Monday, April 20, 2009

The “Margins of Archivy”: Archival Description of Visual Materials Part 6 of 7

This post is part of a series exploring archival description of visual materials. Please click below to read further:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 7

Image Description Examples

Teber (2004) discusses a survey that the Audio-Visual Archives (A-V Archives) at the University of Kentucky conducted of 24 institutions with newspaper photo morgues. Each institution reported different degrees of arrangement and description, with 18% reporting that the collections were unprocessed. Of the processed collections, both the interpretation of “full processing” and the resources expended differed by institution. Full processing can range from EADs, item-level description, and rehousing to brief, folder-level description. Although survey responders did not define their interpretation of fully processed, 25% have fully processed collections (with 11% of that total with EADs), 14% had collections that were over half-processed, and 43% had less than one half of the collection processed (p. 114).

Respondents noted that because the collections have high local interest and repetitive images (especially with the advent of roll film), description was often minimal. Ideally, each series of photographs should have the location, date, and subject, searchable by a finding aid or a database. This is especially important if the collection is maintained in the original order produced by the newspaper, which may not easily serve users’ purposes. Although newspaper photo morgues represent a specific type of image collection, with its own distinct attributes and challenges, the results of the survey provided real-world insight into the description of visual collections.

Alexander and Meehleib (2001) note that the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (P&P) catalogers employ practices from libraries, museums, and archives. They evaluate the appropriate description treatment for a given group of materials: whether the images should be cataloged at the item, group, or collection level. P&P catalogers create catalog records and finding aids, frequently using a combination of description levels to facilitate access. This blended approach allows broad control over the holdings at the group level as well as specific control over individual images at the item level. This is especially important for high-demand images, images used in exhibits, or images with high intrinsic or market value. Although P&P represents a large image collection with vast resources, this example demonstrates that evaluative methods determine the level of description required.

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