|Unprocessed social movement collections at the
University of California, Berkeley libraries
Numerous collections have been added to the libraries at UC Berkeley, but are only accessible to the public to a limited degree. This is because the task of processing such materials, sometimes called "custodial collections," is labor and cost-intensive, even for the most basic container list with a collection-level description. Item-level cataloging, and digitization of posters and audiotapes, compounds the challenge. Unfortunately, this is the common state of affairs at most archives.
Many special collections and archives have oversize printed materials such as posters and maps, which can be very useful to research and scholarship. Common sense would dictate that catalog access to these materials, including reference images to assist comparison, would be common practice. However, few of these materials have been digitized, and are relegated to relative obscurity. In addition to the standard institutional concerns of copyright, these artifacts are difficult to properly digitize, and the current archival community "best practice" is to only shoot such items once at quality level that will allow virtual duplication of the object. Such a high bar is very expensive and therefore impractical, so whole collections are left without any practical way for researchers to search or browse them without paging the entire physical set. I, along with several poster curators, have begun advocating a diligent approach of "digitization for access, not for preservation" which means that creating simple reference shots upon collection intake should become the standard practice. If done properly, such shots can serve for many practical uses, and in the eventuality that a better shot is needed it can be done on a case-by-case basis. A recent collection of posters from the Chinese Cultural Revolution donated to UC Berkeley's East Asian Library - complete with digital images and preliminary catalog data - is an example of this approach.
A recent report on this subject, Hidden Collections, Scholarly Barriers: Creating Access to Unprocessed Special Collections Materials in North America’s Research Libraries (White Paper for the Association of Research Libraries Task Force on Special Collections, June 6, 2003) pointed out that “If the 'rarely used materials' were more fully processed, they might get used more” and “Poor donor relations can result from not making collections available in a timely fashion.”
Collection digitization as a means of access must have long-term institutional support to be effective, however. In July of 2007 the Cultural Materials Initiative pilot project of the Research Libraries Group pulled the plug on numerous web catalogs, among them the vast collection of posters from the Tamiment Archive of the Bobst Library at NYU. This illustrated finding aid will now need to be rebuilt on the library's server, and is currently unavailable to researchers.
final blow for materials such as these is their political nature, which
makes it even harder to find private or public funding. The list below
describes just some of the rich collections at UCB that require
institutional attention before they can be accessible to scholars and
the public. Some important ones have recently been processed to a
limited degree, such as the finding aids for Taller de Gráfica Popular (Banc Pic 1999.039) and the Nicaraguan Poster Collection (Banc Pic 999.042), but there is still an enormous backlog of work to be done.
Lincoln Cushing, cataloger, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley 2004-2006. Currently Archival Consultant to the All Of Us Or None Archive, Oakland Museum of California.
[Lincoln Cushing was a cataloger at the Bancroft Library involved in helping bring the collection into UC]
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