Archives Procedure Manual





INTRODUCTION    back to top




Center of Southwest Studies Collection Strengths     back to top
The Center's Special Collections holdings are strongest in the areas of historically significant materials pertaining to:


  • narrow gauge railroads

Organizational Scheme    back to top
The Center of Southwest Studies has adopted a standardized scheme for accessing the materials in its collections. This involves assigning accession numbers, location numbers, and collection number which are explained below. Each collection has a prefix letter that denotes the predominant type of material in the collection. That prefix letter is followed by a three-digit number which identifies the particular collection. All of the collections, whether they are books, artifacts, oral history interview records, maps, or materials in any other format, are described in the OPAC. Finding Aids to the individual archival and manuscript collections are cataloged by their collection prefix and sequentially assigned number. The collection prefixes are:

  • U for data contained in an audio or audio-visual medium (e.g., oral history tapes and videotapes)

Purpose of this Manual    back to top
This manual is presented to instruct staff, student interns and volunteers in the Center's established procedures for arranging and describing historical materials. Our intent is to provide a clear and concise guide to our most common archival procedures, and also to offer a conceptual framework for deciding how to proceed with problems and challenges not specifically discussed here. Some parts of this manual are more applicable to staff, while other parts address procedures in which students and volunteers are an indispensable asset in enabling the Center to preserve significant historical materials and to make them easily accessible to researchers. We try to match the talent with the task. We hope that this manual will be useful to persons beyond the Center, though that is not its primary function.

General Archival Principles    back to top
The two objectives of an archivist are to preserve permanently valuable historical materials and to improve the accessibility of the information in them. Usually the archivist works at these two halves of the archival task - preservation and access - simultaneously. The physical and mental challenges they present are both a source of variety and of satisfaction in bringing order and long-lasting usefulness to important sources of documentation of the past.

"Do No Harm" is a primary archival principle. Any processes should be reversible. We avoid doing anything to historical materials that cannot be undone. Thus, we use pencil, not ink, when working with documents. Neither do we staple, fold, laminate, or apply ordinary tape to them. It is inadvisable to store historically important materials in filing cabinets or in regular office folders, because the sharp edges of file drawers can tear pages, and the high acidity of normal folders discolors and embrittles documents. Archival preservation involves housing historical documents and photos in pH-neutral folders and boxes that are specially made for archives. Paper clips and other commonly encountered metal fasteners are removed from important records, because the iron in these fasteners oxidizes and stains paper. Likewise, cellophane tape invariably leaves its mark on paper, and should be removed. Instead, we mend torn documents with removable non-yellowing archival tape. Especially valuable documents can be encapsulated in Mylar Type D, a tough plastic sheeting.

Another basic archival principle is that of respecting the original order and the provenance of historical materials. This means that archivists generally maintain the original order of items in a collection, because the interrelationship of historical materials often provides helpful information that otherwise would be absent or difficult to perceive. If the contents of a box or folder seem to be in no reasonable order, however, it is appropriate to arrange them as explained in the Arrangement and Description section. Archivists also look on the incoming boxes of historical materials and in the materials themselves for clues as to the history of ownership of the materials being processed.

It is important to regulate the temperature and humidity in the Center. In an uncontrolled environment, the fibers in paper may expand and contract and eventually break. Exposure to harmful levels of heat, cold, high or low humidity, or light can result in brittle paper.

Hygiene is also important when working with archival materials. It may surprise you how often you will need to wash your hands when working with old documents. You may find it wise to wear a smock to protect your clothes. The Center provides clean cotton gloves to wear when handling photographic materials. Also, we keep food and drink away from the materials, and we keep crumbs out of the work area.

INITIAL STEPS    back to top
Define Collection & Distinguish Series    back to top

  1. Define the collection. When confronted with unaccessioned historical materials (that is, items that have not yet been described or numbered for systematic retrieval), we begin with the broadest level of archival description: the collection. A collection is defined as a group of related materials acquired for the purpose of historical research. It may be materials collected by or about a certain person, institution, or event. A collection often comprises numerous donations; their all having come from the same source unites them as one collection, not many. When first examining unprocessed materials, then, we consider two questions: what collection is this, and what part of the collection is it? (Note: this assumes that the repository has already accessioned the material.
  2. Inventory the contents of the collection. To establish rough control over the contents of each box and to establish which collection(s) it belongs to, writing a container inventory is necessary, unless such a list arrived with the collection. This inventory is a rough and rapid description of the contents of each box. An example of a completed inventory sheet appears at the end of this section. These are the steps for completing a CONTAINER INVENTORY:
    1. Start a new page for each container, writing on one side only.
    2. On the first line, write the number of the box you are describing and any identifying information you see on the container, including the name of the collection if that is apparent.
    3. As you begin the inventory, glance through the contents of the box. Do they all relate to the same collection? If they do, write the collection name at the top of your page and continue with step 4. If they do not, then the sections of your inventory sheet are going to describe discrete collections. Your first words at the left side of the page will be the first collection name. If you are dealing with a box of folders, this may be the title written on a folder label, or the first part of the title that appears on a number of folders. For instance, if you see five folders about the Kiwanis, one for each of five years 1971-75, your first entry (the collection name) will be "Kiwanis."
    4. Having distinguished the collections, our next task is to look for well-defined or clearly recognizable categories, or series, which are the building blocks of archives. A series is defined as the general categorization of the type of materials. It is what you find on the outside label of a filing cabinet, such as "business correspondence," "payroll records," or "Henry Lansdowne Development Project." Write the series name at the left of your page. If the materials within each collection are in no apparent order, you will need to group them by series. If they are in folders, you may simply rearrange the folders within their box; if the materials are loose, it is best to take them out of the box and pile them together by series. For example, put all the business correspondence together, and all the photographs together. Then, your inventory sheet will only list a given series once, though those materials may have been dispersed when you opened the box. Remember to retain the order in which you find the items in each series - if they were in order. For example, keep all the chronologically arranged correspondence in the arrangement in which you found it.
    5. Common SERIES TITLES include:
      • Accounting statements
      • Applications
      • Audio recordings
      • Bank statements
      • Bills (financial)
      • Blank forms
      • Cancelled checks
      • Case files
      • Cash books
      • Charts
      • Class notes
      • Clippings
      • Correspondence (personal or business, including greeting cards, invitations, letters, letter books, telegrams)
      • Diagrams
      • Diaries Posters
      • Field notes, or Field books
      • Financial documents (ledgers, notes, payroll lists)
      • Journals
      • Leases
      • Legal documents (agreements, briefs, contracts, deeds, depositions, estate inventories, insurance policies, mortgages, petitions, title abstracts, wills)
      • Literary works (research notes, manuscripts, memoirs, reports, speeches, sermons)
      • Maps
      • Minutes and agenda
      • Menus
      • Newspapers
      • Notebooks
      • Personal files
      • Photographs (ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, glass plate negatives, roll film, negative and positive prints, slides, tintypes...)
      • Postcards
      • Price lists
      • Printed material (booklets, books, brochures, certificates, clippings, directories, flyers, programs)
      • Proceedings
      • Receipts (financial)
      • Registers
      • Research files
      • Sales literature (junk mail)
      • Scrapbooks
      • Sketches (including drawings, etchings, cartoons)
      • Subject files
      • Supplies
      • Survey files
      • Tax returns/receipts
      • Worksheets

    6. After the series title, describe its contents: write the years it covers, and a rough estimate of the quantity of the materials (i.e. the number of folders, volumes, linear feet of shelf space, or items). If what you have written does not describe the materials sufficiently, add a few words (such as a list of book titles) to briefly describe the contents. The information should be concise; in most cases, it will fit on one or two lines.
    7. Repeat this format for each category of materials in a box.
    8. This is an example of a CONTAINER INVENTORY:

      Dean Collection, Box 1
      • Booklets, 1898-1920, 10 booklets of recipes.
      • Greeting cards, circa 1910, circa 30 cards, of M. Dean, Newkirk, Okla.; mostly valentines.
      • Postcards, circa 1910-1940, circa 30 cards, many of Colorado.
      • Photographs, circa 1900, 30 prints, portraits.
      • Personal correspondence of Mattie Dean, 1910-1943, 30 letters.
      • Posters, circa 1920, 8 items, advertising Pears' Soap, etc.
      • Books, 1890?, 3 primers on cloth.
      • Ledger of R. H. Dean, 1863-1868, with recipes glued in.
      • Newspapers, 8 June 1953, Rocky Mountain News.
      • Personal correspondence of Calvin Dean, circa 1919-1924, 40 letters.
      • Receipts, circa 1940, .5 linear feet.
      • Legal documents, 1906-1910, 1942, circa 10 deeds and leases.

Compile Biographical Information    back to top
One of the first tasks in working on a collection is to do a little background research. Before processing a collection, one ought to study the person who is its subject or creator. If it were a major collection, this might entail reading a definitive biography. The person who works on a particular collection should quickly become a specialist in that field. This will help the processor decide the significance of the various contents of that collection, understand the organization of the materials, and write a brief biographical sketch for the guide to the collection. Potential sources for this information include the OPAC, city directories, vertical files, books on local history, information in the collection itself, local newspapers (on microfilm), and census records and other research tools available in the Center's census records and elsewhere.

Document the History of the Collection    back to top
A related task at this stage is to learn about the history of the materials in the collection. Who created them, and when? Who has owned them between the time of their creation and the time they were given to the Center? What were the terms of the donation? Is there written documentation of the donation? We place any such documentation of provenance in the folder for the respective collection in our "collection case files" series. Provenance is an archival term meaning the origin and history of ownership of a collection. In establishing provenance, we want to discover the person, family, firm, or office that created or accumulated the materials in a collection, and we want to learn where the collection resided from that time until it was placed in our custody.

Locate all the Contents of the Collection    back to top
Before beginning to arrange and describe a collection, check that you have assembled all of its contents in one place. Any written agreements that documented the donation, along with the packing lists or container inventories, will help you to make sure that you have located all that belongs in the collection. This documentation is kept in the file folder that we maintain concerning each collection.

Deaccession Inappropriate Materials    back to top
Another aspect of this preliminary work is deaccessioning, which means removing materials that are not suitable for inclusion in the collection. The basic question here is, does this come under the scope of our acquisitions policy? An acquisitions policy states an institution's criteria for what types of materials it will collect. The Center of Southwest Studies collects permanently valuable historical materials that concern the Four Corners region which are useful for research. They include manuscripts, photographs, maps, oral histories (tapes and transcripts), scrapbooks, microforms and printed matter. See the Collections Management Policy for a more detailed list of criteria for acquisition.

The Center generally excludes the following types of materials from its special collections:

  • bank statements and cancelled checks;
  • bills, receipts, purchase orders, requisitions and vouchers, unless they document the financial dealings of a significant individual or institution;
  • items that do not concern the Four Corners region;
  • drafts/previous versions of factual non-creative documents in the collection (but the Center does retain all literary creations, to study the development of a writer's style);
  • duplicate copies and supplies;
  • envelopes, unless they give useful information (such as a postmark or address) not on their contents;
  • newspapers and serials that are already available in the Center, or which are already on microform, and;
  • undated newspaper clippings and unidentified photographs, unless they are a significant collection on a particular subject or are a unique source of information within the Center's acquisition policy.

In most cases, the Center will deaccession housekeeping items (bills, cancelled checks), minor ceremonial items (like personal, insignificant invitations and greeting cards), and items that are of no direct relation or uniqueness to the individual who is the subject of the collection. The basic question is, would a researcher come here to find this information? Obviously inappropriate materials discovered in the container inventory can be deaccessioned at this stage. Other items may be deaccessioned during the course of the actual processing of the collection.

The Center's initial agreement with the donor of the particular materials determines how they will be deaccessioned, whether by returning them to the donor or by transferring them to another branch or institution. All decisions regarding deaccessioning must be approved by someone with authority to do so. In our case, we describe on a deaccession form all items that do not fit the Center’s acquisitions policy. We present our deaccession proposal to the Center's Accession/Deaccession Committee, which makes a recommendation. The Center's Director, in conjunction with the Accession/Deaccession Committee, must sign off on any authorization to transfer materials directly to a more appropriate repository that has requested them. Items under 3 linear shelf feet, and/or of value under $500, do not require review by the Committee or the Director; the Archives Manager can make the determination in those cases, but may request review by the Committee and/or the Director.

Assign Collection Numbers    back to top
First, we assign collection numbers. Manuscripts, photographs and oversized items are housed at separate locations, and therefore receive distinct collection numbers, even if they are part of the same group of materials. If a collection amounts to just one folder, it will be considered part of a grouped collection, such as: P 015 Small Photographs collections or M 053 Small Manuscripts collections.

Please note that although the Center does have a General Photographs collection (P 001), that is a vestige of past practice. We adhere to the principle of provenance, thus we attempt to keep materials that were produced by the same entity together, even if it is only a few items.

If related items fill more than one folder, they are considered a collection. Otherwise, they are included in an oversized collection, such as: C 001 Southwest map collection, C 005 Southwest mining and engineering maps or M 143 Southwest posters collection. Every collection of two folders or more is housed in its own box or boxes. The boxes in each collection are numbered starting with 1. The numbering of folders in each box likewise starts with 1. To maximize storage capacities in the Center stacks, we try to arrange collections so we can stack document cases that are lying on their sides (because they contain bound volumes) two cases high, and likewise we stack the large drop-front boxes two (or three) boxes high.

Arrange the Series within the Collection    back to top
Generally, we broadly arrange the contents of a collection by types of material (which archivists call series). Ten basic types of series we encounter are:


  • Correspondence (incoming and outgoing letters, greeting cards, letterpress copybooks, telegrams, etc.)
  • Financial documents (account books, budgets, ledgers, etc.)
  • Legal documents (agreements, contracts, mortgages, policies, wills, etc.)
  • Literary works (manuscripts, memoirs, reminiscences, reports, research notes, sermons, speeches, etc.)
  • Printed materials (brochures, certificates, clippings, pamphlets, programs, proofs, etc.)
  • Records (diaries, minutes, etc.)
  • Scrapbooks

Other types (housed separately from the manuscripts):

  • Audio recordings (tapes and disks)
  • Maps (also including oversize charts, diagrams, etc.)
  • Photographs (positive and negative film and prints, slides, movies, etc.)

Complete Processing Checklist    back to top
To optimize our processing of large collections, we complete an Arrangement and Description Box Checklist, temporarily attached to each box to ensure that each box has been fully processed.

Alternatively, we temporarily attach a Box Processing Checklist to every box to remind us what action is needed to complete the processing of the materials inside.

Process the Newspaper Clippings/Photograph Files    back to top
Sometimes, a collection contains newspaper clippings and the glossy photographs and negatives that were used with the articles. Typically, they are arranged by subject and then in folders by year. For example, there is a box of clippings about the World War II war effort in Durango, with a folder for "World War II clippings - Dogs for Defense, 1943-1944." Organize newspaper files and separate out the photographs, using the following procedure:

  1. Arrange the box's folders in chronological order with the earliest year of each subject in front, and pull out the first folder, placing a box divider in its place.
  2. Process the clippings (anything on newsprint paper).
    a. Write the date neatly in black ink on the top of each clipping, thus: 12 Apr. 1934 (i.e. date, abbrev. month, full year). No need to do this if the date already is legible on the clipping, in dark ink.
    b. Arrange the clippings within each folder in chronological order.
    c. Tape the dated arranged clippings to legal size paper. Using both sides of the paper and a 1/4 inch margin on all sides, fit as many clippings on each side as possible, ALL facing the same way on the page, using just enough tape to hold each clipping in place. These pages will be photocopied later.
  3. Place any other printed materials, such as programs, brochures or announcements, behind the clippings in the folder.
  4. Process the photoprints and photonegatives. Often, the newspaper used these photos with its articles. You will be able to locate the matching newspaper pictures quickly by looking through the arranged clippings.
    1. Using pencil, transcribe all of the pertinent information from the article onto the back of the photo starting in the upper left corner (leaving the bottom right corner free). NOTE: be careful to write lightly, sliding the pencil across the page, so as not to damage the print. All available information should be written in this order:
      • Name of group or institution (generally, this is the same as the folder title, e.g. Boy Scouts).
      • Event or occasion for which this photo was taken (generally, the first phrase in the newspaper's caption).
      • Date of the newspaper article in which the photo appeared.
      • Names of people (listed from left to right, so individuals can be identified); write "l-r:", then names.
    2. Clip matching photoprints and negatives (kept in their envelopes) together and place them in a folder, labeled the same as the folder of printed materials, with "Photos" added to the folder title.

Photocopy the newspaper clippings onto acid-free paper. Newsprint is short-lived paper, and loose clippings are impossible to organize. Photocopying clippings onto archival quality paper will preserve them and to make them easier to use. The goals are 1) to copy all of the text of all of the relevant clippings, 2) keep the clippings in chronological order, 3) economize by fitting as many clippings as possible onto a single sheet of photocopy paper. The photocopying procedure is:

  • Finished? Pull out the 8 1/2 by 14" cartridge, remove the archival paper, and re-fill the cartridge with regular legal size paper.

Flatten Rolled Items    back to top
To flatten rolled items:

  • Repeat the process after twenty-four hours, or after the items in the humidification tank feel limp (which tells your that the paper fibers relaxed).

Sort and Identify Photographs    back to top
In a large collection of sundry photographs, where there is no provenance for assigning them to particular collections, the first step is to sort them into meaningful subject categories. Categories can be broad, with the organization within the grouping giving further order. For instance, the subject category of Durango streets, which consists of photographs of houses and buildings, is further organized by street name, block and house/building number.

Having arranged the photographs into categories and sub-categories, some research is then necessary to firmly identify or corroborate identifications. It is important that all work be accurate and verified. The resources for doing this research are all available at the Center. The most commonly used reference sources for photo identification are:

  1. The OPAC, to locate related photos and info about the subject.
  2. Durango city directories, which confirm names and addresses at a specific time, and which also list the names of local organizations, churches, societies and businesses.
  3. Other collections at the Center, including:
  4. Reference books at the Center, such as:
  5. Our lists of Durango and vicinity chronological events/landmarks. Always cite the source when including information from a particular source. Verify everything; never speculate! Do not guess! Using other photographs for comparison is a good way to confirm identification or to date an image. The important information to note on a photograph, in addition to the source, is:
    • correct current address or locale
    • the year built and original owner of a building
    • names of people shown
    • date the photograph was taken
    • name of the photographer (see our list)
    • name of original owner and date built (if a house)
    • dates in business (if a business)

Everyone handling photographs and negatives must wear gloves at all times. Use a #2 pencil (never ink!) to print information lightly on the back of the photograph, leaving the bottom right corner free for the call number. BE CAREFUL TO PRINT LIGHTLY, sliding the pencil across the paper so that you do not damage the print on the other side. Standard graphite pencils won’t write on the slick surface of some modern photoprints, but something like the A.W. Faber Castell Magicus pencil will.

Arrange and Describe Matching Negatives and Prints    back to top
Many of our collections contain negatives. In some cases, we only have the negative of an image. If the image is historically significant and the negative is in printable condition, we generally will produce an archival contact print. When a researcher requests a copy of a print in the Center's holdings that is not available digitally, we pull the matching negative; if we do not have a negative for that print, we produce a copy negative which is then available for meeting future requests for copies of that photograph. The following are guidelines for arranging and describing matching photo negatives and prints.

Arrangement of matching negatives and prints:

  1. If a negative is historically valuable, we place it in an archival envelope; see the following notes regarding the proper type of enclosure for each type of negative. Choose the smallest archival envelope that will house all of the negatives in that series. It is particularly important to re-house historically valuable negatives that currently are in brittle/acidic envelopes. We keep a negative in its original envelope if the envelope already is labeled and if transferring the information to a new envelope would be time consuming and if the negative lacks significant research use.
  2. When placing a negative in an envelope, make sure that the emulsion side (the duller surface, containing the filmed image) is against the best surface (i.e. not against a fold in the envelope). Also, it's best if the emulsion is facing away from the front of the envelope where we write.
  3. Store glass plates on edge - not flat. Glass retains its strength best when on edge.
  4. Generally, we house negatives by collection number, in properly labeled archival boxes. Nothing fancy, just filed in collection number order. One box may contain many collections; each collection of negatives in such a box should be in its own labeled archival folder.
  5. If the negatives in a collection have not yet been arranged sequentially, arrange them in the following order:
    • all nitrate negatives together, grouped by size. It is especially important to isolate nitrate from other types of negatives - preferably in a separate building.
    • all glass plate negatives together, grouped by size.
    • all other types of negatives together, grouped by size.
    • all similar images of the same negative type together; generally, we place duplicate images in the same envelope. An envelope could hold any number of negatives, if the identifying information is the same for all of them.
  6. After the negatives in a collection have been printed and their envelopes have been cross referenced with the new prints, we pull all of the nitrate negatives of that collection and store them (by collection number) in a cabinet, apart from the other types of negatives.

Description of matching negatives and prints:

  1. Please remember to wear cotton gloves when handling photos, and to use pencil only. Also, you may find it helpful to use a light box for examining the negatives.
  2. Write at least this information on the upper left of each negative envelope, preferably in this order:
    • negative envelope number.
    • descriptive title of envelope contents.
    • size (height x width, in inches) and type (i.e. glass plate, safety, or nitrate) of negative[s].
    • number of negatives in envelope.
    • designate: "(have print)" or "(no print)".
    • note which negatives are to be printed (if not all).
  3. Once the print has been made, write its call number on the upper right of the negative envelope.
  4. If the negative envelopes have not already been numbered, then assign envelope numbers, starting with number 1 for the first envelope in each collection.
  5. There is no need to re-number the negative envelopes if they already are numbered sequentially.
  6. Cross reference matching prints and negatives in the upper right corner:

    (Print: P 0 + on back (Neg: ___ negative 170 of each 170 envelopes: Box 1 print:#26) Env. 3)
  7. NOTE: prints and negatives always have the same collection number, but negatives are numbered strictly sequentially, while prints are numbered by box and envelope #.

Store Materials in Proper Archival Enclosures     back to top
It is important to choose proper storage enclosures for the different types of archival materials. Catalogs of major archival suppliers including Conservation Resources (cutting edge technology), Gaylord Brothers (competitive prices, excellent pathfinders, and helpful guides), Light Impressions (fine photo supplies, etc.), Metal Edge (superb customer service and quality products), and University Products contain helpful suggestions and specifications. For great prices on photo enclosures in quantity, contact Transparent Office Products LLC (successor to Franklin Distributors) at 856-488-5455 ( ). They're all on the Web--check them out. For superb quality, great prices and exemplary integrity on customized powder-coat painted steel cabinets and map cases of all sizes, contact Delta Designs, Ltd. (Bruce Danielson, President) at 800-256-7426 (1535 NW 25th St., Topeka, KS 66618).

For manuscripts, we use acid-free, minimum 3% alkaline buffered, lignin- and reducible sulphur-free folders, envelopes and boxes composed of fully bleached paper manufactured from alpha cellulose pulp. The pH of this paper should be between 8.5 and 10.2.

Most photo conservators today question the wisdom of placing most types of photographs in direct contact with buffered materials. ONLY nitrate-based photographs, early safety film negatives, brittle prints and prints on brittle acidic mounts, and photos housed in uncontrolled/polluted atmospheres containing acidic gases should be housed in buffered paper enclosures. All other types of photographic materials, most especially including color images, cyanotypes and albumen prints, should be placed in nonbuffered envelopes. Generally speaking, then, acid-free, unbuffered, pH-neutral lignin- and sulphur-free papers and boards should be used for archival photographic storage. When housing photographs it is preferable to use an unbuffered product rather than a buffered one, except where acidity is known to be present as an active contributing element.

We use the same size folder or envelope in any given box. Thus, when beginning to place a collection of materials in folders or envelopes it is important to choose the smallest enclosure that will hold the largest item in the box that will house that collection. As a rule of thumb, we limit the number of items in one folder to 20 items. The greater the value of the item[s], the fewer the number of items per folder or envelope. Thus, many photograph envelopes will only contain 1 to 5 items. Similarly, we isolate items that need more careful storage because they are deteriorating or because (like newspapers or nitrate negatives) they are endangering the longevity of other materials.

Label the Folders/Envelopes    back to top
Folders and envelopes should be labeled on the top margin as follows. Note that we place all essential information on the top margin, so that it can be read most easily.

LEFT: collection name       MIDDLE: folder title (3 parts)       RIGHT: call number

Generally, the FOLDER TITLE is composed of three parts:

  1. The name of the person or institution predominantly associated with, or responsible for, the materials in that folder.
  2. The type of materials included.
  3. The date or inclusive dates during which the materials were created. In most cases, this will be a year or span of years. If it is more than that, write the date in this order: year month day (e.g. 1892 Nov. 12).

Our goal in assigning folder titles is to provide a capsule description of the contents. For example, rather than simply using the word "collection" in every collection title, we should employ the most informative, meaningful words. If the contents all belong to the same genre, use that genre term instead of the "collection." We use the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus and the Library of Congress Descriptive Terms for Graphic Materials to describe photographs and other graphic materials.

Definitions of Frequently Used or Misunderstood Terms for Manuscript and Photograph Materials    back to top
Please see the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology for a comprehensive list of archival terminology.

Following are definitions of some of the more frequently used or misunderstood terms for manuscript and photograph materials:

  • Snapshots. Photographs that appear to have been produced quickly by amateurs to serve as a remembrance of people, places or events.

How we Form Call Numbers for our Special Collections    back to top
The CALL NUMBER is comprised of the following elements:


  1. The letter designating the type of collection (M= manuscripts, P= photos, etc.).
  2. The collection # (always three digits).

In addition, when conducting research, the following information is important for locating records:



  1. The box # or drawer #.
  2. The folder # or the envelope #.
  3. The record group # or series #.


Label the Boxes    back to top
Use acid-free acrylic-based self-adhesive removable labels, size 4" x 1.5". Box labels for manuscripts should follow this format:

  • Collection # and name
  • Record group # and name
  • Series # and name
  • Further description of contents, such as date range

Complete Activities Checklist    back to top
Click here for a Processing Checklist of activities that may be involved in arranging and describing a collection.


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