Cleaning up an archive with Tristero
This practical example illustrates how a clean-up day was organised for the physical archive at the Brussels theatre company Tristero, in order to make it more accessible and more user-friendly, and to address the problem of lack of storage space.
- Finished: documents of predecessors and printed matter.
- Still to be done: work folders of the business manager still have to be looked at and classified; there were not enough archive boxes, which means that some parts of the archive still have to be repacked.
There is not enough space in Tristero’s current office. The current business manager has only been working with the company since 2010. He and his predecessor were confronted with unorganised archive material from the earlier period of the company. The company may soon have to relocate to another premises. A clean-up day should ensure that there is extra space and should make the archive more accessible and more user-friendly.
- Localising the archive: identifying documents; deciding which documents to keep and which to get rid of; putting the documents to be kept in archive boxes; getting rid of documents no longer needed
- Cleaning up
- Documenting the actions carried out: creating an archive description; drafting a localisation list; making a destruction list
Localising the archive
The first step was to localise the archive to provide an overview of its contents and where it was kept. Manu Devriendt, business and archive manager of Tristero, gave us a guided tour of the archive with some explanations here and there.
The archive contains business documents (personnel management, finances etc.), correspondence, production files, press folders, printed matter, audiovisual material and promotional material. There were also documents whose content was unknown: piles of documents from the previous business manager and work folders from the current business manager. The material is kept in various cupboards and in desks in the Tristero office.
The cleaning-up process could now begin. The documents of unknown content were identified and classified within the archive. Superfluous documents were also removed from the archive. A number of selection lists were used in order to implement this selection process: Selectielijst voor het archief van een theatergezelschap van Els Michielsen  and Een selectielijst voor de dienst dramaturgie van Charis Verbelen . These selection lists contain guidelines for the preservation and destruction of the various documents that may be created and received by a theatre company. The documents that have to be kept were put in acid-free boxes, while the documents to be removed were immediately taken out of the archive.
The piles of unidentified documents and the documents already classified by the predecessors of the business manager were dealt with first. Then the printed matter and work folders of the current business manager were tackled.
- Press articles: A great many press cuttings were found. After a thorough examination of the press folder, we discovered that these were duplicates. They were removed from the archive.
- Subsidy applications: Subsidy applications are important documents. They reflect the company’s vision, mission, history and projects. It was decided to classify subsidy applications in two sections: operational and project subsidies. The operational subsidies were subsequently subdivided according to the institute from which the subsidy was requested (VGC and Flemish Government). The project subsidies were put with the production files; projects that were not implemented were kept together. There appeared to be copies of the subsidy application already in the production files. The duplicates could therefore be removed.
- Documentation: Relevant documentation was put in the library area. Other documentation was removed from the archive.
- Productions: Documents from various productions were found. These were put in the correct production file. Preliminary documents were also kept and put in the production files.
- Finances: Various ‘finance’ folders were stored in a cupboard. These contained accounting items. It was decided to store them according to the old order.
- ‘Post in’ box: These are the incoming letters of Tristero from the period 1993-2007. The outgoing letters might be in the production files and with the subsidy applications. It was decided to keep these documents according to the old arrangement because there was not enough time to re-classify the documents.
- Personnel folder: The previous business manager classified these documents in a different way from the current business manager. The documents were put into two boxes marked ‘Tristero personnel’ and supplemented with personnel documents from the current business manager.
Promotion material and printed matter
- Tristero’s own promotion material and printed matter: A few copies of each publication were kept and put together in a box. The remaining copies were removed from the archive.
- Programme sheets and printed matter from external parties: These documents were arranged under the titles ‘Brussels’, ‘Belgium’ and ‘International’. Duplicates and programme sheets in which Tristero was not mentioned were removed from the archive.
Current business manager’s work folders
The folders consist mainly of work documents which during a certain period were taken all over the place. Definitive documents are kept in digital format in a classified folder structure. Since the work documents contain no extra information as regards content, they could be removed from the archive. Press cuttings and reports of staff meetings were also found in these folders. These were put in the correct box or folder.
There is a concern about how e-mails are to be stored. E-mails are an interesting source because they record the process of how a production starts. However, the simplicity and speed of this medium means that an inbox quickly fills up and it requires some discipline to keep order in a mailbox. Manu Devriendt’s mailbox contains all mails going back to 2002, and consists of Tristero’s electronic correspondence, but also mails from periods at other employers and private mails. Due to an error, all the messages from one year have already been lost.
The question was therefore how to preserve the mails in the long term. Should all Tristero mails be put on the communal server? Too much time is required to clean up the mailbox and reclassify mails retroactively. No immediate solution was found for this problem, but it was suggested that after every production all mails are put in a folder and a minor clean-up process is carried out.
After the clean-up it is important that the actions taken are documented and a list is made of the documents that have been removed from the archive. Now that the Tristero archive has been classified and brought together, it was an ideal moment to describe the archive and draft a new localisation list.
- Duplicates and superfluous work documents were removed. Tristero now has more space in the cupboards and on the shelves.
- Documents whose content was unknown were identified and put in the correct box or folder.
- The documents were put in acid-free boxes, so that they can be sustainably preserved and remain accessible.
- The joint clean-up action made people think about which documents should be kept or removed and how they should be classified.
- The archive was described. The ISAD(G) description will be published in Archiefbank Vlaanderen.
- A concise list was drawn up to include all the documents that were destroyed.
- A start was made on a localisation list, but this remains incomplete because of a lack of time. The archive was not completely checked by the business manager.
- E. MICHIELSEN, Achter de coulissen: Selectielijst voor het archief van een theatergezelschap en inventaris van het KNS-archief, onuitgegeven verhandeling, Brussel, 2003, p. 150-184. Only in Dutch
- C. VERBELEN, De kunst van het bewaren, vernietigen is de kunst: Hedendaags documentbeheer in de Vlaamse Opera. Richtlijnen en advies voor de dienst dramaturgie, onuitgegeven verhandeling, Brussel, 2010, p. 170-203. Only in Dutch