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A primer for archivists.

It is not uncommon for a librarian, records manager, public-relations coordinator, or administrator to find himself or herself assigned to create or maintain the institutional archives. It is also not uncommon that the first reactions of these newly designated archivists are that of shock, confusion, and even panic.

Many short monographs have been written with the intention of addressing suddenly assigned archival duties. However, none of these earlier works are as clearly organized, succinctly written, and carefully programmed to accomplish the difficult task of turning the novice into a proto-archivist or archivist-in-the-making as is the second edition of Organizing Archival Records: A Practical Method of Arrangement & Description for Small Archives.

Author David Carmicheal, director of the Georgia Division of Archives and History, draws on his long career working with state and local government records and their keepers, including 16 years as director of the Westchester County, New York, Records and Archives Center, to provide practical insight and experience. In fact, Organizing Archival Records grew out of workshops he began presenting in 1986 to untrained people assigned to become institution, organization, government, or corporate archivists.

The book possesses the features of an instructional resource with extensive field-testing, modified and refined to successfully teach a complex set of procedures in a limited timeframe. It is a superb guide to the most important, fundamental, and specialized part of the archivist and manuscript curator's profession--the arrangement and description of historical records. Among the features that make this work so useful are its casual pace, clear prose, informational sidebars, meaningful diagrams and photographs, and the multitude of examples that help guide the reader through many practical exercises. In addition to these exercises, Organizing Archival Records includes a CD-ROM that provides ready-to-use archival forms and an OAR Access[TM] database created for organizing archival materials according to the methods outlined in the book. It includes data input screens that support the accession, arrangement, and description of archival records.

Organizing Archival Records is organized into three primary chapters keyed to examples of archival arrangements and descriptions located in Appendix A (Examples) and practical exercises in Appendix B (Exercises and Answers). The book is linked throughout by step-by-step instructions on how to use the OAR Access[TM] database. It features eight informational boxes that serve as textual sidebars that reiterate, summarize, and expand on the steps for organizing, arranging, and describing archival records. The book also includes a two-page bibliography that is current but a bit too brief.

Chapter One, "Purpose of Organizing," is a three-page introduction to the reasons for arranging and describing archival records. The explanation for the practice--access and control--is fairly obvious to experienced information managers. but Carmicheal carefully explains how most people's experiences in the public library is related to, but fundamentally different from. the experiences they can expect in an archives.

Chapter two, "Levels of Organization," explains how the level of organization of archives depends largely on defined business functions and the information-creation activity of a single records keeper or creator. The concept of the "collection" is defined and compared in the different contexts of organizational records and personal manuscripts or family papers. Fine examples of both types of collections are discussed and demonstrated, and it is at this point in the book that the connection of the narrative text to examples in Appendix A begins to show its value. Chapter two contains a clear, practical discussion of the cardinal archival principle of provenance as well as the four most common levels of collection organization: record or manuscript group, record or manuscript series, file unit, and item. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how critical it is to control information about the collection (metadata) so that context can be provided along with the records. It is during the easy-to-understand explanation of the accessioning and recordkeeping process that the text clearly and unambiguously directs the reader to the OAR Access[TM] database and forms on the CD-ROM.

The third and final chapter, "Steps of Organization" is the heart of the book. This chapter leads readers through a 12-step process that starts with identifying a collection, preserving and storing it, and then taking it through the steps of arrangement and the creation of conventional finding aids, container labels, and even catalog cards. This chapter is tied closely and step-by-step to the OAR Access[TM] database. The text is supplemented with effective illustrations and examples of documentation and finding aids produced using the database.

A newly appointed archivist or local history enthusiast who wants a good basic understanding of the work of a professional archivist can hardly go wrong following the excellent and clear steps provided. While there are a few fine points of procedure that experienced archivists might differ over, such as the efficacy of producing catalog cards or the process of Joining split series (records series accretions, newcomers to the archives enterprise cannot go wrong with this manual.

An additional point made by Carmicheal in the brief conclusion section is that the manual should be used with flexibility tempered by good judgment. Organizing Archival Records, however, is so well crafted that the new archivist should follow it closely unless there is a good reason for variation. It is a book for accidental or drafted archivists, advocational archivists, archives students, and student assistants working within an established archival program. It provides sound, practical guidance as well as an easily understood overview of the craft and techniques of the archivist. Organizing Archival Records should be required text for every "Introduction to Archives and Manuscripts' course.

Michael E. Holland, CA: is Director of University Archives & Interim Head of Special Collections at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He may be contacted at

TITLE: Organizing Archival Records: A Practical Method of Arrangement & Description for Small Archives, Second Edition

AUTHOR: David W. Carmicheal

ISBN: 0-7591-0440-9

PUBLISHER: AltaMira Press


LENGTH: 86 pages (plus 1 CD-ROM)

PRICE: $30

COPYRIGHT 2005 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:In review: books, video's other resources; Organizing Archival Records: A Practical Method of Arrangement & Description for Small Archives
Author:Holland, Michael E.
Publication:Information Management Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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