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Rupert Brooke's signature

3. Where are the records?

How documents become records in archives

When archivists receive a new accession they have to carry out a number of tasks. They appraise the documents to see what is worth keeping, whether anything should be destroyed or sent elsewhere, whether anything should be ‘restricted/closed’, and the condition of the items.

They catalogue the collection and package the archives in the best way to prevent damage to them, label the acid free packaging and move the collection to the strong room.

People are sometimes surprised that archivists don’t keep everything. Remember, they can only keep what they have been given. Also, documents in archives are like shared memories. Just as you only remember significant events (e.g. not what you had for lunch last Tuesday), the same is usually true of archives.

Here are some photographs, showing an accession of personal papers of William Denis Browne as they were received by the Archivist at Clare College and after they has been catalogued. William Denis Brown was a composer and a close friend of Rupert Brooke's.

Accession of personal papers of William Denis Brown
Accession of personal papers of William Denis Brown
Accession of personal papers of William Denis Brown
Items from the accession re-packaged and given archival reference numbers
Accession of personal papers of William Denis Brown
Catalogued items boxed and ready to be stored in a strong room

When the papers were catalogued, they were placed into acid free packaging which will preserve them safely. They were also given reference numbers, written on the files and on the boxes. The boxes are kept in strong rooms, which are full of boxes which look the same, where items are found using reference numbers.

That is why browsing is best done by catalogue rather than looking through boxes or simply describing them – you cannot quickly tell what the document is without looking at the catalogue description.

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