Arrangement and description are terms used to describe various types of processing activities that bring order and control to collections of materials.  They commonly involve the physical handling, sorting, and listing of materials, as well as preservation and housing activities.  Additional guidance in these matters may be found in Kathleen Roe's Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts.

B3.2.  Arrangement

Arrangement is the process of sorting individual items into meaningful groups and placing those groups into useful relationships with each other.  Materials can be arranged in many logical ways, and the design of the arrangement should be determined by examining the material to consider the types of access most likely to serve the needs of researchers and other potential users.  Different collections will require differing levels and methods of arrangement.  For these reasons, decisions about arrangement must be made individually for each collection.

B3.2.1.  Organized prior to acquisition

For collections that come to the library already well organized, every effort should be made to maintain this order.  Maintaining the original order of a collection can reveal significant information about the previous owner’s use of the materials and is, for this reason, a basic tenet of archival practice.

B3.2.2.  Organized by the library

Collections that come to the library lacking any recognizable order must be examined, sorted, and arranged in some fashion prior to cataloging.  Collections consisting of many items are normally divided into hierarchical subgroupings.  Customary types of arrangement include:

by source or provenance

by genre/form

by content or topic

in chronological order

in alphabetical order (by author, title, etc.)

B3.2.3.  Acquired individually

Materials originally acquired as individual items (whether simultaneously or over time) may be grouped in intentionally assembled collections, as noted above.  Appropriate library staff, which may include curators and catalogers, must determine which materials will be so combined, how they will be arranged, and at what level of fullness they will be described (e.g., whether the material will receive contents notes and/or author-title analytics, whether it will be classified and shelved with book collections or boxed and treated archivally, etc.).

B3.3.  Description

Description is the process of recording the information that was gathered during the sorting and arranging stages.  For large collections, finding aids typically are compiled to provide a greater level of detail.  Finding aids vary widely in format, style, and complexity.  They generally consist of two parts.  The first is a narrative introduction that includes:  biographical sketches or historical contextual information; a content summary highlighting strengths, gaps, weaknesses, and characterizing the collection’s extent and depth; and information concerning the collection’s administration and use, such as restrictions on access.  The second part is a listing of the items or groups of items that comprise the collection.  For collections arranged hierarchically, the listings may stop at a collective subgroup level or may extend down to the file or item level.

See also:

Appendix B:  Collection-Level Records