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Arrangement and Description. A brief introduction to archival arrangement and descriptive standards November 10, 2006. History: Archives v. Manuscripts. Archives and Records Dutch Manual - Provenance and Original Order Jenkinson: Manual of Archival Administration "sanctity of evidence".

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Arrangement and description

Arrangement and Description

A brief introduction to archival arrangement and descriptive standards

November 10, 2006

History archives v manuscripts
History: Archives v. Manuscripts

Archives and Records

  • Dutch Manual - Provenance and Original Order

  • Jenkinson: Manual of Archival Administration "sanctity of evidence"

History archives v manuscripts1
History: Archives v. Manuscripts

Archives and Records

  • US early 20th century “Public Archives“

  • Public Records - land deeds, vital records

  • Professional Historians

  • Description – National Archives descriptive inventories based on Provenance

History archives v manuscripts2
History: Archives v. Manuscripts

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes: Five Levels of arrangement for National Archives

  • Hierarchical scheme:

  • Depository

  • Record Group/Collection

  • Series

  • File Unit

  • Item

History archives v manuscripts3
History: Archives v. Manuscripts

Manuscripts Tradition

  • In US practices for handling mss developed earlier and separately.

  • Preserving "greater and lesser deeds of great men"

  • Collecting and publishing.

History archives v manuscripts4
History: Archives v. Manuscripts

  • 1st cataloging rules for MSS developed in 1888 at Mass. Historical Society.

  • Leadership by Library of Congress MSS division

  • practices focused on item-level cataloging and analysis of use of card catalogs for access that paralleled emerging bibliographic standards for books.

History archives v manuscripts5
History: Archives v. Manuscripts

  • Through 1970s archivists and manuscripts librarians maintained separate approaches.

  • Introduction of computers as access tools and introduction MARC

  • MARC AMC - 1983

  • APPM – 1983

History standards
History: Standards

  • 1990s: Internet and mounting of Finding Aids

  • EAD mid-late 1990s

  • Structure but still no real content standard

History standards1
History: Standards

DACS - 2004

Dacs principle 1
DACS Principle 1

Records in archives possess unique characteristics.

Dacs principle 2
DACS Principle 2:

  • The principle of respect des fonds is the basis of archival arrangement and description.

Dacs principle 3
DACS Principle 3:

  • Arrangement involves the identification of groupings within the material.

Dacs principle 4
DACS Principle 4:

  • Description reflects arrangement.

Dacs principle 5
DACS Principle 5:

  • Description applies to all archival materials regardless of form or medium.

Dacs principle 6
DACS Principle 6

  • The principles of archival description apply equally to records created by corporate bodies and by individuals or families

Dacs principle 7
DACS Principle 7:

  • Archival descriptions may be presented in a variety of outputs and with varying levels of detail.

Dacs principle 7 1
DACS Principle 7.1:

  • Levels of description correspond to the levels of arrangement.

Dacs principle 7 2
DACS Principle 7.2:

  • Relationships between levels of description must be clearly indicated.

Dacs principle 7 3
DACS Principle 7.3:

  • Information provided at each level of description must be appropriate to that level.

Dacs principle 8
DACS Principle 8:

  • The creators of archival materials, as well as the materials themselves, must be described.

  • Except when the Collector is the Repository.

Level or units of description
Level or units of description

  • Subgroup

  • Series

  • Subseries

  • File

  • Item

Levels of description
Levels of description

  • Subgroup

  • A body of related records within a record group or a collection, each corresponding to an administrative subdivision in the originating organization.

Levels of description1
Levels of description

  • Series

  • Files or documents arranged in accordance with a filing system or maintained as a unit because they relate to a particular subject or function, result from the same activity, have a particular form, or because of some the relationship acting out of their creation, receipt, or use.

Levels of description2
Levels of description

  • Subseries

  • A subseries defined as an aggregate of files units within a series, readily separable in terms of physical class, type, form, subject, or filing arrangement.

  • Large series often subdivide into subseries; subseries may be further split into files or (or filing units).

Levels of description3
Levels of description

  • File

  • An organized group of documents gathered together because they relate to the same subject, activity, or transaction.

  • Files should not be confused with folders, which are physical units.

  • A file may contain several folders or one folder.

Levels of description4
Levels of description

  • Item

  • A single item or document.


  • Arrangement into series is key step.

  • Function

  • Subject/Topic

  • Result from same activity (writings, teaching, etc, may also be specific positions/occupations for - Secretary of State )

  • Have a particular form/genre

Arrangement original order
Arrangement: Original Order

  • For organizational records (and many collections of personal papers) preserving original order is ideal:

  • Preserves context

  • Doesn’t screw things up for future processors

  • Less Work!

Arrangement original order1
Arrangement: Original Order

  • What if there is no original order?

  • Represent Admin. Structure/Hierarchy of the organization.

  • Ideally, represent different functions of the organization.

Arrangement original order2
Arrangement: Original Order

  • Personal Papers:

  • Can be more challenging at first glance

  • But there are common document types

Arrangement standard series
Arrangement: Standard Series

  • Biographical

  • Correspondence (or other types of communication)

  • Financial/Medical Information

  • Writings (or other "Creations")

  • Roles, Occupations, Activities

  • Research Files/Subject Files/Field Notes/

  • Topical Files/Miscellaneous

  • Format - Photographs/AV/Size

  • (Chronological Arrangement May Also Work)

Arrangement standard series1
Arrangement: Standard Series

  • Other "Standard" Series for other types of collections?

Arrangement strategies
Arrangement Strategies:

  • Survey entire collection first, break down into categories.

  • Do an arrangement list and processing plan. Share with your supervisor (or Curator?)

  • Avoid over-thinking and re-thinking:

  • Give yourself a time-frame, make informed decision (to the best of your ability), then stick to them.

Arrangement examples scenarios
Arrangement examples/Scenarios?

  • Frank Notestein

  • Ragnar Nurkse

  • Development and Resources Corporation

  • Don’s examples


  • Greene/Meissner and others:

  • After arranging into series, then you’re done!

  • If Arranging below the series level:

  • Continue with hierarchy: subseries, file, or item