We define accessioning as the processes by which we examine, analyze, stabilize, and document our knowledge about a grouping of archival materials upon their arrival in order to confirm our stewardship of them. We view accessioning as a foundational archival function upon which all subsequent steps rely; as such, work undertaken in these processes must be done in a manner that supports other activities in the records continuum and should not disrupt them. It should happen as soon as possible upon a collection’s arrival in order to ensure the materials’ integrity, to identify and address urgent preservation concerns, and to prevent the accumulation of an accessioning backlog.
We developed and continually assess our workflows within a broader framework that takes into consideration not only further arrangement and description, but also donor relations and curatorial collection development, public services and instructional programming, preservation and overall collections care, and metadata management.
In 2018, we published an article on the development of our accessioning practices in the Journal of Archival Organization describing our approach to archival accessioning and how we built our program at New York University. If you do not have access to this journal, please feel free to get in contact for access to a pdf of the Accepted Manuscript.
The image below shows four arrows of equal size pointing from left to right, alternating in color from purple to grey. They read from left to right: Stabilization, Administrative Control, Documenting Knowledge, Access and Maintenance.
During accessioning, we aim to establish control over a collection, facilitate future arrangement and description, and make archival materials discoverable and accessible to users to the greatest extent prudent.
receive collection, identify and address immediate preservation threats, rehouse materials to prevent damage and ensure long-term safety, assess and document housing and condition issues not remediated during accessioning, separate born-digital materials, and record locations at the box- or object-level in ArchivesSpace.
review deed of gift or purchase agreement, and translate information related to the transfer of materials, terms of access, and intellectual property status into standardized archival description recorded in ArchivesSpace.
describe the materials’ formats, content, and context of creation in an accession and resource record, all the while maintaining a clear record of all interventions with collection materials.
create records that be built upon in further arrangement and descriptive efforts. If appropriate, produce public-facing finding aid and MARC catalog record.
Visit the Cross-Program page for manuals and documentation of description policies in ACM. The following checklist is used in conjunction with those policies in accessioning work:
Internal forms, including the Accessioning Request form that must be completed for each accession, are available through the Accessioning Workflows and Documentation page on the Libraries wiki. Workflow for the accessioning program is managed through Airtable.
In some cases, the level of control we establish in accessioning is sufficient to facilitate discovery and access. Particularly good candidates for materials opened to users directly through the accessioning workflow include small accessions, well-organized accessions, accessions accompanied by usable inventories, or accretions to processed collections. In addition to arrangement and description, we also factor preservation and public services concerns into this decision.
In general, the resource records we create during accessioning are unarranged collection-level records, some of which may have box-lists or folder inventories.