The blog post presents an overview of an on-going condition survey (aka preservation needs assessment) as a major step in developing an archives preservation plan for the three collecting repositories at NYU— Fales, Tamiment and the University Archives.
Although I only have been working on the survey since September, I have found it an incredibly rewarding experience. At a very basic level, it is a data-entry project which brings with it all the excitement and thrills of being hunched over a box or laptop and entering thousands of data points into a database.
The rewards of data entry aside, what attracted me to the project initially was the opportunity to learn about preservation issues, something which I had no background in prior to beginning work on the survey. From slumping folders, to color shifting slides to the less common (thankfully) presence of mold, I have gotten a basic, yet fairly broad introduction to the complex issues repositories face when it comes to the long term preservation of a wide variety of materials.
One benefit that I did not expect was the excellent overview I get of how materials are processed, arranged and described. I find myself evaluating each collection with the rhetorical question: What would I do differently?
Other questions I find myself asking include:
Are the on-line finding aids user-friendly?
How much valuable shelf space is occupied by half-empty or inappropriately sized boxes?
Are collections over processed, especially when folders only contain one item?
How does the arrangement scheme for a collection impact its accessibility/usability?
Granted, my time with each collection is cursory at best, since my role is to get a macro sense of what the preservation issues are that affect a particular collection. I do not mean to critique the work of others, as I trust that the individuals who processed the collections took the time and care to do a good job and have their well-reasoned justifications for the processing and description decisions they made. But by examining the work of others, I have found it invaluable in critiquing my own ideas and habits in terms of processing collections with an eye towards my future work.