Kathleen Roe’s Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts

New version of this book addresses many changes that have occurred in the decade since Miller's book was published.

Goals of this manual:

  • Provide a context for understanding the purpose and goals of archval a&d,
  • Provide an introduction to the core principles that are the foundation of archival a&d,
  • Define the core terminlogy relating to a&d,
  • Introduce the common practices and professional standards used in arranging and describing archives & manuscripts, and
  • To provide information on current and emerging developments & approaches in archival arrangement and description.

Manual in 4 sections:

  • Overview that places a&d within the context of archival functions. Addresses the relationship of a&d to archival repositories & users.
  • Section on core concepts and principles for a&d defines the essential terminology and principles serving as the foundation for this function. It also compares and contrasts archvial descriptive practie to comparable functions in the library and museum professions. Considers the relationship of descriptive practice to the individual institutional mission.
  • The context of a&d provides summary background on the development of archival descriptive practices primarily in the US, but also includes Canadian and internationsl developments. Since other works address earlier developemnts, the focus here is on more recent developments, particularly how they related to automated access.
  • The practice of a&d provides an overview of the steps in arranging and describing archival records. It provides information on common elements of information collected at various stages, types of access tools, and current strandards.

From NeoArch site

Kathleen Roe’s Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts is part of the Society of American Archivists’ Archival Fundamentals Series II. It replaces Frederic Miller’s book of the same title. Both are extremely valuable books, and in my opinion, they complement one another. Miller’s book reads more like a manual.

Roe’s contribution is an easier read and seems in many places to be carefully, thoughtfully worded. Take, for example, her description of the task of arrangement. “To accomplish [description], the archivist must first arrange records, that is, identify the intellectual pattern existing in the materials, then make sure their physical organization reflects that pattern” (7-8, emphasis mine). I wish someone had described it to me that way when I first began working in archives. That description is nearly perfect and exceptionally graceful. In short, Roe’s work reads more like an introduction to arrangement and description than Miller’s work.

The book begins with an overview of what archives and description (A&D) is and how it relates to other tasks the archivist undertakes like appraisal, preservation, and reference. It then has a chapter on the core concepts for A&D, a chapter that summarizes how A&D practices have developed over time, and a chapter on the practice of A&D The latter chapter makes up the bulk of the book. In the core concepts chapter, Roe does a good job of distinguishing archives from related institutions like libraries and museums. Likewise, she emphasizes strongly that description should begin at the highest level.

Chapter three is essentially a historical overview of A&D practice, especially in the U. S. and Canada. She briefly details the development of standards like MARC, APPM, EAD, DACS, RAD, and ISAD(G). The final chapter examines A&D practice. Although it does not read as manual-like as Miller’s work, Roe provides a solid foundation for thinking through the entire process of A&D, from accessioning to developing finding aids.

The work contains insets with pertinent examples to the subject being discussed. Additionally, Roe offers several appendices that give extended examples and case studies. The case studies prove especially helpful in providing practical advice for dealing with rather difficult arrangement decisions.

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