The Taming of the Schuh...


The G.E. Schuh papers started out as five separate accessions University Archives accumulated between 2000 and 2009. The five accessions combined totaled 171 cubic feet, a large amount of material by project standards. Three of the accessions had box lists at various levels of comprehensiveness, from folder level details to broad - two or three word-- subject descriptions. One of the larger accessions--47 record cartons--had no box list at all. Each of the accessions contained one or more processing "opportunities": duplicate copies of talks and presentations, out of scope materials, unfoldered and undated materials, mildewed papers. In addition, several accessions contained duplicates of the same talks and presentations. Dr. Schuh was a popular speaker who regularly repurposed talks over time for new audiences. All of the accretions were going to be merged into a single collection, and we are processing all of our collections minimally. This meant reducing surveying time as well as processing time. Chances for having big pockets of duplicate materials lodged in the final merged collection loomed large.

At the same time that we were sizing up the accession contents, we had other situations to address. Processing began on the heels of hiring our student workers. None had processing experience before working on Harvesting Minnesota. We had limited time to train them on processing procedures before assigning them to work on the different Schuh accessions. We had to put them directly to work. The project supervisors, while not new to processing, were new to minimal processing, so trying to determine what to retain for the final merged collection and what to recycle required surveying time that we didn't have.

To buy a bit of time, we put students into different accessions and had them weed out- of-scope materials. Dr. Schuh was an exceptional saver of reports and print materials from the large numbers of organizations and associations he participated in. We had students weed these from each collection first. This gave us the chance to focus on helping students identify out of scope material, until they could distinguish what was Schuh's and what was of interest to him but that he did not create. What that meant was that we actually ended up going through each accession twice: once to remove what was out of scope, and a second time to remove duplicates within and among accessions and to folder, date and enhance folder titles. An added challenge was that we had different students working on different sections of five collections every shift. Keeping track of what had been done by each student entailed using post-it notes on record cartons with check boxes for stages of physical processing and box-listing, and space for student's initials and dates.

The two project supervisors stayed ahead--mostly--of the students by surveying for duplicates across the five accessions. For box- listed accessions, we looked at the lists to get an idea of where runs of the shape-shifting talks and presentations were located and pulled duplicate runs to the best of our ability.

After physically processing the accessions for five weeks (50.5 student hours per week and 13.5 staff hours surveying and processing for a total 342.5 hours ) we had each accession processed and box listed. We merged all of the box lists and assigned series essentially based on date. Specific date ranges represented Schuh's long-term affiliations with Purdue University, the University of Minnesota's Applied Economics Department and Humphrey Institute, and the World Bank. Once the box list folder titles could be compared, we had a fighting chance of identifying duplicates and removing them. Onel notable downside to this work arrangement is that we had to change box lists after removing duplicates, essentially undoing some of what we had spent time doing. We can't account for how much time we ate up this way, but without more intensive surveying time at the front end of processing, there was no other way to tackle identifying and weeding duplicates.

Efficiencies learned on the Schuh papers we have put to good use. We now have detailed checklists for all current accessions. We can consult these to ask follow-up questions about who processed what and get information about the range of time it took to get through a collection. Best of all, we were able, through intensive weeding to reduce the overall collection size from 171 cubic feet to 52 cubic feet.
It was a challenging way to cut our processing teeth. We had to invent record-keeping methods as we needed them and coach ourselves on how to be true to bedrock minimal processing standards while shaping an unwieldy group of accessions into a collection. The end--in this case a considerable reduction in collection size -- justified the means.
And we got some good one-liners out of the experience. Consider "On with the Schuh", "If the Schuh fits, put it on the shelf" and references to "Schuh boxes", "Schuh sizes" and "Schuh-ins."

We have larger and possibly more complicated collections lying ahead for processing. We'll attempt to improve on our experiences with the Schuh papers: for now we are pleased to put collection 1189 on the shelf.

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