The Rockefeller Archive Center Guide to Processing Collections provides detailed documentation on the archival processing strategies and methods used at the RAC. It was written by the RAC Processing Team in close collaboration with other members of the RAC archival staff. Within the institution, it is commonly referred to as the Processing Manual.
The Processing team establishes and enhances intellectual and physical
control of our archival holdings by efficiently and effectively
organizing, describing, and preserving all eligible materials,
regardless of form, medium or creator, in order to facilitate user
access onsite and online. In working to reduce and ultimately eliminate
the Center’s processing backlog, we ensure timely open and equitable
access to primary sources. We actively promote the use and understanding
of the historical record through the collection guides we create in
accordance with DACS descriptive standards, and all program policies,
practices, and procedures foster accountability and transparency. As we
learn and grow through professional development, we seek opportunities
to contribute to the archival profession and collaborate with
participants in related fields.
- Projects are assigned primarily by accession or in small sets of
- All archival staff conducting processing should utilize project
management software and create archival description in the RAC
collections management system.
- Projects focus on priority collections and areas of greatest risk
for degradation and loss including legacy backlog holdings,
audiovisual, digital media, and special formats.
- Priority is given to those projects for which the RAC has a
- Priority is also given to recent accessions and born-digital
materials when feasible.
Processing at RAC is conducted at three levels. Each processing level
builds upon the work accomplished at the previous level. If a given
level of work is not discretely performed, it is incorporated implicitly
into the next higher level.
Level 1: Basic/Preliminary Processing – establishes initial intellectual
and physical control.
Level 2: Minimal Processing – takes all necessary steps to open records
Level 3: Standard Processing – focuses on rehousing and file-level
Note: All incoming archival materials must complete the accessioning
process and receive Level 1 and Level 2 Processing in order to be OPEN
Level 1: Basic/Preliminary Processing
- Basic/Preliminary processing is conducted by the accessioning team,
the processing team, or through interdepartmental teamwork.
- All archival ingests receive Level 1 processing at the point of
- For legacy collections never officially accessioned, the processing
archivist incorporates the necessary steps into the assigned
- Head of Processing periodically assigns processing priority to new
- Accessions, or portions of collections, with a low processing
priority may require only Level 1 processing for long-term
Level 1 actions include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Records remain as received. No arrangement or rearrangement.
- Box-level instances are assigned.
- Ideally the donor/depositor will provide RAC with an inventory.
- If the inventory prepared by the donor/depositor adequately
meets basic processing requirements, no additional RAC-produced
inventory is required at accessioning.
- General description of contents from an appraisal report, or
from documents provided by the donor/depositor, can serve in
lieu of an inventory.
- The minimum requirement is a single-level general description of
contents, which can also serve in lieu of an inventory.
- General description can be a summary statement describing the
whole such as:
- Accession contains grant files, Board of Directors files,
and subject files.
- A preservation assessment is conducted to identify any immediate
preservation concerns (e.g. mold, water damage, pests,
- Materials are rehoused only when necessary to facilitate
- Additional preservation or stabilization steps may be taken for
materials with special handling requirements such as oversized, brittle or damaged items.
Level 2: Minimal Processing
Level 1 processing, plus the following additions:
- Archivists perform the tasks necessary to enable researcher access.
Minimal processing actions often include, but are not necessarily
- Establish multi-level intellectual arrangement and description,
while facilitating preservation. Materials arranged and
described together may be physically stored separately.
- Identify all applicable restrictions/conditions of access and
use and address any restricted material.
- Create multi-level description reflective of the arrangement
including component description (such as Series description) or
- Expand and enhance intellectual control of the material by
adding front matter notes to the finding aid, as determined in
- Retain existing housing or rehouse select materials into
acid-free lignin-free boxes and/or folders.
- Work with Collections Management to further identify and
stabilize any materials with immediate or significant
- Level 2 assignments may take the form of a concentrated Archives
Blitz conducted by individual staff or by the Processing Team (See
Head of Processing for details).
Note: Once all applicable Level 1 and Level 2 Processing steps are
completed – the collection/accession – or all eligible material
within the collection/accession – is open for research. (Records
may receive further processing based on RAC Processing Priorities).
Level 3: Standard Processing
Level 2 processing, plus the following, as applicable:
- Gain physical/intellectual control of records to file level
(including all applicable hierarchical levels – record group,
subgroup, series, subseries, file).
- Retain original order or “as received” order whenever feasible.
- Do not arrange material within a folder without the prior
approval of the Head of Processing.
- Create, or revise, standard finding aid to file level, in
accordance with all RAC descriptive standards. (See: Building
the Finding Aid).
- Rebox and refolder (acid-free, lignin-free materials) for permanent
storage and preservation of the materials, as necessary.
- Conduct minimal preservation actions at the file level (preservation
photocopy and remove brittle or damaged material).
- At-Risk Materials
Processing Project Assignments
(Minimal and Standard Processing)
Each processing assignment is accomplished in two phases:
Phase I. Planning
Phase II. Processing
In an effort to facilitate the work accomplished by processing
archivists and the interdepartmental teamwork which assists and
facilitates our success, this processing guide is primarily presented as
a step-by-step instructional.
The Planning phase consists of eight common steps, and the Processing
phase consists of 32 common steps. Due to the unique character of each
individual archival collection and the unforeseen issues that may
materialize or develop during a project, the ordering of these steps is
flexible in practice. However ALL 40 steps must be completed, by an
individual or team, for a collection to be considered successfully
In drafting the guide, the RAC Processing Team focused primarily on creating local practices and procedures that implemented the guidelines and principles established in Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS). DACS is the official archival description standard of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), a national professional association for archivists. The RAC Processing Team consulted a number of SAA resources such as the SAA online glossary - A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, by Richard Pearce-Moses - when outlining its policies in the guide.