Confessions of a Disorganized Organizer

I am an honest person, and so, I will confess here that I am not always the most organized person.  I am constantly on the go with the intention of imposing order on ‘all the things’ when I have a chance, and those ‘chances’ rarely come. (I am not the worst ever, though… I promise.) So, it is with a guilty, but optimistic heart that I embark on the readings involving Arrangement and Description in the Archives.  Of course, as a fly-by-night person, it is somewhat comforting to know that archivists carry a manifesto of respect de fonds (leave it as it was kept)– simply because it makes me feel like if I was an archivist, I would not always be thinking about reorganizing or creating systems for each acquisition.  However, I also realized in reading Schellenberg’s Principles of Arrangement that respect de fonds comes with the responsibility of careful consideration for smart reorganization.  I also realize as a researcher how important it is for the archives to be maintained with specific stack order and maintenance; just today I visited the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, and the first box I requested was missing from its place.  Luckily, the archivist found it while I scrounged to decide what other collections I might examine.

One of the things I wonder about in actual archival practice is how to handle discrepancies between space availability and organization sensibility. Terry Eastwood, in “Counterpoint- Putting the parts of the whole together: Systematic arrangement of archives,”wrote, “The process of identifying records with the aggregation to which they belong is complicated by problems stemming from the effects of administrative change on the structure of organizations on record-keeping,” (98). So- if there are two collections which make sense best to be next to each other, and one of those collections is 300 linear feet and the other is two linear feet, and the space available for storage is not best suited for larger collections, how does an archivist decide how to reorganize?  Do archivists sometimes organize by size of collection as opposed to theme, year, author, etc.?  How do archivists decide which collections are stored off site– is that mostly based on usage or is that partly about size of collection or how close the collection fits with the development policy?  Do items which most closely target the mission of an archive stay closer to home?  I am still exploring the readings for this coming Tuesday, but it looks as through Oliver Holmes may answer some of the questions I have in Archival Arrangement: Five Different Operations at Five Different Levels.  And if not, perhaps class will help me understand better how we move from the thought processes behind organization to the hands-on process of organizing items when they are first accessioned and then as collections grow.



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