NYU Preservation Survey

At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I wanted to cross-post a blog entry from The Back Table (NYU’s archives & special collections blog) – A Survey in the Making: Archives and Preservation.

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.


About rileydrj

Third generation Brooklynite received a B.A. in International Relations & History (American University, 1994) and an M.A. in Near Eastern Studies (NYU, 1997). Currently pursuing an M.A. in Archives Management (NYU, TBD).  Employed since 1996 in a research office-specialized library-archives at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and since September 2010 in the Department of Preservation & Conservation at NYU’s Bobst Library.   Also spent 2001-2004 working part-time in the Luce Center for the Study of American Culture at the New-York Historical Society.  Personal research interests include post-WWII New York, especially the late 1940s-1960s, urban development and architecture.  Licensed as a New York City tour guide, avid kayaker and amateur photographer.
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2 Responses to NYU Preservation Survey

  1. Jennifer Waxman says:

    Great questions, Dennis. I’m glad you are getting a lot out of the project, beyond the data entry part. And thanks for the shameless cross-reference to The Back Table!

  2. Great post. And I’m glad it was cross-posted because I didn’t know about The Back Table. Love it!

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