Behind the Scenes in the Northwest Room

By Spencer Bowman

On quite a few occasions, we’ve had people ask us about the other tasks we carry out in the Northwest Room when we are not at the desk answering reference questions. Since the Northwest Room operates as its own branch, our staff take on a variety of different duties. These include purchasing books and checking in new material for our collection, visiting classrooms to lead programs and workshops, managing and adding to our online databases, and much more. One of the more unique jobs we perform is processing new archival collections. The term "archival processing" basically means looking through a new set of material, organizing it into a structure that makes sense, and making it available. Each step of this process is important because you first need to know what the materials contain, then figure out the best way to organize it. Without any organizational method applied to a collection it would be nearly impossible to find what you are looking for! For this blog post we are bringing you along on an archival processing project where we will organize, arrange and describe our newest donation. You’ll be able to see what goes into each step and, at the end, access the items in ORCA.

Recently Hannah Lillard, Digital Marketing Assistant for the Tacoma Art Museum, reached out to the Northwest Room about a potential donation of promotional museum exhibit materials. These flyers, posters, and brochures cover many of the Tacoma Art Museum’s shows and events dating all the way back to their grand opening in their current building. After Hannah described the donation, I immediately recognized the value in having these documents in our collection. They represent a unique historic record of our local art museum. I scheduled a time to meet with Hannah and assess the materials in person. When I arrived at the Tacoma Art Museum, I met her and the rest of her office mates. She showed me collection of material and I had her sign a deed of gift. Once all the material was boxed up, I brought it all back to the Northwest Room for processing.

The first step of archival processing was done by the Northwest Room's Ilona Perry. Ilona took all the items and spread them out to inventory and create an organization structure that would make sense for this specific group of items. There are many ways one could organize this kind of material, by type of exhibit, type of art, alphabetical by artist, etc. In the end she decided to organize them first by type (posters or pamphlets) and then by chronological date of exhibit.

The organization structure Ilona set up for the material (posters and pamphlets then by date of exhibit) would need to be identically represented in ORCA. This was done by creating a new online record and building it from the ground up. Just as the posters and pamphlets are physically organized by type and date, we mirrored this structure in ORCA. As you can see here, each folder in the digital diagram tree matches the name and location of the physical folders. Once the ORCA record was created it was time to scan and add scans, or as ORCA likes to call any digitized or digital file, a “Digital Object.” I looked through the collection and selected a sampling to represent the different types of items. Once I had these scanned and labeled, I attached them to the item in each file. While we don't have the time to scan everything from every collection we process, we do our best to add digital objects to give users a representation of some items. The final step of the process was to label the folders and oversize sleeves and house the promotional material for long-term storage. Anna printed labels for the box and kept the same physical organizational structure intact (posters or pamphlets then by date of exhibit). The material was added to one of the oversized drawers in the basement where it will be permanently stored and easily accessible.

Now that the process is complete everyone can now see exactly what we have in this collection in ORCA, access what has been scanned, and the physical items are safely stored away. If additional donations happen in the future this record can be easily edited and added to. If you are curious to take a look at the Tacoma Art Museum Records in ORCA, click here!

Do you have a potential donation for the Northwest Room? If so, please remember to read our donation guide before contacting us.