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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  March 1996, Week 1

ARCHIVES March 1996, Week 1

Subject:

Re: Estimating time needed for archives cataloguing projects

From:

Charles <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Archives & Archivists <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 6 Mar 1996 08:19:17 CST

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (106 lines)

I first thought of sending this as a personal message to Mr. Will but
then decided to post it to the entire list in hopes of eliciting further
comments.
I an not aware of anyone previously devising a system for cataloging
individual items by assigning various times for degrees of difficulty in
order to obtain a possible time for that activity.  It does present an
interesting starting point, but I doubt that even a simple item can be
completed in 10 minutes unless the cataloging is so simple that it provides
little useful information to the potential researcher other than the name
of the writer and the date.  This is especially true of one is using a
standardized system such as MARC.  Just being sure you have all of the
"blanks filled in" takes longer than that.  How long it will take depends
in part upon the experience, knowledge, and skill of the cataloger, not just
in techniques but also in the subject matter.  It also depends upon whether
or not one uses standardized subject headings such as those of the Library of
Congress or whatever happens to pop into the mind of the cataloger doing a
particular piece at the time.  The catalger's familiarity with the type of
headings is also a factor.  I would suggest that Mr. Will should significantly
increase the times he proposed for his three degrees of difficlty.  I would
suggest Easy 10 minutes, Moderate 20 minutes, and Difficult 40 minutes.
After all, it could easily take the first 10 minutes to determine if the item
is easy, moderate, or difficult!  These figures would work only for single
items.
I would also strongly urge the use of a structured system instead of free text
descriptions.  It seems to me that a structured system provides a degree of
uniformity not present in free text descriptions and that a structured system
provides greater possibilities for transfer to another system as technology
changes.
It is my conviction that few institutions in the U.S. actually catalog
individual items, unless of course they have only one letter or document
by a prominent person.  The usual practice is to prepare finding aids of
varying degree of detail (depending upon the perceived usefulness of and
interest in the materials being described) and than catalog entire collections
or records groups or series with the cataloging information being extracted
from the finding aids.  There may be some variations from this norm where
public archival agencies are cataloging types of records that exist in
several places.  This would include such things as certain records in county
courthouses.  After all, a deed in one county is exactly the same as a deed
in any other county in the U.S. except for the differences in the names of
the buyers and sellers.  I have known professional, experienced library
catalogers who have some familarity with the subject matter of a manuscript
collection of 20 to 25 feet to spend 5 days preparing the catalog data for
that one collection.  This cataloging was based upon the completed finding
aids.  The cataloger created Library of Congress subject headings and
included names of individuals included in the finding aid.
Some people have suggested on the list the concept of "processing" one foot
of material per day.  That generally means transferring materials from the
boxes and folders in which they were received into new folders and boxes,
making sure the records are in proper order, removing duplicate items,
removing paper clips and sometimes staples, and preparing a finding aid the
detail of which depends upon the perceived significance and potential use
and usefulness of the materials.  That figure is reasonably accurate for
large modern collections or records series in good condition and in fairly
good order.  It can be considerably low for other materials and other levels
of processing, describing, and cataloging.  More than 20 years ago the
members of the Society of American Archivists Committee on Collecting
Manuscripts and Personal Papers kept records on one or more collections
they processed during a year.  The collections varied greatly in types
of material and possibly in complexity of material and level of processing.
The rates varried from around 8 hours per foot to 40 hours per foot.  To
the best of my knowledge none of them cataloged any individual items.
It seems to me that for as long as I have been a practicing archivist (and
that is over 30 years) we have frequently, in my opinion, overstressed the
uniqueness of our holdings and felt a great reluctance to keep careful
records of who much time we spend doing the things we do.  That makes it
very difficult for experiences archivists to give new members anything more
than an educated (or perhaps uneducated) guess of how long it will take to
do anything.  We can readily cite the number of feet of holdings in our
institutions, can report the number of users served, the number of boxes
or other measurable units pulled for users, the number of photocopies made,
and seemingly endless statistics, but we cannot (or will not) tell how
long it took us to prepare a collection for use by researchers and what level
of work we did to prepare it.  I realize that one can overdo the idea of
keeping records of time spent on any activity to the extent that keeping
such records becomes a bit of a burden.  But the lack of such information
can also become a burden.  For those of us who review grant proposals it is
a burden when we have to give an opinion on the plan of work--can the
institution really do what it says it will do in 12, 24, or 36 months?
I once reviewed a proposal in which an institution indicated that it would
devote the same amount of time to one collection of 3,500 items as it would
to one of 35,000 without indicating that they would do anything different
to the two collections or that there was anything different about the two
collections that would make the small one so much more difficult and time
consuming than the large one!  The NEH and NHPRC have been granting funds
to institutions for decades.  I have yet to see a report on how many
institutions really did all the things as completely as they planned within
the time frame and for the amount of funding in the grant proposal.  I am
not interested in naming names or anything of that sort, but it would be
interesting to know that even what percentage of the folks who get grants
actually complete all that they proposed to do within the time frame of the
grant.  It would also be interesting to know what percentage of what was
proposed was actually completed by those who did not finish what they
said they planned to do.  I think that it would be very helpful to the whole
profession if such studies could be conducted and the results published in
widely availble archival literature.
 
Charles R. Schultz                409-862-1555
Clements Archivist and            [log in to unmask]
Hoadley Professor of Academic Librarianship
Cushing Library
TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY
COLLEGE STATION, TX 77843-5000
*********************************************************************
"History is a set of lies agreed upon."  Napoleon Bonaparte
 
*********************************************************************

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