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Processing and Description: Accessioning

Guide for UB Special Collections covering accessions, processing, description, and care of collection material.
Last Updated: Jun 5, 2023 11:19 AM


Front-line processing

Discovery and exposure should be maximized with the least effort and resources possible. 

Description begins BEFORE a collection is processed.  Data is gathered during appraisal and accessioning (i.e. “front-line processing”), commencing during discussions with the donor.  This data populates the accession record and is re-used in the creation of the finding aid. 

Effective front-line processing eliminates adding to the backlog, allows the Archivist/Curator to set processing priorities and staffing levels, and allows for efficient stacks maintenance. 


  • Maximize appraisal:
    • Collection survey will be conducted on site, and every attempt will be made to avoid transfer of books, voluminous duplicates, or other unwanted material.  This will reduce strain on storage shortages
    • Assess preservation, housing concerns (identify storage conditions prior to donation), and born digital materials
    • Identify collection organization and create box inventories
    • Subject areas and date spans defined
    • Staff and resources required to make the collection accessible identified
    • Identify restricted material
    • Record potential for digitization, exhibits, and publications
  • Archivist/Curator notes and/or donor email correspondence detailing the collection will be included in the accession file
  • Engage donor to contribute description
  • Every effort will be made to make a collection accessible, even if not “processed”


  • Creation and publication of a collection-level finding aid (include existing box inventories from initial appraisal and survey), spawned from the accession record, with clear, contextual notes, using minimum DACs standards:
DACs ArchivesSpace Field
Title of collection Title
Dates of collection Dates
Extent of collection Extent
Creator(s) of collection Agent(s)
   Abbreviated scope and content Notes --> Abstract
Access conditions Access Restriction
Biographical history of person(s) or corporate body(ies) Notes --> Biographical Note
Scope and Content description of collection Notes --> Scope and Contents
Access points – Unit specific required subject headings,  plus names, places, subjects, types of material – anything that increases the chance that the researcher who needs it will find it Subjects
  • Processing priorities:
    • Less than 4 hours to process, do it! 
    • No further processing needed
    • High, medium, or low priority
    • Professional staff or student processor
  • Discoverability through exhibits, digital collections, and publications (UBLT, broadsides, postcards/greeting cards, social media, UBNOW, At Buffalo, etc.)


Before physical transfer

The Archivist/Curator must engage the donor to provide descriptive information vital to the successful exposure of the collection.  This includes but is not limited to:

  • Identification and descriptions of materials (item-level or aggregate)
  • Provide dates and included formats
  • Identify material that has restriction potential
  • Provide context for the collection (item-level and/or aggregate)
  • Include an inventory/box list of collection materials.

Institutional Records

The policies for Philosophy and Goals and Donor Contributions apply to institutional records.  Departments, Offices, and Units must contribute resources to transfers of material.

  • Archivist should complete appraisal on site
  • Archival cartons may be provided; folders/materials must be labeled or identified
  • Units must fill out Transfer xls box list
  • Units must declare and label restricted records
  • No non-permanent or active records will be accepted; these must remain in the office of origin (according to university records retention policy)
  • If necessary, engage the UB records manager to guide departments on permanent vs. non-permanent, active vs. inactive records, and applying the SUNY retention schedule.


If accruals are expected for a collection, include it in the Accruals Note in ArchivesSpace.

Additions to an Unprocessed Collection

Handle in the same manner as a single accession collection, creating a link between the multiple accessions.  Note the multiple accessions in the Acquisition Note.  Create a finding aid for the collection to the appropriate level.

Additions to a Processed Collection

Consider the path of least resistance to make the new material accessible.  Remember the difference between intellectual arrangement and physical location.

  • Create a new series for the additions (consider using the accession number as the series title), and include accrual information in the scope and content note (most collections)
  • Work in the accrual(s) to the existing arrangement (rarely done)

Store accruals at the end of the collection, avoiding time intensive re-housing of the existing collection.


Collection statements should be written at the time of accession.  The statement should relate how the incoming accession relates to the greater collection development policy, how it addresses collection gaps or new collecting areas, etc.

Consider adding the collection statement, in whole or in part, to the collection resource record as an additional Scope and Content Note (label = Collection Statement).

Accession Checklist

  1. Archivist/Curator correspondence with donor
  2. Deed or transfer forms
  3. Online permission form
  4. Accession sheet (UA only)
  5. Digital Media Inventory
  6. Collection and Finding Aids Inventory XLS (UA only)
  7. ArchivesSpace accession record
  8. Collection database
  9. File accession paperwork