.

What’s Next?

The proposal should be a collaborative document. It is most useful when all the relevant stakeholders have had a chance to weigh in and inform themselves about each of the issues it addresses — whether it be the proposed level of arrangement, anticipated timeline, or expected costs. Odds are the first draft of the proposal is not the “final” draft. It will be edited and tweaked, so mentally brace yourself for feedback. It is better to have that feedback before you begin the project! And it could be that the act of writing the proposal leads to further exploration about the issues surrounding a particular collection, which may mean a reevaluation of its feasibility or priority ranking in the processing queue. Again, that is a good thing. That means you have developed a useful, worthwhile proposal that allows you and your colleagues to thoughtfully allocate the resources you have available.

Save your proposal as a useful reference. As you begin processing the collection, revisit it to keep yourself (and your student employees) on point about the specific pieces you included regarding arrangement and description. It should be seen as a guide, however; if you realize during processing that your proposed arrangement is ridiculous (for whatever reason), consult with the relevant parties and update your proposal. I have also found that having some sort of evaluation or recap, amended to the end of the proposal, is a really useful practice for evaluating on how the project went. This can be collaborative or not; I tend to just reflect on what I actually did as opposed to what I had initially estimated. Lessons learned, etc. And again, I’m always trying to adjust the estimated processing costs to reflect reality. This is a moving target, of course, and changes with each collection. Every collection is different! But that’s what makes processing so fun.

Let me know in the comments if you have found other useful fields to include in your processing proposals. I’d love to hear what other people are doing.

Records Management for Discards

Maybe this is a familiar problem for some other archivists. You have a collection that you’ve just finished processing — maybe it’s a new acquisition, or maybe it’s been sitting around for awhile — and you have some boxes of weeded papers leftover, waiting to be discarded. But for some reason — a reason usually falling outside of your job purview — you are not able to discard them. Maybe the gift agreement insists that all discards be returned to the donor, and you can’t track down the donor without inviting another accession, and you just don’t have time or space for that right now. Maybe your library is about to renovate and move, and your curators are preoccupied with trying to install 10 exhibitions simultaneously. Maybe the acquisition was a high-value gift, for which the donor took a generous tax deduction, and your library is legally obligated to keep all parts of the gift for at least three years. Maybe your donor has vanished, the gift agreement is non-existent, or the discards are actually supposed to go to another institution and that institution isn’t ready to pay for them. The reasons don’t matter, really. You have boxes of archival material and you need to track them, but they aren’t a part of your archival collection any more. How do you manage these materials until the glorious day when you are actually able to discard them?

We’ve struggled with this at Duke for a long time, but it became a more pressing issue during our recent renovation and relocation. Boxes of discards couldn’t just sit in the stacks in a corner anymore; we had to send them to offsite storage, which meant they needed to be barcoded and tracked through our online catalog. We ended up attaching them to the collection record, which was not ideal. Because the rest of the collection was processed and available, we could not suppress the discard items from the public view of the catalog. (Discards Box 1 is not a pretty thing for our patrons to see.) Plus, it was too easy to attach them to the collection and then forget about the boxes, since they were out of sight in offsite storage. There was no easy way to regularly collect all the discard items for curators to review from across all our collections. It was messy and hard to use, and the items were never going to actually be discarded! This was no good.

I ended up making a Discards 2015 Collection, which is suppressed in the catalog and therefore not discoverable by patrons. All materials identified for discard in 2015 will be attached to this record. I also made an internal resource record in Archivists’ Toolkit (soon to be migrated to ArchivesSpace) that has a series for each collection with discards we are tracking for the year. It is linked to the AT accession records, if possible. In the resource record’s series descriptions, I record the details about the discards: what is being discarded, who processed it, who reviewed it, why we haven’t been able to discard it immediately, and when we expect to be able to discard the material (if known). The Discard Collection’s boxes are numbered, barcoded, and sent to offsite storage completely separated from their original collection — as it should be. No co-mingling, physically or intellectually! Plus, all our discards are tracked together, so from now on, I can remind our curators and other relevant parties at regular intervals about the boxes sitting offsite that need to be returned, shredded, sold, or whatever.

I’d love to hear other approaches to discards — this is a new strategy for us, so maybe I’ve missed something obvious that your institution has already solved. Let me know in the comments. Happy weeding, everyone!

Book Review: Extensible Processing from Accessioning to Backlogs

Book Club time! I’ve really enjoyed reading Daniel Santamaria’s new book, Extensible Processing for Archives and Special Collections. I asked for the chance to review Chapters 3, 4, and 5, because I thought that they would most directly relate to the accessioning and processing that I handle in my job. Since starting to read, however, I’ve found that Extensible Processing is much more holistic than its chapter headings imply — so, my first recommendation is to just read the whole thing. There are pieces of each chapter that I have found incredibly relevant to my work, beyond the three chapters designated for processing, backlogs, and accessioning.

I really like how Dan offers practical steps for establishing an extensible processing program. In Chapter 3, he explains how processing collections should be viewed as cyclical, rather than linear; he argues that collections and their descriptions should “always be seen as works in progress” (p. 29). His approach to processing always focuses on getting the material available quickly, with the caveat that more arrangement and description can always follow later, if use demands it. Chapter 4 is tailored to addressing backlogs, and encourages institutions to use collections assessments and surveys as a means of defining and prioritizing their backlog in a structured way. Chapter 5 takes the processing guidelines from Chapter 3 and applies them to accessioning, encouraging processing at accessioning. (Dan is not a fan of archives’ traditional approach of adding accessions to the backlog.)

Of the three chapters I am reviewing for this blog, I found Chapter 5, on accessioning, to be the most thought-provoking. We implemented processing at accessioning years ago at Duke, but we constantly acquire additions to collections and find ourselves pondering the most practical approach to integrating these new accessions with their existing collections. Dan advises adding accessions to the end of the collection, in their own series; this is certainly an approach I have used, but it has always felt like something temporary. Dan suggests that I just get used to this lack of closure. (I’m fine with that idea.) Another solution we sometimes use at Duke is to interfile smaller additions within the original collection, a tactic that Dan opposes because it can take a lot of time and upsets original order (p. 61-62). My view is that interfiling one or two folders can be much easier (and more practical, in the long term) than adding folders to a random box at the end of the collection. But, even when I disagree with the logistics of Dan’s approach, I agree with his overall argument: when adopting extensible processing, accessions are no different than any other archival collection — and therefore it should be the user’s needs that drive our processing energies.

Whenever I read something well-written with lots of practical tips, I end up excited about getting back to work and just fixing everything. I found Dan’s review and application of MPLP more practical, and less perplexing (see what I did there?) than a number of other approaches I’ve read or heard about in recent years. It helps to remind ourselves that collections can always be revisited later. I appreciate his flexible approach to processing, which constantly keeps the user’s needs at the forefront. He believes in collecting and then using data, which eliminates the guessing game we often play when trying to prioritize processing demands. Furthermore, he repeatedly references the importance of buy-in from other staff and the library administration, a topic he explores further in Chapter 8. “Oooh, my colleagues would not like this” was definitely something at the front of my mind as I read his guidelines emphasizing the intellectual, rather than physical, arrangement and description of materials. I look forward to applying his suggestions as we continue to refine our processing procedures at Duke.

Conference Attendance as a New Parent

I recently returned from presenting a poster at this year’s Society of American Archivists annual conference in Washington DC. SAA essentially served as the bookends for probably the most eventful year in my life — right after last year’s conference in New Orleans, I learned I was having a baby, due in April; I finished up my graduate degree this past spring, and then gave birth; I proposed, presented, and chaired a seminar at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Preconference in Las Vegas in June; returned to work full-time in July; and then attended and presented at SAA in August. All of my professional participation this past summer would have been stressful even if I weren’t recovering from labor and then nursing a newborn. If anyone reading is thinking about proposing conference sessions and then having a baby shortly before your conferences, I advise you to reconsider. It was really hard.

I put myself through it all because I felt I could not give up my chance to actively participate in my profession. Like many professional archivists and librarians at universities, I am regularly reviewed by my library for Continuing Appointment, the equivalent of tenure at my institution. It is a mandatory process that occurs on a schedule predetermined by my date of hire. Professional engagement, like my seminar and poster, is a critical piece of an overall assessment of my credentials and qualifications as an archivist. Getting selected to speak or serve at SAA or RBMS is very competitive, and so the fact that I had two projects chosen in one summer was very exciting. I wanted to participate professionally — it was just bad timing for me personally.

But, it happened and I was determined to make the best of it. In the process, I discovered how difficult it can be to attend our professional conferences as a parent, particularly as a nursing mother. Before I was in this situation myself, I had no idea what sort of commitment it takes to nurse a baby. You cannot just take a break from nursing for a few days; it is a relentless schedule. Furthermore, many women nurse their babies for up to a year. That means odds are high that those women will come up against at least one professional conference. They can either express their milk at the conference, attend the conference with their infant, or not attend. This year, SAA proactively addressed the need for a lactation room — the hotel spa rooms were set aside for nursing mothers, assuming that there was one available when they asked. It was still awkward, because I was essentially forced to ask the hotel staff for permission to pump. But it was better than having my boobs out in a public bathroom while I was attempting to be a professional, so, thank you, SAA. I know of nothing at RBMS for lactating women — I ended up spending about half of the conference back and forth between my hotel room and the sessions. Neither conference really seemed to address the issue well in advance; nothing was available in the program, or on the website, meaning that women like me who were considering whether or not to attend were essentially left with a best-guess make-it-work approach. I ended up finding out about the lactation rooms at SAA via Twitter.

It was also my first opportunity to consider how my future childcare needs would impact my attendance at professional conferences. I left my two-month old child at home with my spouse when I attended RBMS; logistically, traveling across the country with a baby that young seemed too hard. But for SAA, I wanted to bring my family; so, I followed with interest SAA’s deliberations about on-site childcare, thinking that it would be worth knowing more for future conferences. Their decision for this year was to offer no on-site childcare for attendees, but to consider a co-op approach (shared between parents) for future conferences. I looked into other conferences and found that ALA offers a $25/day reimbursement to assist with childcare. (This would cover *maybe* two hours of childcare? But at least they acknowledge the existing need.) Other professional groups, like the American Historical Association, have grants that eligible attendees can apply to receive. I found that the Modern Language Association offered onsite childcare during its 2014 conference (preregistration required; cost unclear). The fact remains that professional participation is out of reach for many parents of young children. There is no way that I would have been able to participate at the level that I did without the help of my spouse.

At this point, I’m still brand new at balancing my work life with parenting, but the past year has brought a number of things to light that I would like to put forward as action points for professional archives organizations. We may be a ways off from paid parental leave for everyone (although, at least Obama has said it was a good idea), but if organizations like SAA and RBMS began to proactively consider the needs of all their members, we could clear the path for people who want to participate in our annual meetings but are hindered by the logistics of parenthood. The archival profession is so invested in making our records accessible to all; I think we could do better to make our annual conferences more accessible as well. My wishlist:

  • Lactation rooms are key: women need rooms with a chair, a working electrical outlet, and a sink. It would also be helpful to know where the room is located. (Groundbreaking ideas, I know, but I’ve been amazed at how these rooms are often disguised.)
    • Side note: did you know that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, employers are legally required to offer breaks and lactation rooms (that are separate from the bathroom) for nursing mothers? Plus, there are additional protections for breastfeeding women offered by most states.
  • Conferences should be at facilities that recognize the potential presence of children. Did anyone else notice that there were zero changing tables in the Marriott’s public restrooms? I had to change my baby on a bench in the hall.
  • Conferences should be at budget-conscious conference hotels and locations (which will benefit everyone, not just people who might want to bring their families)
  • SAA and RBMS should make a real attempt to offer childcare or support childcare costs, rather than just talk about it during the conference registration period when it is too late to actually do anything. Doesn’t the fact that we just had the Largest. Meetings. Ever (both RBMS and SAA broke attendance records this year) mean we have some extra cash to throw at these issues?

How have other parents balanced attending professional conferences with their need for childcare or lactation rooms? I’m also curious how any single parents have managed it. What else should we add to the wishlist? Also, before anyone asks in the comments, yes! I did fill out my post-conference evaluations.

Caution: Pregnant Lady

Academia tends to have a reputation of being a fairly warm and fuzzy place of enlightened minds and progressive politics. Universities like mine pride themselves on liberal benefits packages that emphasize work-life balance and family friendly policies. This past year I got to compare perception to reality as I worked full-time, attended graduate school part-time (at a different institution), and gave birth to my first child. I found it really interesting, at times frustrating, to experience pregnancy from both sides of the ivory tower: as an archivist in a special collections library, trying to remain active and engaged with my job and the profession, versus as a master’s student in a history department, trying to graduate before my baby was born.

My workplace is pro-baby; many of my colleagues are parents, and the library administration is supportive of staff taking time off to have children. In regards to leave policy, the library is generous, particularly for its professional staff. I had no problems taking leave for doctor’s appointments or other medical issues during my pregnancy. My university offers three weeks of paid parental leave, which must be used following three weeks of the employee’s own leave. This policy seemed stingy at first, until I looked into other university policies and found that many institutions give no paid parental leave — the employee must use vacation or unpaid leave. The typical “family leave” policy bragged about by institutions basically just promises that you won’t lose your job or benefits if you need to take time off for family. Legally, according to FMLA, institutions of a certain size must offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for family members — so, most of these places are just following the law, and nothing more. In my case, I worked until the week I delivered my baby, and then took 13 weeks of leave, using a combination of my sick leave, the paid maternity leave, and my vacation time. I feel extremely lucky to have not had to take any unpaid leave. I also feel extremely lucky to work at a place that respected my time away from the office: My supervisor did not expect me to check email, call in to meetings, or answer for anything during my leave.

My experience as a graduate student was quite different than my experience as a university staff member. As someone working full-time, and not teaching or otherwise employed by the history department, I was already a nontraditional student for my program. But my pregnancy set me apart even more. My thesis adviser originally encouraged me to take a leave of absence for spring, believing that I would be too tired and distracted by my pregnancy to work on and defend my thesis. Another professor regularly made comments in class about my status as the “pregnant lady,” and at one point wrote a note on an assignment asking me if a mistake was due to “pregnancy brain.” Many of my problems stemmed from my professors’ inexperience in dealing with pregnant students. I was also inexperienced at dealing with being pregnant, and addressing these comments head-on. I gave birth exactly one month after my thesis defense. I cannot imagine returning to school and trying to write my master’s thesis now, as my adviser originally suggested a year ago.

On the one hand, I had a generally positive experience with my employer, especially in comparison to my concurrent experience as a graduate student. But, in the grand scheme of things, everything was still harder than it needed to be. I faced the same ignorant questions and unintentionally insulting comments that every pregnant woman faces, including plenty of remarks from colleagues and classmates. (I also received those same comments from friends, family, and strangers — many people outside of academia. People can become ridiculously invested in strangers’ lives and life choices, and pregnant women seem to attract the worst sorts of judgey, nosey comments at precisely the time when those women are feeling exposed, uncomfortable, and vulnerable.) I also found that my status as a pregnant woman put me at a disadvantage whenever it came to asserting myself. As our other bloggers have found, being labeled “too emotional” is already a common problem faced by women in the workplace. It can be very difficult to be taken seriously when sometimes you actually *are* emotional.

How does any of this relate to our theme of women and the archival profession? For one thing, the statistics suggest that pregnant ladies are all around. Survey respondents to the A*CENSUS were about 65% women, and nearly four out of five respondents under thirty years old were women. The census documents that three times more women than men began their archival careers between 2000 and 2004, the year of the survey. A 2010 survey about professional satisfaction among archivists under 35 ended up with a pool with women as 79% of respondents. With so many younger women entering the profession, it is time to improve the conditions faced by the pregnant women among us. Isn’t it a bit sad that three weeks of paid maternity leave was such a lucky break for me? Maternity leave for American workers is pathetic when compared to the rest of the world. But I was surprised that universities are not more generous in terms of parental leave for their staff — Duke is willing to pay for college tuition for my child to attend any school in the country, but is not willing to give me even a full month of paid maternity leave? Also, institutions that restrict parental leave to either vacation or unpaid time off are being needlessly punitive to their employees. My sick leave should be mine to use as I choose. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for many new parents, even when they work in the family-friendly world of academia. In addition, I should clarify that my institution’s paid parental leave is only available to the primary caregiver — so, if my spouse had also worked for Duke, he would not have been eligible to take that leave. Only one parent gets it. Considering that I spent my first six weeks of maternity leave recovering from major surgery, I find the designation of “primary caregiver” laughable and relatively insulting to fathers. This policy hurts everyone. Why are institutions encouraging the establishment of a “primary caregiver,” anyway?

The problems facing pregnant women go far beyond the archival profession or even academia as a whole, but, having experienced it firsthand, it has made me reconsider what it means to be a truly welcoming and accommodating workplace. I am so grateful that my colleagues were supportive and kind to me during this past year. Now it is time to push for broader changes at an institutional level. Ideally, I would like to see:

  • Paid family leave for women and men. Three weeks is not enough.
  • More creative approaches to keeping a work-life balance. One of my colleagues took 6 months of parental leave; another negotiated a 3/4-time schedule that gave her summers off to spend with her kids. I also know of several situations outside my institution where staff (all women, coincidentally) needed to take extended leave to care for elderly parents. All were able to keep their full benefits. These sorts of ideas should not be considered radical at the institutional level.
  • Protection and resources for pregnant women, especially graduate students, who find themselves treated differently by their departments or supervisors. Fortunately I wasn’t relying on my program for my livelihood. Other women are not that lucky and may feel unable to speak up, even when they have every right to complain about inappropriate comments or attitudes.

My transition to parenthood has changed my understanding of what it means for an institution to be accessible. I look forward to sharing more thoughts on what the archives profession can do for parents, particularly new mothers, in my next post.

Surveys referenced:
—“A*CENSUS: Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States,” American Archivist, 69 (Fall 2006), 329-330.
—Cushing, Amber. “Career Satisfaction of Young Archivists: A Survey of Professional Working Archivists, Age 35 and Younger,” American Archivist, 73 (Fall/Winter 2010).

Case Study: Clean Data, Cool Project

SPLCblogEvery now and then I get to work on a project from the very beginning, meaning that instead of cleaning up legacy data, I get to define and collect the data from scratch. Such was the case with one of Duke’s recent acquisitions, the records of the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project. Beginning in the 1970s, SPLC collected publications and ephemera from a wide range of right-wing and left-wing extremist groups. The Intelligence Project included groups monitored by SPLC for militia-like or Ku Klux Klan-like activities. There are also many organizations represented in the collection that are not considered “hate groups”– they simply made it onto SPLC’s radar and therefore into the Project’s records. The collection arrived at Duke in good condition, but very disorganized. Issues of various serial titles were spread across 90 record cartons with no apparent rhyme or reason. Inserted throughout were pamphlets, fliers, and correspondence further documenting the organizations and individuals monitored by SPLC.

What do you do when an archival collection arrives and consists mostly of printed materials and serials? In the past, Duke did one of two things: either pull out the books/serials and catalog them separately, or leave them in the archival collection and list them in the finding aid, sort of like a bibliography within a box list. This project was a great opportunity to try out something new. In consultation with our rare book and serials catalogers, we developed a hybrid plan to handle SPLC. Since we had to do an intensive sort of the collection anyway, I used that chance to pull out the serials and house each title separately. They are now being cataloged individually by our serials cataloger, which will get them into OCLC and therefore more publicly available than they would ever be if just buried in a list in the finding aid. She is also creating authority records for the various organizations and individuals represented in the collection, allowing us to build connections across the various groups as they merged and split over time. While she catalogs the serials, I have been archivally processing the non-serial pieces of the collection, tracking materials by organization and describing them in an AT finding aid. When all of the serials are cataloged, I will update the finding aid to include links to each title, so that although the printed materials have been physically separated from their archival cousins, the entire original collection will be searchable and integrated intellectually within the context of the SPLC Collection.

To further ensure that the SPLC serials did not lose their original provenance, we developed a template that our cataloger is applying to each record to keep the titles intellectually united with their original collection. All of the serials being cataloged are receiving 541 and 561 fields identifying them as part of the SPLC Collection within the Rubenstein Special Collections Library. We are also adding 710s for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and an 856 that includes a link to the SPLC collection guide. (Duke inserts all its finding aid links in the 856 field, but we rarely do this for non-manuscript catalog records.) The result is a catalog record for each serial that makes it blatantly obvious that the title was acquired through the SPLC Collection, and that there are other titles also present within the collection, should researchers care to check out the links. But, cataloging the serials this way also allows the researcher to find materials without necessarily searching for “SPLC.”

Screenshot 2014-04-07 at 8.20.22 PM

An example of one of the SPLC serials: The Crusader, a KKK publication.

Along with hammering out our various print and manuscript workflows to better meet the needs of this collection, we also saw it as an opportunity to create and collect data that would allow us to easily extract information from all the discrete catalog records we are creating. We are being as consistent as possible with controlled vocabularies. Our serials cataloger is adding various 7xxs to track each publisher using RBMS or LOC relator codes. LOC geographic headings are being added as 752s. We are also trying to be consistent in applying genre terms in the 655 field using the RBMS gathering term “Political Works.”

Screenshot 2014-04-07 at 9.10.28 PM

A view of the MARC fields from The Crusader’s catalog record.

Equally important, we are replicating this sort of data collection in the archival description of the non-serial portions of the SPLC Collection. When we finally reunite the serials with the finding aid, the same sort of geographic, subject, and publisher data will allow us to match up all of the fields and create relationships between an organization’s random fliers and its various newsletters.

Furthermore, my colleagues and I have dreams of going beyond a basic finding aid to create some sort of portal that will capitalize on our clean data to offer researchers a new way to access this collection. SPLC’s own website has a neat map of the various hate groups it has identified in the United States, but we would like to build something that specifically addresses the organizations and topics represented in this particular collection–after all, the Intelligence Project collected materials from all sorts of groups. We’re thinking about using something like Google Fusion Tables or some other online tool that can both map and sort the groups and their various agendas, but also connect back to the catalog records and collection guide so that researchers can quickly get to the original sources too.

I’ll have more to report on this cool project — and what we end up doing with our clean data — as it continues to progress over the next few months. Already, our serials cataloger has created 55 new OCLC records for various serial titles, and has replaced or enhanced another 140. She’s about halfway done with the cataloging part of the project. With so many of these groups being obscure, secretive, or short-lived, we believe that creating such thorough catalog records is worth our time and energy. Not only will it make the titles widely discoverable in OCLC, but hopefully it will build connections for patrons across the diverse organizations represented within this collection.