Not all records enter the archive. Archivists or curators will try to meet with the potential donor (person donating the records) to determine if the materials they want to donate fit within the archives collection scope, a set of guidelines that states what types of material the archive collects (including formats and subjects.)
Once an agreement is made between the archive and donor, the materials will be sent to the archive where they will be accessioned, a term meaning that the archive will establish a basic understanding of the collection’s content and physical condition.
Archivists will create a processing plan which outlines the contents of the collection and how they propose to arrange and describe the collection. This includes how the boxes and folders will be physically arranged but also how the material is intellectually grouped together. These components will be reflected in the finding aid, a guide to the collection for the public.
The finding aid is published and the materials are in the stacks, waiting for you to request them!
Getting an understanding of the materials is done through a survey. Archivists will note aspects of the physical condition, such as: the size of the collection, formats of the content (paper, photographs, CDs, etc.), and any preservation issues (is there mold, are papers loose?)
The archivist will also briefly scan through some of the material to get an intellectual understanding of the collection. They will take note of dates, common subjects, creators, and maybe identifying some relationships within the records. This information is put into an internal database, so the archive has a record of the collection.
Archives use special boxes and folders that support the long-term preservation of the materials. Minimal rehousing includes placing the material into appropriate sized boxes to prevent slumping that can damage the paper. More in depth rehousing can include replacing folders, photocopying acidic newspaper clippings, or removing staples or paperclips.