Draw up an inventory with descriptions at series level (scenario 2)
This article describes how you can make an inventory, which is a useful tool for making your archive accessible. For more information about archive access and the various tools you can use for this, please see the article: Create an access pass and describe your archive.
Here, we look more closely at making an inventory at series level.
An inventory is a structured overview of an archive's contents. All archive items or objects are described on the basis of this organisational structure, in contrast to a placement list where the archive is described in the order in which it is stored.
A series-level inventory groups together all similar items or objects in a series, or those that share the same background, to describe them. One example is production files, which are grouped together as a single series and considered to be a whole.
- This ordering makes the archive items and objects easy to find;
- The items' context can be derived from their organisational structure, which supplements the items' description very well;
- New items can easily be added to a well-organised inventory without interfering with the others;
- The inventory does not need updating if the archive is physically reorganised or relocated.
- Drawing up an inventory is time-consuming;
- Someone needs to check afterwards that additions to the inventory are in the correct place.
Drawing up an inventory is an important step and specialist work for the heritage sector. If you're planning to make one, please contact a TRACKS partner to assist you.
There are two possible options.
Option 1: Your archive is well-organised, but not described yet
If your archive is physically well-organised (all items and objects that belong together are grouped together), you just still need to describe the series.
Step 1 Define the archival structure in the form of an archive plan, like a table of contents. This gives you an overview of all the categories and sub-categories that you have defined for your own archive. For a digital archive, you can make a printout or overview of the folder structure.
Step 2 Describe the following components for each series or partial collection:
- Inventory or box number;
- Editorial form;
- Description of the items' contents. Try to keep this brief while providing sufficient information;
- Dates for the series: start and end date;
- Series size: number of folders, boxes or files;
- Location: where it's stored.
This table shows what is meant by each component, with the difference that you only describe everything at series level. You can see the location of the items from the inventory or box numbers.
Option 2: Your archive is described, but not yet well-organised
In most cases, your archive will not be well-organised yet, but there is some description already available, usually in the form of a placement list. Adding a good structure to these lists makes it easy to convert them into a full inventory.
Step 1 Create an organisational plan or folder structure for your archive. You can use the place description as the basis for this. See our article Draw up an organisational plan/folder structure for how to create a good structure.
Step 2 Assign the descriptions to the right categories and sub-categories in your organisational structure, combing them in coherent series as much as possible. This will not work for all items and objects, of course. Consider these items to be a series with a single component.
When you put the descriptions in your organisational structure, you will notice that the physical order of the items in the boxes is different from the 'intellectual order' in your inventory, because the boxes are numbered consecutively (1, 2, 3...), whereas the numbers in the inventory don't necessarily follow on from each other. The instinct in this situation is to want to renumber the archive, but this is strongly advised against for a number of reasons:
- You can use the inventory to quickly find all archival boxes and it doesn't matter that dossiers from the same series aren't physically next to each other. The inventory numbers actually act as placement codes and form the link between the abstract description in the inventory and the physical item itself, so renumbering offers no practical benefit;
- Renumbering is time-consuming;
- There is a significant risk of mistakes;
- Every addition to your archive means you have to renumber everything, so as well as being useless, it's also a waste of time.
Step 3 Existing descriptions can be further adapted or extended if necessary. The descriptions in a placement list are usually too brief to add straight to an inventory, so take the opportunity to improve them.