Processing for Archives

Margot Note

Margot Note

August 21, 2023

Archives play a vital role in preserving collective memory and cultural heritage. 

Archives rely on collection management policies together with well-defined processing and access procedures to effectively manage their collections and provide access to researchers and the public. 

Guiding Frameworks

Collection management policies are guiding frameworks that outline the principles, goals, and strategies for acquiring, organizing, preserving, and providing access to materials within an archives’ holdings. These policies are essential for maintaining the integrity of the collections. They help archivists make informed decisions about what materials to collect, how to prioritize acquisitions, and how to ensure that the collections align with the archives’ mission and scope.

A collection management policy provides guidelines for appraisal and selection. Archivists must evaluate potential acquisitions’ historical significance, authenticity, and research value to ensure the collections remain meaningful. The policy also addresses deaccessioning materials from the archives’ holdings, ensuring the process is ethical and transparent.

Processing and access procedures are equally important in the archival realm. Processing involves arranging, describing, and cataloging materials to facilitate discovery and retrieval. A well-defined processing workflow ensures that archivists organize materials systematically, assign appropriate metadata to them, and store them in a manner that promotes long-term preservation. By establishing consistent processing standards, archives can enhance the discoverability and accessibility of their collections.

Access procedures, on the other hand, govern how researchers, scholars, and the public can access and utilize archival materials. These procedures address issues such as registration, permissions, and restrictions. Archives may require users to register and provide identification, which helps protect the integrity and security of the materials. Access procedures ensure compliance with legal and ethical considerations, such as privacy rights, copyright restrictions, and sensitive materials.

To provide efficient access to their collections, archives often create finding aids and inventories. These tools serve as roadmaps for researchers, guiding them to the relevant materials within the archive. Finding aids can take various forms, from traditional paper-based guides to online databases or digital repositories. These aids provide descriptions of archival collections, including summaries, box or folder lists, and keywords, enabling researchers to locate specific materials or navigate broader subject areas.

Impact of Technology

Technological advancements have significantly impacted archival processing and access procedures in recent years. Digital preservation and digitization initiatives have revolutionized how archival materials are stored, accessed, and shared. Digital repositories and online platforms provide broader access to collections, transcending geographical boundaries. However, archivists must carefully balance the advantages of digital access with the need to preserve the physical integrity of original materials and ensure their long-term sustainability.

Furthermore, archivists must consider issues of sensitivity and privacy when establishing access procedures. Certain materials may contain confidential or personal information that requires restricted access or redaction. Archives must implement appropriate measures to protect the privacy and rights of individuals in the collections, adhering to legal and ethical guidelines.


Archival collection management policies and processing and access procedures are vital for efficient archives operation. A well-crafted collection management policy ensures that archives acquire, preserve, and provide access to materials purposefully and responsibly. Processing and access procedures enhance the discoverability and usability of collections, enabling researchers and the public to engage with the materials effectively. As archives navigate the digital age, they must adapt their practices to incorporate technological advancements while preserving the core principles of preservation, access, and ethical stewardship. By continually evolving and refining these policies and procedures, archives can fulfill their mission of safeguarding our cultural heritage for future generations.

Aligning with the Archives’ Mission

A collection development policy significantly impacts the processing of archival collections. This policy serves as a clear framework and provides guidelines that directly shape the approach and management of archivists during the processing workflow. It assists in prioritizing collections, aiding archivists in allocating resources efficiently to ensure prompt processing of materials that hold greater significance and align with the archives’ mission. Moreover, the policy establishes consistent practices for arranging, describing, and preserving collections, enabling archivists to adhere to standardized procedures throughout the processing phase. Appraisal decisions are guided by the policy, allowing archivists to evaluate the value and relevance of materials within the context of the collection.

Furthermore, the policy addresses considerations of deaccessioning, ensuring the removal of materials that no longer align with the archives’ collecting goals. The policy may also include provisions for access, such as guidelines or restrictions for sensitive materials, influencing archivists in handling and processing collections to facilitate public access. Ultimately, a thoughtfully crafted collection development policy provides essential structure and direction, effectively guiding processing activities to ensure the efficient management and preservation of archival collections.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here.

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