The purpose of the Processing Manual is to provide basic guidance for arranging, describing and rehousing collections in the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) for volunteers, students, and other SCRC staff. Detailed Archon database instructions, including standard language required in database fields, can be found in the SCRC's Archon User Manual and should be referred to during all accessioning and processing by volunteers, students, and staff. The more detailed Accessioning and Processing Manual provides comprehensive procedures and practices for handling collections from their arrival in the department through description for staff.

Processing of Collections

When working with archival collections, keep in mind that both physical and intellectual components are part of what is generally referred to as "processing." While the physical and intellectual tasks are connected and intertwined, keep in mind that the intellectual arrangement will not be solely dependent on the physical location and format of material in a collection and vice versa.

Processing at an Assigned Level

When processing beyond the minimal level performed during the initial accessioning is determined to be necessary, the member of the Appraisal and Processing Committee (APC) who assigns and supervises the project will either determine the arrangement into series and subseries or approve the series and subseries suggested by the processor (the processor may be a volunteer, student, or other SCRC staff member). With the help of the Processing Levels chart and specific instructions provided on the Projects List, the APC member will give clear instructions to the processor as to the level of detail needed, type of re-housing and conservation required, and the time and effort expected in the processing of the collection.

It is important to remember that each collection is different and will require some or all of the following:

  • rehousing into acid-free folders, boxes, or other enclosures
  • composing or editing a collection abstract
  • researching and writing a brief biographical sketch or administrative history for the primary creator or a collection
  • arrangement and description into series (and perhaps into subseries) based on formats and/or subject matter of material
  • transcribing box and folder lists
  • item-level description.

Item-level description is the exception, not the norm. As a processor, you will only arrange and describe at the item-level when specifically instructed to do so by the staff member overseeing your project. For instance, if the collection includes diaries or correspondence, you do not need to read an entire diary or every letter to gain an idea of the topics, people, or events documented therein to write the collection abstract or series description and so your supervisor may suggest that you briefly review or skim documents so as to be able to write a description of the collection.

Whether or not material will be physically arranged in addition to intellectual description and arrangement, will be at the direction of the archivist supervising the processing. For some collections, the order the creator(s) maintained the files in may have an informational or other value just as the individual records themselves have such values.

All questions the processor may have should be directed to the staff member who assigned the collection first whenever possible

Care and Handling

This section of the guide contains a few basic things to remember about the care and handling of SCRC material:
  • Handle fragile materials carefully. Handle all SCRC materials with clean hands.
  • Never eat or drink when working with SCRC materials.
  • Never stick Post-It notes on photographs, documents, or other SCRC materials; they leave an adhesive residue. Use a plain piece of acid-free paper for notes and place markers instead. Post-Its should also not be used on the interior or exterior of acid-free folders or boxes.
  • Do not use materials as a support for writing; this leaves indentations.
  • Do not attach notes or other items to materials with paper clips or rubber bands. Paper clips cause dents and tears and become rusty; rubber bands turn sticky and then hard (they also contain sulfur, which can cause chemical damage).
  • Do not attempt to "fix" materials with tape or glue.
  • Do not use ink or ballpoint pen to mark a document, photograph, etc. If an identifying mark must be made, use a pencil and write lightly on the reverse or discreet location on the material.
  • Always use acid-free or other archival envelopes, boxes, paper, etc. for storage or enclosure of SCRC materials.
  • Do not leave material laying out on tables or shelves exposed to light over night or between work shifts. All material should be enclosed in a folder or box or if that is not possible, covered with buffered paper to minimize fading and light damage.


Rehousing should always be done under the direction of the archivists and according to the processing level that was assigned to the collection. For instance, some collections may be both reboxed and refoldered, others may only be reboxed, and then again others may not be rehoused at all. All material will be rehoused according to applicable best practices and the best available resources and skills of the SCRC.

Collections should always be rehoused in folders and boxes appropriate to their size, condition, etc. Rehousing material in a folder or other container that is too large has the potential to cause damage just as rehousing material in a folder or other container that is too small might. The vast majority of collections will be rehoused in letter or legal size folders and boxes. Do not use different sized folders in a single box. If rehousing into a legal size box, all folders should be legal size. It is generally preferable to rehouse a collection into folders that are either all letter or legal sized for ease of arrangement and to avoid confusion. While this may not always be possible or necessary, it is a goal. Folder sizes should correspond to box sizes to avoid damage to the materials. If a folder is too small for the box, materials can slide out of the folder and suffer unnecessary damage. Preventable damage to collections is quite simply unacceptable.

Folders should never be overfilled. Standard letter and legal size acid-free folders come containing two additional score lines positioned on the front flap that should be used when filling a folder. The score lines allow for easy, precise folding and the retention of maximum strength along the fold line. When the contents of a folder reach the second score line, a folder is full and additional folders should be used for material. Processors should not create additional score lines unless instructed so by a staff member in rare instances such as thick bound volumes.

In general, we do not remove staples and paperclips from collections as they are processed. Exceptions might be thicker binder clips if so directed by the supervising archivist. Do not use plastic clips or "new" paper clips to replace staples or other fasteners that may have been removed. Plastic clips have been shown to damage paper over time, become entangled with other pages, add to the bulk of folders, etc. Instead, and only if really necessary (e.g. for fragile materials), use paper solutions to keep material together or separate it from surrounding items to avoid damage. For instance, the processor might use the thin, white paper folders (not to be confused with the acid-free archival folders) or archival interleaving paper to keep small groups of papers together or separated from surrounding items that might damage them. For pieces of smaller ephemera that may be in a folder with larger material, the processor may decide to use archival envelopes to hold the small items. For instance, a collection may include concert programs and tickets filed together and to ensure the tickets (or other small items) are not "lost" or damaged within the folder, file them in an archival envelope within the folder. These envelopes are available in various sizes.

If boxes are not filled to the degree that folders stand upright without bending or curving, always use spacers to fill the box. Our spacers are generally used acid-free folders that have been rolled and set aside to be reused as spacers.

Accession numbers should be written in pencil, in an inconspicuous interior page of collections that are composed of individual volumes such as diaries, ledgers, etc.

Cotton gloves should be worn when handling photographic formats and many artifacts. Don't be afraid to ask an archivist for direction in handling material!

Photographs are at a minimum filed in acid-free folders. If the condition of the photograph, supplies, staffing, or other circumstances allow, the photographs may be rehoused in mylar sleeves or separated with interleaving paper. There are various mylar and paper options available for rehousing images. Not all photographs will be rehoused immediately, so if the archivist assigning your collection did not specifically mention how to rehouse photographic formats (photographs, slides, negatives, glassplate negatives, cased images, etc.), stop and ask before proceeding.

Collections containing artifacts, audio, moving image, and certain other formats should separate those formats from the paper, photographic, etc. portions of the collection. When assigned and as supplies and storage capacity permits, audiovisual formats may be rehoused in archival cases. Artifacts are also rehoused according to best practices balanced with the resources and skills of the SCRC. Artifacts are defined as any 3-D object and include any format that is not paper or photograph. Examples of artifacts frequently found in our collection (note this list is not exhaustive): clothing, medals, pins, buttons, fabric samples, framed items, etc. Ideal storage conditions are always the goal, but temporary housing will be at the direction of archivists so ask the archivist who assigned your project how to handle audio, video, and artifact formats.

Labeling of Folders and Boxes


Folder headings should be composed in a consistent fashion throughout all SCRC collections and contain the standard elements of: Collection name and Acc. and/or call number in the left corner of the folder; material (folder title) and date range contained in the folder in the middle of the folder; and, when applicable, the box and folder numbers in the right corner. Accessions that are part of artificial collections are described as 'items' in Archon. In that case also add the item number to the folder. For the most commonly used letter and legal size folders, this information should be written on the top back of the folder from left to right.

Please see examples of folder labeling at the end of this guide as well as posted in the work rooms and front desk.

Only use pencil when writing on folders. Make certain that folders and boxes correspond in size, i.e. legal-size folders in legal-size boxes. Writing the box and folder numbers on folders will be one of the final steps in the physical processing of collections.

Do not use Post-It notes on archival folders and boxes!


As the physical arrangement of a collection is completed, write temporary box labels on each box. Write the collection name and number and the box number on the side of the box in pencil (as dark as possible to enhance legibility) and in a size that can easily be covered by a permanent label later. On records center cartons, write this information under the handle. On the short side of gray boxes, write this information on the top portion of the box. Boxes handled this way can be re-used more readily for other collections, and corrections and changes can be made more easily as well!

Smaller quantities of items or boxes can be stored in the Archives workroom on the 2nd while they wait for labeling. Larger quantities should be shelved in the appropriate area in the stacks area. In the case of larger collections shelved before labels are made, make sure to communicate with the staff supervising your processing that you have materials in the stacks also in need of labels.

Updating the Collection Record in Archon

During the course of processing a collection, there are a number of places where the collection record in the Archon database will require updating. Detailed Archon database instructions, including standard language required in database fields, can be found in the SCRC's Archon User Manual and should be referred to during all processing. Fields you will nearly always update during processing include:
  • Finding Aid Author
  • First/Last Year
  • Inclusive Dates
  • Extent (size of the collection when processing is complete)
  • Location information (Processors should change this field to "2nd Floor--Being Processed" when a collection is removed from Pavilion A or B for processing)
  • Collection description > Scope (This will be updated as your processing nears conclusion.)
  • Collection description >Arrangement (Insert the note provided in the Archon User Manual indicating that the collection is currently being arranged and described.)
  • Finding Aid Information > Processing info

Depending on the level of processing required and directed by your supervisor, you may also update and/or add series descriptions or box and folder lists via Archon's Content Manager.

When adding information to Archon, do not use the ampersand - "&". Also, avoid using abbreviations such as "Misc." Keep in mind that what you may think is a logical abbreviation may not be so logical to the next person to look at the finding aid you are creating.

Series, sub-series, folders, and items (when description is done to these levels) should have their name in the title field. Boxes should generally not have a title or date. Only add content to the description field for boxes, folders, and items when specifically directed to do so by the archivist overseeing the processing.

Series, subseries, and folders should have brief, yet descriptive titles.

Common series and subseries titles might include:

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Biographical Material
  • Meeting Minutes
  • Administrative Records
  • Financial Records
  • Publications
  • Scrapbooks
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Events
  • Legislation
and many, many other possible titles. The title would be followed by the dates (years only) contained in the series or subseries.

Sample series descriptions can be found at the end of the print version of this guide.

Folder titles will also be brief, but are generally a bit more detailed than series titles. Folder titles may include the topic and/or genre and the date of the material. The dates will usually be years only, but in the case of voluminous correspondence from a single year that requires more than one folder, months may also be used. Examples of possible folder titles:

  • Birthday Party, Invitations, 1988-1990
  • Birthday Party, Photographs, 1988-1990
  • Correspondence, 1900-1902
  • Correspondence, November 1992-October 1993
  • Correspondence, November 1993-1995
  • Financial Ledger, 1955-1962
  • Unidentified Photographs, circa 1950-1959
  • Diaries, 1888-1892

Here are a few general reminders relating to the dates of series, subseries, folders, or items:

  • Normally, including years only is sufficient.
  • When the date span of the material requires inclusion of months in the date field, spell out the names of months in the format "August 1900". Do not use "8/1900," "Aug. 1900," or other styles.
  • If new material is added to the collection, series, or folder on an ongoing basis use a date range such as "1902-[ongoing]" (being sure to use the square brackets around "ongoing").
  • If the dates are approximate, use "circa" not "ca." or "c."
  • If the date of material is unknown or a reliable date range cannot be applied using "circa", use "undated" not "no date" or "n.d." and do not leave the date field blank for series, subseries, folders or items.

Further Information

Details about processing specific collections and further information can be found in the Accessioning and Processing Manual.

Archon User Manual provides detailed instructions for the content of fields in the Archon database including required statements and language.

Appendix: Sample Series Descriptions

Jefferson H. Clark Papers:

Series 2: Mary Clark Shade Book Research, 1914-2000
This series encompasses the research materials and notes gathered by Mary Clark Shade, daughter of Jefferson H. Clark, in her attempts to produce a book documenting her father's service as a field surgeon in World War I. The photographs were procured from the Imperial War Museum in London or taken by Shade. The index cards contain notes and quotations for her book on her father's service during WWI.

Armand J. Galfo Papers:

Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1943-2006
This series includes correspondence and papers related to Dr. Galfo's teaching and scholarly works throughout his career. Materials include a "scrapbook" collection of publication clippings from throughout Galfo's career, correspondence relating to the publication of several of books and articles, along with research notes, materials pertaining to Dr. Galfo's employment, correspondence with college officials, participation in committees, and some materials related to his applications to teach or approve specific courses. The series also includes son Christopher Galfo's Ph.D. dissertation research and articles, Mary Galfo's college studies materials, and materials related to the Galfo Family Endowment.