I'm Susan Hoffman, the Project Archivist for the Harvesting Minnesota's Agricultural collections. Prior to beginning this project, I was the project archivist for University Archive's Green Revolution project. That project began in the fall of 2007, and was my introduction to issues, practices and politics at the intersection of agriculture, research, international development, business and education. It was also the first time I had been responsible for processing a subject-oriented collection comprised of multiple smaller personal and organizational collections. Each collection was fully--as opposed to minimally--processed. I spent many hours describing and organizing a vast swath of materials--field notebooks, photographs, correspondence, reports-- generated by three generations of men and women involved in crop breeding research leading up to the Green Revolution. I had excellent supervision from Karen Spilman, but I worked solo on the collections, making decisions about arrangement and description based on having my hand and eye on most every document in each of over one hundred and twenty odd record cartons that came to me incrementally as part of the Green Revolution collection.
With this new project, the processing requirements and conditions have swung 180 degrees. Instead of working by myself, I now work with a cadre of six student processors and Val MacDonald, the project assistant, an experienced processor and savvy computer user. We have a massive amount of material to process, over 1760 cubic feet in storage. The fraction we work on each week take up most of the third floor processing room in Andersen Library. The collections run the gamut from very small--single folders in the case of now-extinct School of Agricultural --to over 300 record cartons (Beekeeping in the department of Entomology and Economic Zoology.) We process several collections simultaneously, meaning that we have collections in all phases of processing--surveying, physical processing, box listing-- going on at any given moment. Perhaps most importantly, our task is to work minimally with the materials. That involves learning what types of materials are in departmental and personal collections, what needs to stay in the collection, what can be discarded, and how to describe and organize what remains. None of us gets to touch every document, define a folder's exact content, or re-arrange materials to create both intellectual and physical connections.
I had some experience with minimal processing several years ago during an Archives and Special Collections processing project, as did Val. In our future posts, we'll talk about how that experience informed our current work, as well as other issues related to managing a large minimal processing project. We'll talk about student training, weekly planning, resources, dealing with mistakes, and what we are learning as we go.