Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts Book Review
- Roe, Kathleen D . Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts, Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005.
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. It is very thorough, and I have reviewed it already. 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 one subject that I wish Roe would have treated more thoroughly is how to implement standardization within one’s collections. I suppose that thorough discussions of implementing EAD and DACS are more appropriate for extended works rather than introductions, but I was hoping for more from this book in that area.
While reading this work, I often found myself thinking, “she just answered a question I have been thinking about for some time.” This entire work contains excellent and well-placed 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. All in all, I would recommend this book highly, especially to novice archivists.