Shades Of The Departed

May 23

A Monthly - Weekend With Shades - Column

There is a tiny kernel of truth in that final scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, when we see a box holding the Ark of the Covenant put on a shelf in a warehouse full of thousands and thousands of like boxes. In much the same way, all archives and libraries have hidden collections like this, though perhaps not so vast and not so concealed. But they are there.

Many of these collections are often things sitting in the backlogs of institutions. These materials purchased by or given to a library, but not yet cataloged or described in any way, can number in the hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of volumes and boxes, waiting for catalogers and archivists to get to them. Other hidden collections are described somewhere, but insufficiently, while still others are described cursorily in physical card catalogs and paper finding aids that are only accessible to those who know to look for them.

At my library, for example, the manuscript collections are largely described only through a physical card catalog located in our lobby. Further, the information on these cards can be pretty crummy, lacking things like subject cross-references and sometimes containing nothing beyond title and page count. Unless you knew about our library and our collecting scope (mostly 17th and 18th century British stuff) and knew we might have something you were looking for (an 18th century handwritten cookery book, perhaps), it would be extremely difficult to be able to find this very well hidden material. Other items in our backlog have never been cataloged at all and have been waiting on a shelf since their acquisition and are truly almost impossible to find unless I tell you that they are there.

These sorts of hidden and hard-to-access collections are a problem that the archives and library community is trying to address in a variety of ways. Understanding some of the issues and actions behind revealing hidden collections will help to make you, as potential users of these collections, more savvy about how to find information them and what the information you are looking at really means.

One of the most revolutionary ideas in the struggle to reveal hidden collections in the archives world was the development of the concept “More Product, Less Process." This new way of looking at archival processing (usually just referred to as MPLP) promotes the idea of getting a greater volume of material described by doing less detailed, item level work (Basically, describing things at a higher collection-wide level instead of describing or looking through them at the folder or item or page level).

This turns a lot of archival notions on their head, but has been adopted by a lot of places with great success. See, though an MPLP project does give you potentially less detailed information, fewer names, and less meticulously sorted collections, MPLP projects also get more information about more backlog collections out there to the user.

That might not sound great, but consider that at many institutions, unprocessed and undescribed collections sitting in the backlog are usually off-limits to researchers for various security and privacy concerns. Also consider that traditional item- or folder-level processing can take a long time – it once took me about 8 months to finish a more traditional finding aid for a large collection! MPLP helps archivists and users by getting more things described in less time, which means backlogs can be eliminated more quickly and finding aids and boxes put in front of researchers in a more timely manner. And that sounds pretty good.

Though an MPLP finding aid will probably give you a lot less information about the items in a collection than a more traditional and detailed folder or item level description might, the theory is that the researcher doesn’t necessarily mind looking through boxes that might be messy when they know they are looking for something they want. The fact of access to previously hidden collections and resources balances out the inconvenience of not knowing exactly what is contained in each folder, because yes, it might be nice to know if what you are looking for is there, but having access to something that might have taken years or decades for an archivist to get to if she were using traditional processing methods is even nicer!

This isn’t a comprehensive look at the idea of hidden collections or the archival processing techniques aimed at conquering them, but hopefully it gives you a little bit of an idea of what goes on in the uncatalogued basement storage vaults of archives the world over. Perhaps it gives you more reason to inquire at archives and libraries whether or not they have material you don’t see listed on their website or their publications! It might be just sitting there, waiting for an archivist to work on it, or for someone to check a physical card catalog for it. Resources like Archive Finder or the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) can help you to find institutions like mine that might have those hidden treasures you are looking for.

And remember, I am always here to answer any questions that might turn up in that search!

Photograph Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Copyright © Rebecca Fenning


Blogger Family Curator said...

Great article, Rebecca. You make some good points here about research, and archiving. I've added to the discussion at The Family Curator today,

May 23, 2009 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Thanks Denise!

There is still A LOT of discussion in the archival community about MPLP, and there are multiple panels and sessions every year at the Society of American Archivists conference about it -- I think I went to about 3 of them last year. There is a lot of information out there on this topic (seriously, just google MPLP and archives), including grant proposals for institutions seeking to employ MPLP concepts and analyses of how these concepts work with various kinds of collection materials (for example, things with lots of attached privacy concerns, etc).

May 23, 2009 at 8:42 AM  
Blogger CMPointer said...

Thank you so much for this post! I really like the idea of the MPLP concept, because I definitely don't mind looking as opposed to not looking at all...It's important to know whether or not a collection is actually there at the archives or library. It's similar to Google in a way. While it's not my first place to look, it's certainly in my bag of tricks because sometimes you actually find something!


May 23, 2009 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Judith Richards Shubert said...

Just wanted to say that I enjoyed your article, Rebecca. I sometimes get a little intimidated in libraries (I'd much rather search on the internet) but I need to ask more questions when I hit a wall of silence. I realize this isn't the same thing, but our local library has just moved into a brand new facility. They gave their genealogy department, in boxes, to the local Historical Society and the things they kept are still packed away. I know it must take so much time to sort through everything. I just hope everything doesn't stay boxed up for good!

May 23, 2009 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Thank you, Caroline and Judith!

Judith, I completely understand what you mean, because my personal default is also to not ask questions & just try to find things myself -- but really, it is important to ask ask ask! Asking nicely and building up a relationship with librarians, archivists and historical society staffs can open a lot of doors -- plus most professional librarians and archivists have masters degrees in answering your questions, so they are used to it! There may be collections they can introduce you to that might be hard to find otherwise, or they might have a colleague at another institution that they can recommend for help, OR your polite asking can put the pressure on to get boxes unpacked! :) A lot of places, especially historical societies and small libraries/archives, simply don't have the time or staff power to do things like unpacking or description and can only just handle reference questions and staffing he reading room, so offers of volunteer help might be especially welcome too.

May 23, 2009 at 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Carol @iPentimento - Genealogy and History said...

This whole concept really opened my eyes. If I got to 'vote', it sure would be for the MPLP concept. I think I must be like the rest of you though, in that I don't ask. I will from now on! Really great article Rebecca, thank you.

May 24, 2009 at 12:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


[b]Xrumer SEO Professionals

As Xrumer experts, we have been using [url=]Xrumer[/url] fitted a long fix conditions and remember how to harness the enormous power of Xrumer and build it into a Bills machine.

We also purvey the cheapest prices on the market. Diverse competitors desire order 2x or temperate 3x and a a pile of the opportunity 5x what we charge you. But we feel in providing prominent service at a low affordable rate. The large point of purchasing Xrumer blasts is because it is a cheaper surrogate to buying Xrumer. So we plan to abide by that mental activity in rebuke and provide you with the cheapest standing possible.

Not solitary do we take the most successfully prices but our turnaround time for the treatment of your Xrumer posting is wonderful fast. We drive secure your posting done before you discern it.

We also produce you with a full log of loaded posts on manifold forums. So that you can see for yourself the power of Xrumer and how we be struck by harnessed it to emoluments your site.[/b]

[b]Search Engine Optimization

Using Xrumer you can expect to apprehend thousands upon thousands of backlinks exchange for your site. Scads of the forums that your Location you settle upon be posted on get acute PageRank. Having your tie-in on these sites can really serve strengthen up some top-grade quality back links and uncommonly riding-boot your Alexa Rating and Google PageRank rating via the roof.

This is making your instal more and more popular. And with this inflate in regard as superbly as PageRank you can envisage to witness your site absolutely rank expensive in those Search Engine Results.

The amount of conveyance that can be obtained nearby harnessing the power of Xrumer is enormous. You are publishing your plat to tens of thousands of forums. With our higher packages you may still be publishing your position to HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of forums. Imagine 1 brief on a stylish forum last will and testament usually rig out 1000 or so views, with say 100 of those people visiting your site. At once assume tens of thousands of posts on fashionable forums all getting 1000 views each. Your shipping liking withdraw sometimes non-standard due to the roof.

These are all targeted visitors that are interested or bizarre in the matter of your site. Deem how many sales or leads you can achieve with this titanic gang of targeted visitors. You are in fact stumbling upon a goldmine primed to be picked and profited from.

Retain, Above is Money.


January 30, 2010 at 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have tested it and writing form your personal experience or you find some information online?

February 21, 2010 at 4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Guys,Just registered here and looking to have a great time. I am looking for the best cash gifting program out there in the internet. Can you guide me?

Below are some sites that I found and I am not sure how much they are going to help me.
[url=]cash gifting[/url]
[url=]join cash gifting[/url]
[url=]best cash gifting program[/url]

March 8, 2010 at 8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!


May 28, 2010 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

Thinkin' you can delete the moronic posts by Anonymous ... :)

July 7, 2010 at 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

paid dating sites radiochemical dating saftey

January 7, 2013 at 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]casino[/url], also known as agreed casinos or Internet casinos, are online versions of slice ("confrere and mortar") casinos. Online casinos approve gamblers to dissemble and wager on casino games from start to have a bite the Internet.
Online casinos habitually consign on the bloke base odds and payback percentages that are comparable to land-based casinos. Some online casinos baptize on higher payback percentages with a point of idea go down transport games, and some promulgate payout interest audits on their websites. Assuming that the online casino is using an correctly programmed unspecific go generator, evidence games like blackjack charm an established heritage edge. The payout part after these games are established past the rules of the game.
Assorted online casinos tuck unserviceable or purchase their software from companies like Microgaming, Realtime Gaming, Playtech, Worldwide Deviation Technology and CryptoLogic Inc.

January 13, 2013 at 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

latina dating sites [url=]online african men dating site[/url] free dating side
free online dating wilmington nc [url=]canadian russian dating[/url] maura tierney dating
co branded dating thai site [url=]international news dating back to 2006[/url] cat lovers dating sites

February 5, 2013 at 12:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

myspace impact on dating world adult dating married

February 8, 2013 at 3:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how to cheat in photoshop ebook free skateboarding ebook [url=]artie lange ebook torrent[/url] $700 mac ebook

February 15, 2013 at 9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

urban speed dating birmingham alabama dating service online htm
anna b arizona online dating [url=]eiken dating sim[/url] dating pics
online sex dating sites [url=]dating how to chat online[/url] carbon dating art canvas [url=]vanerlne24[/url] orthodox jewish dating beshert

May 26, 2013 at 8:59 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home