Extensible Processing for Archives and Special Collections: Reducing Processing Backlogs

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A 2010 OCLC report found that an internet-accessible finding aid existed for only 44 percent of archival collections. Undescribed collections are essentially hidden from users, and much of the blame can be assigned to the strain of processing backlogs. Extensible processing offers an alternative, allowing collection managers to first establish a baseline level of access to all holdings, then conduct additional processing based on user demand and ongoing assessment. Adhering to archival principles and standards, this flexible approach emphasizes decision-making and prioritization. Santamaria, a recipient of the Society of American Archivists' 2013 Coker Award for innovative developments in archival description, has overseen the processing of thousands of linear feet of organizational records and personal papers. Showing how technical services staff can reassert control of collections while improving user experience, this invaluable resource

  • Lays out the six key principles of extensible processing, from creating a baseline level of access to all collections material and crafting standardized, structured descriptions to managing archival materials in the aggregate;
  • Provides a start-to-finish workflow adaptable to any collection, with practical tips such as using collection assessment surveys to reduce backlog;
  • Advises how to limit physical handling and processing through a holistic approach;
  • Explains the use of Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) and Encoded Archival Description (EAD);
  • Covers recent developments in the digitization of archives, including alternative strategies like low-resolution scanning and repurposing existing metadata; and
  • Presents several case studies, ranging from a one person shop to large universities, that include examples of processes, systems, software, and metadata. 

Archivists and special collections librarians will find in this book the tools, confidence, and freedom to improve user experience through extensible processing.

Acknowledgments Preface  Chapter 1: The Backlog Problem and Archival Processing Chapter 2: Beyond MPLP: Principles of Extensible Processing Chapter 3: General Processing Workflow: Working With Collections Chapter 4: Attacking Your Backlog: Using Collections Assessment Surveys as Part of a Backlog Reduction Project Chapter 5: Expanding Accessioning and Working with New Collections Chapter 6: Descriptive Standards and Facilitating Access to Description Chapter 7: Digitization and Facilitating Access to Content Chapter 8: Supervision, Management, and Planning Chapter 9: "But What About…": Answering Frequent Questions and Concerns about Extensible Processing  Conclusion  Appendices

A: Case Studies 1 and 2: Institutional Backlog Reduction Projects B: Case Studies 3 and 4: Individual Collections with Privacy Concerns C: Case Studies 5 and 6: Accessioning and Digitization in the Context of an Extensible Processing Progra D: Case Studies 7 and 8: Consortial Survey and Assessment Projects E: Finding Aid Examples F: Processing Work Plan Examples and Template G: Deed of Gift Example H: Take Down Policy Example I: Related Conference Presentations and Papers


Daniel A. Santamaria

Daniel A. Santamaria is director of digital collections and archives at Tufts University. He previously served as head of technical services at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University from 2005 to 2014. At Princeton he led projects related to digitization, description, and discovery that have received national recognition, including the Society of American Archivists' 2013 Coker Award for innovative developments in archival description. He previously worked at the New York Public Library and both the Special Collections Library and the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. He holds an MSI from the University of Michigan's School of Information and a BA in History from Wesleyan University. He is the author of Designing Descriptive and Access Systems, a module within the Society of American Archivists' Trends in Archival Practice series. He also developed and teaches SAA's “Implementing More Product, Less Process” workshop and teaches advanced archival description in the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information.

"Every case study, example, and chart is illustrative and straight-forwardly helpful. It might sound dry, I know. And yet, for all of its deeply logical arguments and eminently accessible ideas about instituting procedural changes, Dan Santamaria's text is also firmly rooted in a kind of archival idealism that could reinvigorate many of us in the field who feel hampered by traditional methods and intimidated by resistant attitudes. There's a sense of hope. And that matters."
— The American Archivist

"This book makes an important intervention in the archival literature. Santamaria provides reasoned, step-by-step advice toward building a program where patrons are better served, donors' expectations are met, and staff aren't constantly trying to climb out from a hole of tasks yet to be performed with no relief in sight."
Chaos —> Order

"An excellent resource for archivists and archives administrators who are interested in improving processes and eliminating backlogs."
— Catholic Library World

"Provides a useful approach for re-examining backlogs and the processing of material for collections and repositories. Anyone undertaking a digitization program, having issues with backlogs or with an interest in the area would find the book a worthwhile resource."
— Australian Library Journal

"What is innovative here, in terms of MPLP, is Santamaria's codification of a very detailed processing program and his overwhelming emphasis of the extensibility and iterative nature of his program: while Greene and Meissner illuminated the problem of backlogs and offered the solution of MPLP, Santamaria offers a more systematic, yet flexible, approach to that solution … Santamaria has produced a cogent archival processing plan that some will find most welcome."
— Technical Services Quarterly

"While focused on the processing of paper-based archives, Santamaria acknowledges the growing need to process born digital materials. He convincingly argues that extensible processing can and should be applied to materials in any format … For those who still have doubts about MPLP, it provides a persuasive argument in favor of increasing access to a broader array of materials, and offers practical solutions for even the smallest of repositories."
— Technicalities

"The book has immediate currency as it cuts through the mire of issues related to the backlog problem at institutions large and small and across diverse collections … In addition to Santamaria's comprehensive discussion and principled approach, a key strength of the book is its marriage of methodology and strategy with a position of neutrality on technical infrastructure. This makes the resource relevant, accessible, and useful for a broad range of institutional types and needs and may help ease the concerns of smaller institutions and those beginning processing programs or addressing backlogs."
— Journal for the Society of North Carolina Archivists