Why Section Names Matter: The Inclusion of Accessioning

Authors: Sarah Woods, Curator of Historic Properties and Archives at El Pomar Foundation, Committee Chair, and Meaghan O’Riordan, Accessioning Archivist Emory University, Steering Committee Member.

In 2020, SAA’s Acquisitions & Appraisals section sponsored a working group focused on creating the first nationally recognized Best Practices for Accessioning. The proposal, prepared and submitted by Rosemary K.J. Davis and Meaghan O’Riordan, noted the need for the standard. While other critical functions–including reappraisal and deaccessioning, description, and digital preservation–have well-documented standards, accessioning had none. 

The lack of best practices for accessioning means every individual and organization performing this work develops their own practices from the ground up, leading to massive duplication of effort. Innovative approaches go unshared with a larger community, including piecemeal workflows that function more as stopgaps than as comprehensive and consistent strategies. Accessioning, a rich and varied hybrid of many discrete duties encompassing a wide spectrum of pre-and post-custodial work would benefit from best practices to ensure transparent stewardship practices that are both extensible and holistic. Accessioning best practices will provide recognition, resources, and validation for individuals and organizations performing this work and allow for more efficient and effective accessioning work throughout the profession.

SAA approved a three-year Best Practices Working Group for Accessioning. A group of engaged archival practitioners were established to start developing the standards in 2021 and are actively meeting to work on the standard. By 2024, the group will have a complete draft to share with SAA sections (and other stakeholders) and have public feedback rounds with SAA and other regional & GLAM organizations. A final draft will be submitted for the 2024 SAA Annual Meeting. 

The development of the proposal for the Accessioning best practices highlighted the need to make this work more visible. In 2021, leadership formally added accessioning to the section’s scope. Previously, accessioning did not have a defined space within SAA sections. Our mission in the Accessioning, Acquisitions, & Appraisals (AA&A) section is to increase visibility, create community, and provide resources and support for archivists performing accessioning and acquisitions work. Learn more about our alignment with accessioning in our revised standing rules, on our Assigning Value blog, and at our Third Thursday virtual events.

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