Special Collections Materials Survey Instrument

In 2003, Columbia University Libraries (CUL) received funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to carry out a one-year survey of unprocessed and under-processed archival collections. Using the model developed by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), which includes extensive explanations of the access, condition, and value ratings, an effective workflow was planned in accordance with the design of the survey instrument, a Microsoft Access database.

We make the survey instrument available as a package of the following four files, which should be downloaded together:

New York University has recently created an adaptation of this survey, and is also making it freely available.  Please see http://library.nyu.edu/preservation/archivespreservation.html for the NYU version, and also for a separate survey tool specifically for electronic media.

At Columbia between October 2003 and July 2004, 366 unprocessed collections were surveyed within the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Avery Architectural and Fine Art Library and C.V. Starr East Asian Library. In total, 1,588 survey hours were spent entering data on 569 collections and accounting for 26,299 units stretching 15,867 linear feet. These collections are composed of 8,703 feet of loose paper; 87,948 bound volumes of all types; 100,903 architectural drawings; 14,218 graphic works; 158,478 photographic materials; 136,457 negatives, slides, motion pictures and microfilm; 1,288 phonographs; 6,559 audiotapes, videotapes and computer media; 277 optical media items, and nearly 3,400 pieces of realia and memorabilia. All media, housing and intellectual access were given quality ratings and the research value of each collection was assessed and rated. We can now compare collections across the three repositories on any of these bases while grouping or sorting them by subject, language, creator type, and other criteria.

CUL has tested and confirmed that the survey instrument and methodology developed by the HSP is highly successful. We have refined the instrument and will be applying it to our daily procedures and we are exploring its broader applications within Columbia and for other institutions. Specifically, the RBML is adapting it to serve as its primary accession database, as a source for box lists and other forms of preliminary and intermediate access tools. CUL is looking forward to relying on it for preservation and conservation planning, and for priority and goal setting of departmental resources.