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Archival Collections Management

Program documentation on archival technical services at New York University.

About Arrangement and Description

We arrange and describe collections to both preserve materials for future use, and to make materials accessible to researchers. By documenting what is held within individual collections in our institution, we can responsibly manage our collections holistically and fulfill our responsibilities as stewards of these unique materials. The ACM Arrangement & Description program is access-driven and user-centered, producing consistent, standards-compliant work that is efficient and iterative.


when used broadly, is the process of organizing materials with respect to their provenance and original order, to protect their context and to achieve physical or intellectual control over the materials. Arrangement may or may not include physical arrangement, or sorting, and rehousing materials.


is data crafted to identify and represent an archival resource or component thereof, created through a process of analyzing, organizing, and recording details about collection materials.

Archival processing

is a term that combines the activities of arrangement and description, often under the assumption that the two activities always occur together. However, in ACM we recognize that arrangement and description may occur in phases with long gaps of time between, and different activities, such as reformatting of audiovisual media and digitization, may present different arrangement and descriptive needs throughout stages of the collections management lifecycle.

We strive to have an extensible arrangement and description program that, in concert with our accessioning program, will make materials available to researchers, slow the accumulation of unprocessed collection backlogs, and allow for further arrangement and description to be undertaken guided by quantitative and qualitative data collected during assessment.

Arrangement and Description Program Goals

In ACM, when we undertake arrangement and/or description projects, we are working to:

  • Create standardized and structured description that facilitates access to collections.
  • Manage archival materials in the aggregate by working to establish the context of archival materials in collections, and working at the highest level appropriate for the collection before commencing with more detailed work.
  • Make arrangement and description decisions based on the needs of individual collections, balancing the amount of work to undertake with the research value and condition of the materials contained within.
  • Create a baseline level of access to all collections, ensuring that we are helping the special collections to fulfill their collection management and custodial responsibilities.

Arrangement and Description Forms

Visit the Cross-Program page for manuals and documentation of arrangement and description policies in ACM. The following forms are used in conjunction with those policies when surveying collections and planning processing projects:



Arrangement and description workflow, please use the "narrative description" link for more information.


Narrative description of the above infographic.