An Introduction to Archives for Historians and Librarians

Current faculty: Daniel Lewis

(alternative title: “What’s Past is Prologue”: An Introduction to Archives for Historians and Librarians in 2012)

Description: This course will introduce students to archival theory and practice, covering a variety of issues and principles related to professional work with archives, records, and special collections. Designed to both aid the historian undertaking archival research as well as to educate librarians about the sometimes-arcane nature of archival work, the class will introduce students to fundamental archival practices and methods, including description and arrangement, cataloging, preservation and security issues, digital records, donor relations, and issues related to privacy and confidentiality.

We will also cover, in considerable detail, strategies to resolve a major issue in archival work: how to manage what is, in some institutions, an enormous backlog of unprocessed material. In an era of smaller staffs and the relatively large size of modern collections, managing the sheer volume of an institution’s holdings and preparing them for research use can be a daunting task. We will examine a strategy known as MPLP (“More Progress, Less Process”) put forth by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner, to manage backlog, which will serve as a springboard from which to understand and approach “backlog-busting” strategies. This topic has a direct bearing on both the work of scholars (who often need access to materials not yet processed) and libraries (who are impacted by budgetary, space and logistical issues related to unprocessed backlog).

We will also do some study of auctions and the role of auctions for collection development work. Participants will visit select archives in the Los Angeles area, including the Huntington Library and UCLA Special Collections, and will hear from leading archivists and curators who work with documentary heritage materials.

Reading List: We will use four texts: Gregory S. Hunter’s Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives, Frank Boles’ Selecting and Appraising Archives and Manuscripts, the Society of American Archivists’ Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), and Richard Pearce-Moses’ A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology. We will also read a number of journal articles.

Requirements: No previous experience necessary.

Years taught: 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018