That’s the Way the boxes Tumble (An Arrangement and Description Case Study)

Learning Objectives

  • Explain how provenance and original order are useful for organizing records.
  • Describe principles of hierarchical levels of arrangement.
  • Define structure units: fonds, collection, record group, series, subseries, filing unit, item, “component.””


You’re a new archivist at Zeta University in the processing department. You’ve been assigned to review and arrange new collections that have arrived over the last several days.

One collection is a local author’s personal paper collection. This collection is approximately ten 1 cubic foot boxes. Reviewing it you’ll note that some correspondence has been organized chronologically by correspondent. While the rest was just thrown into boxes. The author’s novel manuscripts are not arranged at all, but various drafts and galley proofs of works are held together by rubber bands. There is also a box of awards and other nick-nacks.

The other materials are a bit more complicated. It seems that a very tiny, but strong localized earthquake occurred in your storage area. That or Jerry had come through at some point. Jerry always leaves destruction in his wake. Regardless the other materials you need to arrange are a categorical mess. You know that this grouping of records is all university records, but you can make out records from the History Department, including some faculty papers (1 Cubic foot) which includes two folders of photographs that have been well labeled, papers from the registrars office including reports and student records (10 cubic feet), and correspondence from the Office of the President (5 cubic feet). All of the materials are rather jumbled and a mess. You should also remember that you already have an office of the president collection that has three series: Correspondence, with subseries by year; Reports; Board of Governors.


  • How would you arrange these collections?
  • How long do you think these arrangement activities would take an archivist? How might you determine using the best guess the amount of time it would take to arrange these collections? What resource could you use to help make this guess?
  • Which collection should get priority?


  • Boles, Frank. “Disrespecting original order.” The American Archivist 45, no. 1 (1982): 26-32.
  • Meehan, Jennifer. “Rethinking original order and personal records.” Archivaria 70 (2010): 27-44.

One of Us

Learning Objectives

  • Students will evaluate a situation and develop a proposal for archival outreach for a fictional archival organization.


You work at a smaller archives within an academic library at mid-sized regional university. The rest of the library regularly reaches out to the students of your institution, the community, and outside researchers through various types of activities. This includes regular social media posts, lectures, fun events around finals, workshops, and the occasional traveling exhibit.

Your archive has never regularly or systematically conducted outreach activities. You have a face book page, but post infrequently. You have hosted a few workshops that were not well attended by the public. You’ve always felt that your staff of three was too small to do much outreach.

The library administration thinks differently. Because of your lack of outreach, the administration sees your group as not being a team player and siloing your department away from the rest of the library. It has been decided for you that you will increase your outreach activities substantainally.

Questions and Application

  • Think about the current outreach situation and make decisions on how to improve it. Do the following:
    • Create a proposal for this organization’s outreach program.
    • Create a budget and an initial proposal for two types of programs, a lecture and an exhibit. Describe the audiences for these programs.
    • How will you ask for help from the rest of the library staff if you feel that your staff doesn’t have the appropriate skills, resources and time to accomplish this directive.