The University Record, November 5, 1997

Bentley Library counsels units on archiving of records

Karen Jania, UARP staff, examines files at the Bentley Historical Library. Photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Dark, dank basements and dusty, dry attics may seem like likely places to find the University's old records, but this is an increasingly antiquated notion, according to the staff of the Bentley Historical Library's University Archives and Records Program (UARP).

"Conditions are not typically dreadful," says Marjorie Barritt, who heads UARP. "Now and again, we do run into some unusual records storage areas around the campus, including attics and basements, but more often we find inactive records in office file c abinets, or in boxes set aside in closets, or stored in the University's computers. What's more important than the location of the records is their content. Our mission is to document the University community from Regents and presidents through schools, colleges and departments, programs and organizations, including the myriad groups creating documentation about student life at the U-M."

Once a University unit determines that it has inactive records, a team from UARP can be called in to evaluate the records. Although University staff are communicating more by e-mail and creating records in digital format, the University, not unlike most institutions, is nowhere near the promised paperless environment. "The tremendous backlog of paper records created and stored in University units is not likely to diminish for years," Barritt says. "Currently the archives holds more than 600 feet of rec ords documenting the provost's office alone."

Once the UARP team determines what records have value for current and future researchers, the material is processed and a descriptive inventory called a "finding aid" is created. The inventory enables University administrators and staff to have access t o the materials stored at Bentley should they have need to see the physical record in the future.

Within the past couple of years, UARP appraised the inactive administrative records belonging to the Institute for Social Research (ISR) that were stored at Willow Run and the ISR Building. Some of these records had a continuing administrative value for ISR, but did not rise to the level of archival records that should have been transferred to the Bentley. These records were removed from Willow Run to more appropriate storage. "No one should be keeping records at Willow Run," says Barritt, "because of the extremely poor physical conditions at that site." UARP staff appraised approximately 250 feet of inactive ISR records, recommended 110 feet for destruction and 140 feet for additional processing such as re-boxing, arrangement and description.

The UARP staff has also worked with committees from the Information Technology Division (ITD) that were set up to identify, appraise and dispose of nearly 10,000 reels of computer tapes created on MTS (the Michigan Terminal System) and stored in ITD faci lities. MTS, the mainframe computer operating system developed by the Computing Center and used on campus for more than 30 years, was phased out during the 1995Ð96 academic year.

Greg Kinney of the UARP staff conducted this project, which involved appraisal of a portion of the tapes and more than 200 feet of paper records and printed manuals documenting the development of MTS. Seventy feet of records and approximately 50 MTS sys tem tapes were transferred to the University Archives. In addition to guidance from ITD staff, Kinney had help with the massive appraisal project from School of Information graduate students enrolled in the archival education program.

Although a regular archival review by Bentley staff is advised, moving and renovations are also good times to contact Barritt's team for a records review. When Alumni Records moved into Wolverine Towers there was no room for the voluminous paper-based al umni necrology files. These records, stored in thousands of four-by-six inch envelopes, document the careers and activities of U-M alumni from graduation to death as well as documenting careers of the University's faculty. The records are now stored in 750 archival-quality shoebox-size containers. Staff have created a computerized index of the material that is more than 1,800 pages long and are doing modest preservation work on records at risk in the collections.

"The University records are a rich source for historical research," Barritt says. "They can be used to research the history of the University, the history of higher education and of various fields and disciplines within the University, as well as provid e a window into a social history that spans many decades. These records are used by academic researchers, by school and university students, by documentary producers, by genealogists, and by a diverse group of general researchers."