Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Finding Aid Clean-Up: Box Numbers

As we proceed with our AT development we are spending considerable time cleaning up and standardizing our finding aids. Aside from the work I've mentioned previously to create consistent dates, extent statements and subjects, the main focus of our latest efforts is the standardization of container information (i.e. box numbers). The reason for all this work is to allow us to programmatically hook our location information (e.g. box type, barcode, vault, shelf, etc.) to our finding aids in the AT, the key to which it turns out is the box number.

Like many repositories, our arrangement and descriptive practices have waxed and waned over the years. Although our collection numbers and accession numbers have more or less been consistently applied, our box numbers have not, particularly with used in connection with our practice of housing small quantities of odd-sized materials in common containers. Formerly, we housed such items, especially folio or slides in what we called common folio or common slide boxes (i.e. containers housing materials from multiple collections in a single or communal box), assigning a box number for the common folio/box and a folder number for the individual folder. Aside from the clear practical issues involved in administering such common containers, we've run into problems as we try to tie the box numbers we've assigned these items in our locator database to our finding aid data in the AT. More specifically, as our descriptive practice has varied over the years, the assignment of box numbers and box number extensions (e.g. an alphanumeric character used to indicate a use copy or duplicating master of a particular item) for these items has been inconsistent, unfortunately differing a great deal from box/container info in our EAD. For example, what appears in the finding aid (i.e. ) as "MS Common Folio 10" is entered in our locator database with Box '1' and BoxNumberExtension 'CF1F10'. As a result, we've had to manually edit data both in our location database and in our finding aids/AT for all these items.

This is a short-term solution. These items really need to be rehoused and all such common containers need to be done away with, not only due to the issues at hand, but also to facilitate say the creation of future use copies of these materials.