organizing an archive

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    • #133293
      Gary Spivey

      We are a small all volunteer historical society with a collection of materials related to Douglas, AZ history. There are a large number and variety of archival documents and photographs, some cataloged, scattered in many different files and locations. We are starting a project to organize this material for researchers to access, and to improve the storage and protection of this material. Where can we find guidance on the best way to organize and archive?

    • #133296
      Ron Kley

      There was an excellent “plain English” guide to archival management in small historical organizations published some years ago by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. I believe that the author was David Carmichael.

      Bear in mind, however, that not all two-dimensional items (documents, photographs, etc.) are truly “archival” in the sense of being substantial bodies of material deliberately preserved and arranged to address the purposes of some organizational entity.

      If what you have are more or less random individual items acquired from multiple sources along with other collection objects, you may find that you’ll be needlessly tying yourself in knots by attempting to implement a separate organization and numbering system merely because they’re two-dimensional, rather than treating these like other objects in your collection.

    • #133295
      Susan Knoer

      Congratulations on taking the first step!

      You’re probably a good candidate for a Preservation Assistance Grant, which is sum up to 6,000 that can let you get a consultant or supplies you already know you need. Best part is that no match is required, so it’s a great place to start.

      Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions –

      Description. Preservation Assistance Grants help small and mid-sized institutions —such as libraries, museums, historical societies, archival repositories, cultural …

      This is probably more info than you need right now, but it’s a great resource. It’s cross-referenced like mad, so don’t get confused by all the “also see” entries, but it’s terrific for preservation info.

      Museum Handbook – National Park Service
      a reference guide on how to manage, preserve, document, access and use museum collections.

      Ron’s right, do some serious reading before you try try retrospective work. Archives are organized by record groups from donors, which is information you may not have at this point. That’s true of a lot of older and larger archives, too. You may want to treat what you have now as an artificial collection, one that you created, and treat future ones in a different manner.

      There are a lot of places you can turn to – you’re not the only one with this issue, museums, businesses, libraries, governments, universities all have records to keep, so ask around. Try library programs at the colleges, there are often friendly people there, and often interns looking for placements. Talk to your state archives and see what they have to offer. Check with the Society of American Archivists for webinars and workshops. We keep a rolling list here, and C2C has some coming up.

      Have you been in touch with the Society of Southwest Archivists? They can probably point you to local resources and experts.

      Starting from Scratch: How to Create a Museum Archives
      (the principles are the same, and it’s a decent overview)

      Archivist’s Primer from the Getty Information Institute

      Best of luck, and let us know how it goes.

    • #133294
      Janice Klein

      Hi Gary — Great to see you in this on-line community. Two suggestions: AASLH has an on-line Basics of Archives course that begins at the end of October. Melanie Sturgeon, Az State Librarian, also gives a very similar one-day course at various places around the state. The next one is on September 28 in Phoenix and it’s free, but you need to pre-register at Both are on the MAA website ( Professional Development.

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