Finding aids are the description that archivists provide to aid researchers in finding the materials they seek. Most of the finding aids we create here at A&SC are single collection inventories: these can vary from an item level listing (rare because they take a lot of time) to short descriptions of a collection as a whole. At a minimum, our inventories contain a collection title, call number, indication as to the size of the collection, date span, a biographical/historical statement about the creator, a description of the contents of the collection, and information about the provenance (the source and history) of the collection. All of these pieces of information tell the researcher something about what the collection is, where it came from, why it may exist, all of which helps researchers to gauge how useful the collection might be for their topic.
Recently Jeanne Hawthorne, an Alaskan taking a distance undergraduate program in library science, approached us about doing her end-of-term project for an archives course with one of our collections. We have–as we always do–the perfect project waiting. A series of consultant’s reports on international oil matters which had been kept by Milton Lipton and donated to A&SC by his wife, Barbara Lipton. An index to the reports had already been created by Natalia Soto who had volunteered for us about a year ago while working on her master’s degree in library science.
Jeanne’s project was to take the index created by Natalia and produce a collection-level inventory.
She started by carefully reviewing several documents: the index to the oil reports, our descriptive policy, the donor correspondence, and our finding aid template form. This allowed her to write up the bulk of the inventory.
Then with nothing more than Mr. Lipton’s name, she was able to look up his death date in the Social Security Death Index and from there find an obituary to use as a source of information for the biographical statement.
Then with a proofread and a reformat of the index to make it fit our standards, and she was done. We entered the information into our collections database and posted the inventory on our website so it is accessible to anybody interested in topics covered by the collection. And Jeanne posed for one last photograph with the collection boxes before we shelved them in our vault, ready to be retrieved for researchers.
The collection is really fascinating and a little unusual for us. The reports have a strong Alaska connect both because Mr. Lipton was a consultant on oil matters for the Alaska Legislature and because oil has been such a moving force in the development of the Alaskan economy. But this collection has a much broader range in terms of worldwide economic and political assessments and that’s what is unusual for us: on a quick read through, some of the reports include the Suez Canal crisis, Venezualan economic issues, and descriptions of oil transport infrastructure worldwide.