October 2010 Archives

From the Green Revolution to Harvesting Minnesota

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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.

By the numbers

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Here's how our project breaks down by the numbers:

1750 cubic feet of archives and manuscript material
54 archival collections
12 months
2 full time project staff members
5 students, each working around 10 hours per week
600 Paige boxes purchased
5,000 archival folders purchased
3 OXygen software licenses
$132, 976 project budget ($112,807 grant to the University; $20,168 in kind match)
and a partridge in a pear tree!

Introduction

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Hello, I'm Valerie MacDonald. In May 2010 I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in Design. In August 2010 I started working as the Project Assistant for this processing project.

I started working in the archives during my semester long engagement with a minimal processing project the Elmer L. Andersen Library was undergoing, which is also where I first worked with Karen, our processing coordinator. Then from October 2008-July 2010 I worked as a Student Archivist for the Charles Babbage Institute, also held within the Andersen Library. During the 2008-2009 school-year I worked with an archivist processing a collection we received from the Association of Computing Machinery. During the summer of 2009 I interned with the Goldstein Museum of Design, where I primarily inventoried their textile collection.

The minimal processing project I started with gave me a good idea as to what 'minimal' means and how much investment might be expected in a project like this. While working with CBI I gained experience in a lot of different aspects of the archiving process, including working with EAD, box listing, physical processing, and helping the other students. Because of all of that, I came into this project knowing how the little details pan out, to some degree, in the Andersen library.

While I work on this year-long project I am simultaneously preparing myself for graduate school. I plan to attend graduate school to get a degree in public history, or something similar, the end result being a knowledge and focus in material culture and how it can be used and viewed to show lifestyles from past periods and cultures.

About the project blog

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We set up this blog with two basic goals in mind: to share news about the project and to document our progress as we work to get control over and provide access to 1750 cubic feet of unprocessed archival records. Our plan is to post regularly and to include images of our workspace, some before-and-after pictures of specific collections, and a few digitized items from the collections themselves. A few of us will be contributing to the blog -- Susan Hoffman (our project archivist) and Valerie MacDonald (our project assistant) along with the occasional entry from processing coordinator Karen Spilman and myself. We're excited and more than a little daunted but ready to get started.

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