Dennis Meissner spoke first, presenting the findings of his research with Mark Greene on streamlining archival processing. The recap was then followed by two additional presentations, one by Helena Zinkham from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, and the other by Tom Hyry, head of the Manuscript Unit at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Zinkham impressed me with her practical approach to handling the overwhelming amount of rare and fragile materials in her care. She outlined the Division's approach to processing collections, which is done to one of three levels: baseline, standard, and premium. The processing level chosen for a given collection reflects the materials' "fitness for purpose"--determined through a cost-benefit analysis of use, value, and viability (meaning condition, but also legal status and amount of resources required/available for processing). The rankings are simple: 1 is low, 2 is medium, and 3 is high. Collections with scores of 8 or 9 get premium processing; collections with 3s and 4s get baseline processing. Her parting advice included three recommendations:
- Accession with care. It may be the only time you touch that collection.
- Prioritize using criteria, not subjective judgments.
- Insist on good storage conditions. The best thing you can do for any materials is to keep them cool and dry; even with minimal processing, they'll last a long time.