The William H. Smith Memorial Library collects and preserves the history of Indiana including old letters, maps, and photographs so that they are available for future generations. In an earlier post I gave an overview of the IHS research library.
Creating and maintaining a healthy and accessible collection is hard work and a never-ending cycle! As we process existing collections new materials are always arriving. We have strict policies that determine what types of items we can purchase or accept as donations. This helps us effectively stick to our mission and ensure we have room to keep collecting long in the future.
When we do accept an item into our collection there are several steps that have to happen before the public can view it. Since we receive a wide variety of collections this process varies greatly depending on the subject matter, size, and condition. Some collections come already organized others have no rhyme or reason. Some contain only one letter while others consist of over 100 boxes of documents, folders, negatives and photographs.
Sometimes incoming collections have been kept in basements, attics or sheds (which means, bugs, animal droppings or mold sometimes tag along). These require immediate conservation attention. Our conservation team also cleans and stabilizes fragile items that are identified later in the process, such as ripped or crumbling paper. After getting a general health check, collection items are carefully organized and placed in archival safe folders, sleeves, and/or boxes. This process varies depending on the size and type of collection. For example, maps are stored much differently than books or letters.
Finally, the finishing touch is the creation of a collection guide. Collection guides are a researcher’s and librarian’s best friend. While a collection is being organized, the processor creates a meticulous inventory of the items including descriptions of the contents. Here is an example of a collection guide of Civil War letters. A collection guide helps anyone interested in viewing a collection pinpoint exactly what they want to see. After all this hard work “Before and Afters” of collections like these are really something to be proud of!