Church Archives: Arrangement and DescriptionBill Sumners
The process of arranging and adequately describing the materials in a church archives is done to make these items readily accessible for use. The procedures for this function can be simple or sophisticated depending upon staff time, potential use and the nature of the collection. Those church archives whose material will have only in-house use by staff or a limited few might adopt more streamlined steps in arrangement and description. Those churches who will serve outside researchers and church members will need more detailed finding aids.
An accession sheet can be developed to show title, date of receipt, donor information, size, general description and location if necessary. The accession sheets can be filed in loose-leaf binders for easy access. If the church archives is small, these accession sheets can serve as the principal finding aid to the holdings. If you have a sizable backlog of unprocessed material and you use a card catalog in your finding aid system, you should type a temporary card (title of collection) and place it in the catalog. This serves as another measure of control for the holdings of the church archives.
Establish a folder to hold material related to the collection such as a copy of the accession sheet, any gift agreement, notes about the collection and a final copy of the inventory.
For some records the process of accessioning may be the only major
cataloging step. If a card catalog is used, adequate cards need
to be developed. An example catalog card is listed below:
85-6 Woman's Missionary Union. Scrapbooks. 1942-1980. 5 volumes. Scrapbooks of the Woman's Missionary Union of the First Baptist Church, Vincent, Alabama. Scrapbooks include clippings, photographs, programs, and reports. Includes material about Lindsay Kirkland who served as president of the WMU from 1945-1961 Inventory available in church archives. 1. Kirkland, Lindsay. 2. Lottie Moon Christmas offering. 3. Garrett, Benjamin, donor.
Reviewing the material
Some collections will contain oversized material, audio tapes, photographs, films, books, periodicals and artifacts. Usually books and periodicals can be removed from the collection and added to the church library. If the archives has a separate photograph collection, the prints and negatives might be removed and placed in the photograph collection. Items should be removed from the collection only if they have distinct research value separate from the collection. Oversized material and three-dimensional artifacts will need to be separated for storage reasons. Be sure to maintain adequate documentation on each removal. A separation sheet describing the item removed and its location and disposition needs to be completed and filed in the collection file. A copy of the separation sheet should accompany the removed item or the accession number needs to be penciled onto the item.
All church records are not created equal. Housekeeping records such as utility bills, invoices and check stubs need to be retained only for a limited time period and then destroyed. The archival records are those materials that illustrate and document the actions, decisions, policies, programs and statements of the church.
The historical sketch should provide a good overview in either outline or narrative form of the principal events in the history of the person or organization. For example, the historical sketch on a collection of WMU scrapbooks should give data on the formation of the union, its leaders, significant events and activities and the purposes of the organization.
The scope and content note discusses, in narrative form, the extent and depth of the strengths, weaknesses and gaps in the collection. It mentions the types of material, dates, important divisions, significant correspondents and subjects in the files and the arrangement of the material.
The container listing is a detailed table of contents since it provides specific information on the filing order of the contents of the collection. This list usually can be made from the container (file folder labels).
The next sequence would be to update the information on the accession sheet and type the entire inventory and appropriate catalog cards. Box and folder labels need to be typed if possible. It is always a good idea to make an extra copy of the inventory, filing one with the collection and one in the collection file.
Your unique situation
Comments and Questions