Collection Survey

As part of the work done for the NHPRC Cataloging Project, the Michigan Tech Archives conducted a box level collection survey. The purpose of the survey was primarily to gather data on the collections that would be used to inform collection descriptions from which MARC records are generated. A box level preservation assessment was conducted to collect information that would guide future actions in our preservation program. And finally, it was an opportunity to shelf read the storage area, to verify the accuracy of our location guide (which was very high), and to identify any unaccessioned material in the collections (very little). The survey was performed over a six-month period in 2009-10, by graduate student intern Crystal Laudeman.

Collection Survey Workflow

Supplies Needed:

Shelving Schematic
Shelf Reading List
Missing List
Collection Survey Worksheet A
Columbia Survey Rating
Book Cart

Sources to Consult:

Collection itself
Access database
Donor files
Vertical/Photo/Bio Files
Archives S:\ drive
Collection binders


Begin the survey at ________________________.

Step 1:  Shelf reading

Using the Shelf Reading List, verify that collections are in the correct locations. Record missing and extra items on Missing List.

If there is an extra collection on the shelf that does not appear on the Shelf Reading List, you should still complete Collection Survey Worksheet A for it. Note the Row-Column-Shelf location on the worksheet so it can be found later and returned to its proper place.

Record completed areas on Shelving Schematic with initials and date. This information will be used to develop assessment metrics as the project progresses.

Step 2:  Verification

Use one Collection Survey Worksheet A for each individual collection.

Use a book cart as a work station. Remove collection box(es) from shelf.  If the collection extends for more than a single shelf, examine it one shelf at a time.

Initial and date the source list as each is examined. The physical collection should be the first source checked.

Record collection number and name.

Indicate whether the collection was found in its correct location (starting point).

Note number and type of enclosures or containers comprise the entire collection (even if it extends over multiple shelves).

Use the terms below to describe enclosures.

Enclosures Abbreviations
Paige box P
Manuscript box Mss
Folder F
Non-archival container N
Bound volumes B

Use chart to determine cubic feet.

Box Cubic feet
Paige box 1.0
Manuscript box-letter 0.35
½ Manuscript box-letter 0.18
Manuscript box-legal 0.45
½ Manuscript box-legal 0.23

Step 3:  Assess overall condition

Open the box! You’ll assess the overall condition of the material in each box as a whole, not individually. Don’t check the contents of each individual folder.

Note the types of material in the collection:

Bound material
Documents & manuscripts
Photographic prints
Negatives – glass, celluloid
Artifacts/objects – organic or inorganic
Audiovisual material
Electronic media

Are the materials within obviously damaged? If so, note the kind of damage. The following list is not exhaustive. If you encounter damaged material, describe it as needed.

Insect damage
Water damage
Embrittled paper
Broken items

Finally, note whether a finding aid or folder list is included in the box. Occasionally, documentation on the collection contents is included preceding or in the first folder of the first box (in a collection with more than one container).

Step 4:  Rate the condition of each box

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest rating and 5 being the highest.

1      Terrible to poor
2      Poor
3      Fair
4      Good
5      Excellent

Use the survey rating descriptions from the Columbia University Library included with this document, for descriptions of different kinds of material.

Assign a value to the overall condition of the enclosure.

Inside the box, note if material is loose or contained in folders or other sub-container, where applicable.

Rate the overall condition of the material inside the box. This is a “quick and dirty” assessment. Do not go through the folders individually. Significant damage will have been described in the previous step.

Step 5: Complete the process

Check your work before you re-shelve collections. There’s no point in having to handle each box more than once.

Once you’ve completed the worksheet, close the box or container and return it to its proper place on the shelf. Make sure you’ve checked off the collection on the Shelf Reading List, and noted any extra collections.

Move on to the next collection.

Mark off sections on the Shelving Schematic as they are completed.

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