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Processing and Description: Collection Situations

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


A good processing approach seeks to make all collections accessible and discoverable at least at the collection level. Often we do not know which collections will take on significant research or historical value. Finding aids can be enhanced and expanded based on need and use. As collections are used, researchers may be able to provide more contextual or biographical information, particularly for minimally processed collections. If a researcher is given access to a minimally processed collection, ask if they would be willing to share their notes or, if time permits, conduct an exit interview with them.

Minimally processed collections

In the finding aid for a minimally processed collection, indicate the following:

In Processing Information (Notes): This collection has been minimally processed. 

In Terms of Access, use: Privacy protected information (including but not limited to certain educational, medical, financial, criminal, attorney-client, and/or personnel records) may be revealed during use of archival collections, particularly in collections that are unprocessed or have been minimally processed.  Researchers agree to make no notes or other recordation of privacy protected information if found within the archival collections, and further agree not to publish, publicize, or disclose such information to any other party for any purpose if found within the archival collections.

When a minimally processed or unprocessed collection is given to a researcher, it is important to at least address the following:


We convey to researchers that there may be unidentified restricted material (and give examples, see above), asking them to bring it to our attention, but it is better to identify it first.

If restricted material is likely present in minimally processed or backlog collections, the entire collection (or a portion of it) may be restricted from use.  A full review for restricted material will be done upon user demand.

See also Redacting Documents in the University Archives

Describing multiple collections in one finding aid

Rarely, legacy or backlog collections may be described within one finding aid or resource record.  Each distinct collection is described in a series.  For examples, see the William R. Greiner collection, 4/13 and the John B. Simpson mementos and trips collection, 4/14.

Fragile material and preservation concerns

Some material may need to be stabilized or rehoused before use, including placing photographs in mylar sleeves. If material is very fragile, a staff member may need to sit with the researcher during use.

Unidentified high value items

If a collection is identified at accession as high value or containing particular high value items, it is important to notify staff in the reading room. In some cases, this material may be restricted from use until the collection is more fully processed and the items thoroughly documented.

If a researcher wishes to cite from a minimally processed or unprocessed collection where no box/folder information is available, ask that they provide some basic description, i.e. “unprocessed correspondence,” “unprocessed photographs of building site.”

A minimally processed collection should still be organized enough to be usable, but for an unprocessed collection, we may decide that its current state prevents it from being useful. When requesting an unprocessed collection, researchers should be aware that permission from archivist/curator and time required to assess the collection may prevent it from being immediately available. Advance notice of days or weeks may be necessary. A note in the accession record should document projected time required to minimally process a collection to prepare it for use.