Reaching the End

cropped-Brown.jpgIt has taken some time, but the folders are all numbered, the boxes are all labeled and the George E. Brown Jr. papers are finally complete! There will be some final editing and cataloging that needs to be done before the collection is officially open, but all physical processing work is done at this point.

With a collection that offers as much research potential as Congressman Brown’s does, it was important  to ensure that not only were materials in the collection properly preserved but also that they were easily accessible to all kinds of researchers and library users. In order to achieve this the collection needed to be rearranged and properly described, which my students and I have achieved with a lot of time and dedication. Processing a collection as large and complex as the Brown papers involves a lot of different kinds of work and challenges, and I hope that this blog has provided some insight into not only what some of the issues are that come up when processing but also how those issues are resolved and how major processing decisions are made. Once the finding aid is published I will link to it here, to share the final product of those decisions and to show how all the work described here over the past 18 months came together as a fully processed collection.

-Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist

Folder Labels and Finding Aids

I am in the final stages of processing the Brown collection, which involves establishing the final order of the collection and entering this data into our collection management software to create a finding aid.

A Fully Labeled Folder With Title, Date, Collection Number and Box and Folder Numbers

A Fully Labeled Folder With Title, Date, Collection Number and Box and Folder Numbers

As we worked on the project in various sections, now that everything is processed we need to put all those sections back together in the proper order and assign folder and box numbers. Having every folder labeled with a box and folder number allows researchers and staff to easily locate any particular folder, and also helps ensure that any folder pulled during research will be put back in its proper location.

The Brown Finding Aid in Archivists' Toolkit

The Brown Finding Aid in Archivists’ Toolkit

Along with physically labeling all of the folders, I am also entering this information into an electronic finding aid, which is a guide to facilitate discovery of information in the collection. We use a special archival collection management software for this, which is called Archivists’ Toolkit. The software allows us to enter all kinds of information about our collections, including box and folder lists, arrangements, and front matter notes, which include information about Brown and the collection for potential researchers. We’ve been entering our arrangement and most folder titles into the system as we’ve been processing in order to keep track of our work, but as I enter folder numbers I’m also making sure everything entered in the finding aid is correct and in the proper order.

In essence, I am completing the third and final pass over the collection, which in one as large as Brown’s is vital to making sure researchers will be able to easily find what they need among the multitude of boxes.

-Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist

Clean Up – The Second Pass

Boxes of Materials to Resort

Boxes of Materials to Resort

While we have completed our initial processing pass of all the materials in the Brown collection, there is still a good amount of work to finish in our second cleanup pass of the collection.

When we were processing series and different parts of the collection, the goal was to gather all relevant materials together in one initial attempt. Realistically though, there were plenty of materials that we pulled for inclusion in one series that actually belonged in a different part of the collection. This happened for a number of reasons, whether it was mislabeled folders, accidentally pulling the wrong items, or rethinking the proper arrangement of materials along the way. In any case, rather than trying to immediately find the proper place for any stray item, which would cost us a lot of time and effort, we created a resorting area where we saved these materials to incorporate back into the collection once initial processing was complete.

Student Workspaces - Resorting Materials on the Left and Existing Boxes on the Right Pulled to Incorporate Materials Into

Student Workspaces – Resorting Materials on the Left and Existing Boxes on the Right Pulled to Incorporate Materials Into

So we are now at the point where we have to work with all of the materials that were placed aside over the past year. In some ways this is easy to accomplish as we are merely adding items to existing arrangements, but it does take some careful planning to do properly. My students and I are accomplishing this by first sorting out all extra materials, and then comparing them to our existing work to see what can be incorporated into existing folders and what needs to be added as new folders. As adding these materials involves looking over all series again, this is also where I am reviewing our work to make sure all the materials are arranged and described as best as possible. After this cleanup is complete, we will be done with all physical processing, after which we move on to creating the finding aid and finalizing our box and folder arrangements.

-Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist

Subject Files – Putting It All Together

Processed Boxes Covering Multiple Topics

We’ve been working on the subject files in the Brown collection for the past few months, and finally have gone through all of the unprocessed materials in the collection. There’s still plenty of work to do, but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Sample Page from the Final Subject Inventory

Sample Page from the Final Subject Inventory

At this point the subject files are sorted by topic, which was the easiest way for the students and myself to process the materials. However, the final arrangement will be sorted by Congress, as I feel that provides a better picture into what Brown and his staff were focused on each term of his Congressional career. With around 40 or so boxes of subject materials stored outside of our processing space, it was important to figure out how to pull items chronologically from multiple subjects without having to have every single box on hand as we have limited space in our workroom. One of the ways I achieved this was to create box and folder inventories for each subject after initial processing. This way, after we had gone through all the materials I could use these to create a final box list, which would let me know what subjects contained materials for each Congress as well as when I would need to grab the next box for that subject from storage.

Integrated Subject Files

When I conclude this process and the subject files are complete, we will have finished the first round of processing for the entire collection! With a collection this size though, there’s plenty of cleanup work to do, so stay tuned for the next post where I will discuss how we prepared for this second pass and how we are finalizing our work on the collection.

-Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist

Happy César Chávez Day!

Congressman Brown with Cesar Chavez and California Assemblyman Alex Garcia at a Campaign Event for Brown’s Senatorial Run, 1970

Cesar Chavez Speaking at a Campaign Event for Congressman Brown, 1970

East Los Angeles Gazette Article on Congressman Brown and the United Farm Workers, August 1968

Congressman Brown was a big supporter of César Chávez throughout his tenure in Congress, both supporting his activist work with the United Farm Workers as well as Congressional efforts to honor Chávez with his own holiday after his passing in 1993.

Now that César Chávez Day is a state holiday here in California, it seems only right to honor Chávez today by posting a few items from the collection featuring Chávez and Congressman Brown’s mutual support for each other.

-Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist

Subject Files – Start to Finish

We here on the George Brown project are still hard at work processing subject files, so while last week I gave a general overview of how we are approaching these materials, I thought this week I could provide a breakdown of how we actually work from start to finish on a particular subject.

Box List for Science and Technology Materials

The first part of processing involves choosing which subject we’d like to process. To allow myself and my students to work on these materials at the same time, and to make the process easier, I came up with major subject areas that I had identified while inventorying the materials. I then created box lists for each subject area that shows which boxes contain relevant items. As the unprocessed boxes are unlabeled and contain a variety of materials, this is essential for us to be able to pull the items we need for processing.

Pulling Materials from an Unprocessed Box (Right) to a Sorting Box (Left)

With our chosen box list in hand, we then go back into special collections and pull the materials we need from unprocessed boxes into temporary sorting boxes. This allows us to not only pull all the materials we will be working with into a manageable number of boxes, but also lets us take these items to our work space where we can temporarily store them while they are being processed.

Subject Files, Mid Sorting

Once we have pulled all the materials we need, we then begin the sorting process. What we have found works best is to sort items into the Congress they relate to, and then once that is complete further sort those items into whatever more detailed subjects are necessary. The goal in sorting these materials is to make a subject file list that researchers can easily browse to identify where any particular subject may be, but also demonstrates the subjects and areas Brown was most interested in and on which he kept most materials. So we try to keep file names more general when we can, and let the depth of materials dictate when we separate items from general subject files. We also try to name our files in a way that encourages browsing, which involves having a general subject on all related files with an additional description if necessary. For example, in the photo below you can see that “Agriculture” is the general subject with “Agriculture – Avocados” being an area where there were enough materials to warrant separating those items into their own folders, but they are still easily discoverable by any researcher browsing agricultural materials.

Processed Files in Temporary Housing

Processed Files in Temporary Housing

Once we have sorted and processed a particular subject area, we are placing the materials back into temporary storage boxes until all subject files are processed. This is because, as discussed in the last blog post, we will be integrating all of these materials so that they will be arranged by Congress first, then by subject matter. So once we finish our processing work we will have a major rearrangement to tackle, but one that will be made much easier with the fully processed files we are now creating.

– Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist

Subject Files – Managing the Miscellaneous

We’re Starting to Clear More Boxes Off the Shelves!

While almost every series in the George Brown papers has gone under initial processing, the one subseries left is the largest of the collection, estimating to be around 142.4 linear feet of materials. This subseries, Subject Files, consists of all of the research, correspondence, notes, and other materials related to various legislation and topics saved by Brown’s office to assist him in his legislative work. This includes research on general subjects of interest to Brown as well as materials related to pieces of legislation voted on by Brown.

The first major challenge in processing these materials was how we would arrange them. There are a great deal of materials, and as they range from materials on broad issues to items about specific legislation it was important for me to keep the arrangement clear but concise. Due to the size of the series, I felt that simply organizing the materials topically would lead to an overwhelming amount of folders to navigate for researchers, so I decided to separate subject files initially by Congress. This is the way most other institutions have organized similar materials in their Congressional collections, and I find that splitting research into two-year Congresses provides a much more focused picture of Brown’s overall interests and work during any given period of his career.

Water Subject Files in Temporary Boxes

The second challenge now that the arrangement was decided was how to actually implement it, as all of the materials for the series are spread out widely among our remaining boxes. The first part of this process was performing another more detailed inventory of what was left in the unprocessed boxes, as the initial inventory done over a year ago wasn’t quite detailed enough for processing these materials. I also used this inventory as an opportunity to find and pull any items we had missed in our initial processing of other series to be resorted once the subject files are complete. Once this new inventory was done I divided it into major subject areas, which provides myself and students with manageable sections we can all work on simultaneously.

So that is what we are currently working on, and once finished we will have completed our first round of processing the entire collection. There will be cleanup and integrating that will need to be done afterwards, but it’s exciting to realize we are in the final stretches of completing this important project.

– Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist

On the Campaign Trail: Processing the Campaign Files

As I’ve written before, the work that has been done on the George Brown collection has been aided immensely by the talented and hardworking students employed to assist with our processing efforts. One of those students has just completed processing a major series for the collection so I asked her to share some of her insights on her processing decisions working with Brown’s campaign materials.
– Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist

Campaign Folders During Processing

Campaign Folders During Processing

After nearly eight months of work, documents pertaining to George Brown’s congressional campaigns are finally processed. This series, which occupies 89 Hollinger boxes, is one of the largest series in the George Brown Papers and one of the richest for research purposes. On one hand, many materials pertain to the nuts-and-bolts of campaign operations, like staff memos and employee evaluations, budgetary expenditures, rental documents for campaign headquarters, and volunteer training materials. On the other, the series speaks to how Brown built his campaign platforms and strategies. These materials include research files, opposition investigation, debate preparation folders, and overall campaign plans.

Flagging Items for Review

Flagging Items for Review

The most difficult aspect of processing this collection was determining the subseries structure. Because preparations for elections began more than a year in advance, George Brown was never very far from his next campaign. After an election, for example, campaign staffers would continue to evaluate targeting data and voter turnout well into the next year. In addition, many of the campaign files were research-oriented, meaning they were compilations of materials from past elections that Brown used to inform his current election. Items in these files are likely to span a decade, if not more.

Sorting Campaign Items

Sorting Campaign Items

Because of the breadth of this series, we decided to organize the campaign files based on intended use. Essentially I asked myself: What election was this item or folder created to support? With this as my litmus test, it made sense to structure the campaign files into subseries named after each election year. Not only does this method accommodate the overlapping nature of election campaigns, but it also makes the series easier for researchers to navigate. In determining campaign usage, particular attention was given to the material’s context: the original folder placement within campaign-related boxes, folder titles, and other documents within the original folder.

Now that the Campaign Files series has returned to its upstairs home, I am joining forces with Jessica to tackle subject files.

– Heather VanMouwerik, George Brown Project Intern

New Year, New Decisions

Congressional Summer Picnic Invitation, June 1993

Congressional Summer Picnic Invitation, June 1993

With the start of the new year, we’re working on some new projects here on the Brown papers and have a new undergraduate student helping us with the materials. This student will be working on Brown’s event files, which include invitations, programs, speeches and other materials related to events Brown attended both in his district and nationwide.

Public Meeting on the Vietnam War held by the Woman's Club of Whittier, November 1965

Public Meeting on the Vietnam War held by the Woman’s Club of Whittier, November 1965

These materials had actually been partially processed by another student over the summer, but after reviewing how we had arranged them I decided they way I had chosen to do it wasn’t actually the best way to provide access for these items. While we always try to make the correct decisions the first time around, situations like this are the main reason why I review everything we do at multiple stages throughout the course of this project. With a collection this large, sometimes you don’t have the clearest handle on how items will fit into the larger picture until you’ve processed them and gained a better understanding of what they are. Most of the time our initial decisions hold up to review, but it’s vital to review our work on a consistent basis to catch those instances where what we thought would work doesn’t anymore.

Itinerary for Brown's Visit to Chaffey College to accept a surplus government helicopter for their aviation mechanics program, April 1995

Itinerary for Brown’s Visit to Chaffey College, where he presented a surplus government helicopter for their aviation mechanics program, April 1995

In the case of the event files, they were something I thought would be a small, easily browsed subseries that wouldn’t need much work, but once they were done I realized they needed a more detailed level of description in order to actually be accessible to researchers through the finding aid. I also hadn’t developed a clear picture of what would be classified as an “event file” until quite recently, so what was initially a few record boxes worth of materials grew to over 12 boxes that needed to be incorporated into existing materials. So with the new student coming onboard, I figured this was the perfect time to fix the arrangement and add those materials together at the same time.

I’m confident we’ve got the final arrangement in place now, but we’re still going to review our work as we go, to ensure that the collection at the end of the process is as polished and appropriately arranged as possible.

– Jessica Geiser, George Brown Project Archivist