Adventures in Processing: the Montana Mine

15 Mar
Close-up of some hardware holding together an inventory ledger from the Montana Mine Collection.

Close-up of some hardware holding together an inventory ledger from the Montana Mine Collection.

You may remember from my last post on visiting Ruby Arizona that I am currently working on processing the records from the Eagle-Picher Mining Company’s Montana Mine in Ruby. For those of you out there who don’t have a background in archives, when an archivist says they’re processing a collection, it means that they are working with a collection (of papers or photos, etc.) to make it accessible to the public. This is when archivists create finding aids (guides to each individual collection) that tell users what materials are in the collection, how big it is, its origin, and other information useful to researchers. This is also when archivists try their hardest to make it easier for the researcher (that’s you!) to find the things in the collection that you want. A finding aid is only one way that we do this. We also try to put the collection in an order that makes sense, following the original order maintained by the creator of the collection as much as possible.

Processing also includes putting documents into acid-free boxes and folders. This insures that any decay of acidic materials is slowed. This helps to preserve them for a longer period of time. For photographs and negatives, archivists will place them in protective Mylar sleeves to decrease the chances of smudging or ripping the photographs as they are handled, preventing their deterioration from oils and dirt that travel on people’s hands as well as any wrong moves that might result in compromising the stability of the photo. Archivists also tend to remove all hardware from a collection as they process. When an archivist talks about hardware, they’re referring to anything that is used to hold documents together that is also not preservation-friendly. Staples and metal paper clips rust (a chemical reaction which can have an effect on documents and photos) and can contribute to ripping of documents. Rubber bands are not archival either, as they very easily dry up and crumble away. Any kind of adhesive, be it glue, tape, or duct tape is also not archival and can often damage materials permanently. For instance, a book binding “fixed” with duct tape will never be the same again, and will take some serious chemical work in the hands of an actual conservator to correct the damage even a little. Check out what the National Archives says about fastened documents. In the archives, often this hardware is just removed and the papers are allowed to be free in their folder, but sometimes metal can be replaced by plastic paper clips. 

An example of what rust can do to documents from the Montana Mine Collection. The left document is secured with a paperclip. The right document used to be secured with a paperclip before it was switched to a push pin which is so rusted that you can barely tell it's still there!

An example of what rust can do to documents from the Montana Mine Collection. The left document is secured with a paperclip. The right document used to be secured with a paperclip before it was switched to a push pin which is so rusted that you can barely tell it’s still there!

I have seen some really interesting hardware in my time as an archivist. From push pins used as staples, to metal page fasteners (that I actually don’t know the name of!), to nuts and bolts, I have seen a lot of different, creative ways to attach one piece of paper to another. Check out the Louisiana Binding Service Inc.’s  webpage on “What Goes Wrong with Records” to see actual pictures of damage caused by some of the things I’ve talked about (and more!). One of my favorite examples on that page (briefly) mentions that archivists have learned through time what methods and practices do and do not work. Sometimes, practices that were standards years ago have been proved problematic as times goes on, or have been innovated over the years. As technology advances and science becomes more complex, we have unique opportunities to utilize new knowledge and apply it to our practice to insure even better protection for documents in the future. There is often a lot of research value just in how papers may have been organized by their creator, so archivists are pretty serious about keeping to this original order and maintaining it. Processing consists of these kinds of decisions, and a lot more. These are things archivists determine on a case by case basis. This is also why archivists need special training to do their work. A wrong move can be a gap in history. We have to know what we’re doing and we always have to be looking for a better way to do everything.

When you think about all the choices that archivists have to make every day, it makes a lot of sense that the degree for being an archivist is information resources and library science (names of the degree differ from school to school). Archivists have to take many different approaches to collections and a scientific approach, weighing all the factors, forming hypotheses, etc. definitely makes an appearance. On any given day here at the Arizona Historical Society we are scientists, researchers, customer service representatives, laborers, national and international ambassadors, historians, teachers, anthropologists, statisticians, and many other things! Whew! No wonder we go home so happy and so tired!

 

Close-up of an invoice book for the Montana Mine Collection held together by nuts and bolts. Front of the book.

Close-up of an invoice book for the Montana Mine Collection held together by nuts and bolts. Front of the book.

 

Close-up of the back of the same book from above. Note the difference in paper color. A certain amount of deterioration has already occurred.

Close-up of the back of the same book from above. Note the difference in paper color. A certain amount of deterioration has already occurred.

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