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Subject: Estimating time needed for archives cataloguing projects
From: Leonard Will <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Archives & Archivists <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 1 Mar 1996 11:03:55 +0000

[Cross-posted to "archives-nra" and "Archives & Archivists" lists]   I have recently been working on a feasibility study for documenting and digitising the collections of John Ruskin, which are going to be set up in a new purpose-built library at the University of Lancaster. The collections include a few thousand each of books, manuscripts, letters, drawings and watercolours, photographs and some three-dimensional objects. I have completed my draft report on that project, but it made me consider a wider issue about estimating times which might be an interesting topic for wider discussion.   Part of this project required me to estimate the time required for documenting these collections, and I have been seeking information on how archivists make such estimates. It seems that most people do it very intuitively, getting a general impression of the size and complexity of a collection and comparing it with collections they have dealt with in the past. "You should allow a couple of years for that job" is a typical answer.   Many people are making bids for funding for archival projects, and I wonder whether anyone has tried to develop a formula or rule of thumb to decide how much staff time it is reasonable to ask for to catalogue a given collection.   Is it possible, in other words, to elicit from experts the basis on which they make these estimates? (This is a common problem in developing computerised "knowledge-based systems", but I am not suggesting that anything like that need be used here.)   I have been able to gather a small amount of raw data from a few specific projects, for number of items catalogued and time taken. Allowing 220 working days per year and 6 actively working hours per day, gives a range of 10 to 30 minutes per item. (I'm surprised that the range is not wider).   If we take this as a starting point, we can then consider the effect of factors such as:   Complexity of material: "C" From simple letters with clear handwriting and routine subjects, to complex, illegible, philosophical or technical manuscripts.   Depth of cataloguing or listing: "D" Information recorded about each item might range from the name of the writer and the date to a digest of the content with many name and subject index terms.   System used: "S" Free text descriptions or structured records. Availability of authority files for name, place and subject access points. Ease of use.   If we give each of these three factors a rating as follows   Easy 0 minutes Moderate 5 minutes Difficult 10 minutes   We might then estimate the overall time to be allowed per item as                   10 + C + D + S minutes   This gives a range from 10 minutes per item for the simplest material to 40 minutes per item for complex material, thoroughly catalogued in a difficult system.   I assume that preparing higher level records, for groups and series, will be included in these times, though separate allowance might have to be made for these if there are a lot of them in relation to the number of lowest level records.   Of course this is a simplistic approach, but I am just suggesting it as something to consider and build on. Does anyone have ideas for refining it, by adjusting the numbers, adding other factors, or combining them in a different way? It would be particularly interesting if anyone else has data from projects they have completed which they could plug into this model to see how well it fits, and if not why not.   Any thoughts?   Leonard Will   -- Dr Leonard D Will Tel: +44 181 372 0092 Information Management Consultant Fax: +44 181 372 0094 27 Calshot Way, ENFIELD, Middlesex Email: [log in to unmask] EN2 7BQ, United Kingdom


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