Student: Leonor Miller
Course: LIS 698 Practicum
Date: May 1, 2012
Academic Advisor: Dr. Tula Giannini
Project Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Onassis Library, Greek & Roman Division
Site Manager: Mark Santangelo, Onassis Library, Librarian and Archivist
Project Title: Creating Access Through Collection Processing
The objective of this project is to create access to the personal and professional papers of Gisela Richter, curator emeritus of the Greek and Roman division, through archival processing, the use of controlled vocabulary and the creation of Excel spreadsheets.
Following Miss Richter’s death on December 24, 1972, these documents were stored by her heir, the American Academy in Rome. Thirty-eight years later, the papers were given to the Metropolitan Museum devoid of organizational schema.
The Richter materials consist of the following document types: correspondence in the forms of letters written by Miss Richter to her sister Irma, letters written to Miss Richter by friends, family members and professional contacts in the archeology and museum worlds, letters connected with various Richter publications, draft manuscripts; financial documents and photographs.
Following Miss Richter’s death, the documents were packed into regular storage boxes and were placed in a store room. No effort was made to maintain the original organizational scheme used by Miss Richter, or to conserve and preserve these documents. About thirty-eight years later, the boxes of documents were given to the Metropolitan Museum by the Miss Richter’s heir to her apartment and its content, The American Academy in Rome.
When the documents were turned over to the Metropolitan Museum, the boxes were placed in a cool work room, in their shipping boxes. In 2011 a volunteer re-housed these documents into acid free folders and attempted to sort the letters in chronological order. The draft manuscripts were found mostly in folders originally created by Miss Richter; therefore, they were moved into acid free folders as found. Nothing has been done with the photographs to date. Some documents were encapsulated in plastic because they are in extremely fragile condition. Many of the draft manuscripts, which are also in poor physical condition, have not been encapsulated as yet.
I began my work by reading several years’ worth of Miss Richter’s letter to her sister and some of the early letters from her friends. I also looked through the draws to familiarize myself with the quantity, quality and subject matter in the rest of the collection.
When these papers were turned over to the museum, it was thought that most of the documents consisted of letters written by Gisela Richter to her sister Irma, an artist and an amateur art historian. As I read further through the letters I found that there were other letters misfiled among these letters. I separated the letters into three groups: letters written by Gisela Richter to her sister Irma, letters written to Gisela Richter by friends and letters written by various family members to Gisela Richter. Concurrently I created controlled vocabulary for these letters and described them to item level, using Excel, the only software that I have available. The result has been that the site manager and I can perform word searches to locate various documents without disturbing the actual documents.
In a discussion with the site manager, we agreed to keep only photographs containing notes hand written by Gisela Richter. Second and third copies will be discarded. The reason for weeding out those photographs is that many, if not all, have already been published in her books and articles and they are in poor physical condition.
Week of November 10 (5 hours)
- Reviewed the files in general to determine organization scheme.
- Read over some of the Irma letters
Week of November 17 (5 hours)
- Read over some of the Irma letters
- Created Excel spreadsheet to document GR’s letters to Irma and begin creating a controlled vocabulary for the project.
- Discussed software choices for the project: Archivist toolkit, Filemaker Pro, Access, Drupal.
Week of December 8 (7 hours)
- Looked at similar Finding Aids
- Read some of Irma letters
- Continued developing the spreadsheets and controlled vocabulary
Week of December 15 (7 hours)
- Read Irma letters where I found two letters from GR to each one of her brothers. One letter being very significant since she was congratulating her brother on his upcoming wedding and discussing wedding gift.
- Read over the friends’ letters to GR which were not in order.
- Began an Excel spreadsheet of the friends letters listing the sender’s name, date of letter(if available), location of sender, home address of sender (if available) and any relevant fact such as nicknames of friends or leads to GR’s location at that time.
Week of December 22 (7 hours)
- Completed Excel spreadsheet of family and friends letters.
- Found some missing pages
- Found a letter from GR’s mother
- Found a letter from Irma
- Found a letter from GR’s father
- Presented software recommendations (Filemaker Pro, Access, Drupal)
- Found Irma’s and her father’s address in Lugano.
Week of January 3 (7 hours)
- Continued working on Excel spreadsheet of letters from GR to IR
- Found some missing pages
- Found a letter from GR’s mother
- Found a letter from GR’s brother – Fred
- Found GR’s 1934 telephone number in New York
Week of January 9 (7 hours)
- Drafted a format for the Input/Search screen which is formatted for Filemaker Pro. Could be used with MS Access as well though this software is not likely to be selected to support this project.
- Found information in a 1934 letter that allowed me to identify an article jointly written by Gisela and Irma Richter (The Archaic Apollo in the Metropolitan Museum, Metropolitan Museum Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, August 1934) about a sculpture in the collection of the Met Museum (Marble Statue of a Kouros (youth) – Gallery 154.
- Found information in a 1934 letter that allowed me to identify a sculptural relief in the collection of the Met Museum – Maenal Relief – Gallery 153.
- Processed letters for 1934 and 1935 found in filed in the wrong folder.
Week of January 16 (7 hours)
- Processed 1936, 1937 and 1938 letters.
- Found information in a 1936 letter that allowed me to identify a Titian painting in the Met Museum’s current collection bought during GR’s tenure. This purchase was so large that it curtailed the museum’s ability to purchase other major items.
- Able to determine the date of GR’s mother’s death to within nine months of actual date.
- Established parameters for arranging photograph portion of the project in conjunction with the site manager.
- Tested search capability of current Excel database.
Week of January 26 (7 hours)
Luise Richter (mother) died some time prior to April 1938, though it appears that she was alive on April 1936. There are mentions in the letters of 1936 about paying for a nurse, no mention of
- mother’s health. I found a letter from GR to IR dated April 5, 1938 where they are discussing ‘so much of mother’s little estate had to be paid to the British Government’.
- There is a gap in the letters between April 1936 and November 1937 and another gap in the letters between November 1973 and April 1938. This is an area where the collection needs to improve.
- Father (JP Richter) seemed to have finished a book on Leonardo some time in 1936 which confirms that he outlived his wife.
Week of January 30 (7 hours)
Week of February 9 (7 hours)
Week of February 13 (7 hours)
- Demo search function of the GR to Irma spreadsheet. Family’s spreadsheet is also working. Found letters from GR’s year teaching in Athens.
- Found two letters regarding the Gem work among the folder containing letters about the Greek Portrait books.
- Found letters from other professionals in the field of art history among the letters dealing with the Greek Portrait books.
- Integrated newly found letters in a To Do Folder into the appropriate folders and spreadsheets (friends and/or family).
- Have isolated most of the correspondence dealing with the Greek Portrait books into one folder. It appears that some of this correspondence may be related to Richter’s revision of this work dated sometime after 1965.
– Need to clarify the information regarding the ‘little book’. Is this the update to the Greek Portrait series of 1965? Done
– Need to determine why the Letters from Friends search function doesn’t work. Done
Week of February 20 (7 hours)
- Found auction notice for GR’s collection of furniture and paintings and Oriental rug, NYT June 22, 1952. Coleman Auction Galleries, 160 E 56 Street
- Found GR’s NYT’s obituary
- Found a working copy/draft of the supplement ‘little book’ and memoirs containing GR’s notes
- Created an Excel spreadsheet containing folder list called GR’s professional correspondence, publishing information and book reviews. Reviewed the correspondence in the folders listed below separating the letters dealing with Portraits 1965 books and the 1972 supplement. Listed the following folders in the top draw:
- professional correspondence
- correspondence dealing with Portraits of the Greeks published 1965
- Correspondence dealing with the ‘little book’ which is the 1972 supplement to the Portraits of the Greeks three volume series. (these letters should be encapsulated in plastic)
- Correspondence and illustrations for Sculpture and Sculptors (these letters should be encapsulated in plastic)
- Working Notes (these letters should be encapsulated in plastic)
- Correspondence with Phaidon – the publisher of her last books.
Week of March 1 (7 hours)
- Continued working on the correspondence related to GR’s later publishing.
- Continued to list folders in VF 11 – draw B is complete, draw C is about half complete.
- Most papers need to be encapsulated. I noticed that the paper of the letters dated at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds is in better condition than the papers she used in the nineteen sixties and seventies.
- Found one folder where none of the rusty paper clips had been removed. I was able to take the paper clips off but unfortunately they have caused significant damage.
- The folders containing professional correspondence for years 1963 to 1968 were not in chronological order. I rectified the problem, while I was arranging those letters I found a number of letters to and from Alison Frantz whom, I believe, was GR’s last co-author.
- The correspondence on the Kairo work was also not in chronological order. I fix those folders as well.
- Probably the biggest triumph of the day was finding several draft manuscripts and correspondence regarding the ‘Triumph’ article for the Met Museum’s 100th anniversary publication, as well as the correspondence between GR and the museum about it.
- These folders are only being described to the folder level; however, I was able to create a good number of searchable terms. You can now search through the spreadsheet rather than having to handle the actual documents.
- The person who worked on the papers had a tendency to stuff several folders into one hanging folder. I have been adding hanging folders in order to make the folders more accessible.
Week of March 7 – Library Closed
Week of March 15 (7 hours)
- Reorganized the papers related to the Triumphs & Tribulations into two groups, correspondence and drafts of the articles. Put the correspondence in chronological order.
- Reorganized the papers related to Arch. Sculptures into two groups, earlier and later drafts using the table of contents prepared by GR. Also arranged any correspondence related to this work in chronological order.
- Finished the Folder Lists (previously referred to as container list) for vertical files 11 and 12. Completed listing all but one draw in vertical file 13
- Professional correspondence files 1946 – 1968 are not in chronological order, though they are listed. Will arrange them in the near future after I finish the family papers and the contents list.
- Found a number of folders called private correspondence which contained correspondence from family members, such as Fred and JP Richter. These folders also contained many family documents such as two copies of GR’s birth certificate, list of the furnishings GR auctioned in New York before moving to Rome. Will work on re-organizing this information next.
Week of March 22 (7 hours)
- Removed family letters from folder called family and professional letter 1956-1961.
- Created individual files for each Richter family member, except for Luise Richter from whom I have not found any correspondence yet.
- Arranged the letters in chronological order.
- Described the letters in Excel spreadsheet called Richer Family Correspondence.
- Family names or nicknames found in various family letters for Fred, Gisela and Sandro.
- Drew a Richter family tree.
Further Work – I need to finish Fred’s letters next week. Done
Week of March 29 (7 hours)
- Finished documenting and describing Fred Richter’s letters in Richter Family spreadsheet.
- Finished listing folders in VF 13. Finishes the folder list based on folders created by the earlier processing team.
- Found a number of Maude Robinson’s letters to GR among the professional and personal correspondence files. Given the significance of Maude in GR’s life, I plan to pull these letters out into a separate folder under friend’s letters.
Further Work – Need to review the personal files under the heading of private correspondence, Irma’s Death and Fred. Done
Week of April 2 (7 hours)
- Read GR’s memoir book to determine correct spelling of various friend and family names.
- Revised some spellings in the Letters to GR spreadsheet based on spelling found in GR’s memoir book.
- Created separate folders for ‘Girton College Girls Group’ among the friends letters.
- Worked on the personal (private) & professional folders. I am first combining all folders of this heading into chronological order. Once this has been done, the papers will be broken into groups. So far I have created folders for: the American Academy, the Athens School, British Museum – Bernard, Alexander – Met Museum.
- Found more family letters which have integrated into their individual folders and described in the family letters spreadsheet.
- Found two letters that provide a basic outline of the US Richter family tree.
- I found a letter from Ireland, among the private and professional correspondence, stating that she had received her Doctor of Letters degree.
- Alex Hawke is GR’s godson. I found a postcard from Alex but I know there are more letters among the correspondence folder.—–
- Further Work – Need to continue working on the correspondence folders to get them in chronological order while determining what is there.Pull Alex’s and Maude’s letter out of the correspondence folders and set up their own individual folders.
Week of April 12 (7 hours)
- Discussed the feasibility of creating a spreadsheet that combines all the folders, thus creating a complete folder listed. Will be housed in Excel. This will be a future project.
- Discussed feasibility of creating a column listing the controlled vocabulary terms. The information will come from the terms already identify in the comments column. This idea will be re-visited later in the project at the request of the site manager.
- Continued working on the professional and private correspondence folders (1940-1972) to combine all correspondence into a chronological order. Once this is completed, then separate folders will be created for significant bodies of correspondence.
- Adjusted the spreadsheet to reflect the merging of various folders.
- Found more family, and some friends, letters in the folder containing sympathy letters following Irma’s death. These letters have been integrated into its own individual folders in the friends and family correspondence area. The spreadsheets were updated.
- Identified the date, reason and location of Irma’s death.
Week of April 19 (7 hours)
- Re-organize the file Irma’s death into separate folders marked: Irma’s obit & memorial, Irma’s financial information and Irma’s personal and professional papers. This could be a good place where we could add a comment or folder for Irma’s art work.
- Found obit of Ina Richter, another American cousin, and it is now filed in its own folder with the individual family correspondence folders.
- Re-organized Fred’s death folder into separate folders marked: Sympathy notes and card, obit and memorial service, legal papers (includes Fred’s will and death certificate) and misc. correspondence (includes copy of Isis, dated Nov 30, 1912).
- Found additional letters from Sandro, Alec, Edith (there seem to be at least to people named Edith) and May. They have been integrated into their own individual folders.
- Re-organized the folder GR’s private papers into the following folders: Coleman Galleries, GR’s insurance & other financial documents, Met Museum (dealing mostly with her retirement benefits and her subsequent work as a consultant), Gr’s obit and memorial information, sale of the New York apartment and miscellaneous papers for which I could not find a logical spot.
Week of April 23 (7 hours)
- Processed more letters from Irma, Fred and Gisela.
- While processing the correspondence folders I found letters from Jack and Marie Beasley. I created a separate folder for their letters (1940-1963).
- I found a number of letters from Bernard Berensen; set up a separate folder for his letters.
- I put all the correspondence folders in VF 13, Draw D in chronological order (1937-1972). I created separate new folders by years; it is documented it in the Excel spreadsheet.
Future Work – Put the correspondence folder VF 13, Draw B in chronological order and combine these letters with the correspondence folders in draw D.
Greene, Mark A and Meissner, Dennis, (2003).
More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing
The American Archivist, Vol. 68 Fall/Winter 2003
This article explores the opinion of researchers and practitioners alike that archivists over-process collections, thereby delaying access and running up processing costs.
Generally I agree with Meissner & Greene that archives-sometimes- tend to be too granular in their collection processing. I disagree with the authors’ assertion that archivists are unwilling to change their ways. Archivists want to make their collections accessible, and to be able to meet the needs of researchers by describing their collections as fully as possible. As content management software becomes more available, the need to describe collections might well decrease.
In my project I created controlled vocabulary at item level for the personal correspondence and the more extensive parts of the professional correspondence. Other parts of the collection, such as draft manuscripts or the sale of the New York apartment, received folder level treatment only. In the case of the family and friends letters, doing item level processing allowed me to concurrently organize the materials in chronological order, place in individual folders, as well to create a controlled vocabulary that resulted in increased access to these items. In both cases there is enough information to generate finding aids and enough access to meet the needs of most researchers.
I feel that my approach lives up to the idea of limited processing expressed by the authors. Meissner and Greene quote Northeastern University processing rate of four to 10 hours per cubic foot for materials without significant organizational problems as an acceptable rate. I was able to maintain this rate with the letters that were problematic due to difficulty in reading handwritings and misfiled items.
Preservation and conservation was performed to item level to remove rusty paperclips and staples, newspaper clippings and re-housing materials in acid free folders due to the poor condition of the materials. Some papers were encapsulated in plastic due to their poor physical condition as a result of large, rusted paper clips that melted the paper in spots; this represents less than a third of the collection. These documents had been stored in less than ideal condition for over thirty years; therefore there was no way to avoid doing some conservation work.
Crowed, Stephanie H and Spilman, Karen, (2010).
MPLP @ 5: More Access, Less Backlog?
Journal of Archival Organization, Volume 8, Issue 2, April-June 2010
The authors surveyed American archivists in 2009 to determine whether or not the practitioners used MPLP, the extent to which they use MPLP in their work and how has the use of MPLP (more product less processing) impacted backlog and user access.
The results appear to be mixed with thirty-seven percent of their sixty-seven respondents claiming that reference levels have remained about the same, and fifty-eight percent noting a slight increase in their ability to help researchers. Overall, the authors were surprised to note that a great many archivists use some variation of MPLP as I did in this project. This result was surprising as the survey and the comments elicited by the authors showed that many archivists have a poor or incomplete understanding of MPLP principles.
Cox, Robert S., (2010).
Maximal Processing or, Archivist on a Pale Horse
Journal of Archival Organization, Volume 8
After considering Greene & Meissner’s processing archival approach of MPLP (more product less processing), the University of Massachusetts at Amherst developed its own processing approach which they have named maximal processing. Basically UMass Amherst now places the descriptive process within the processing activities, similar to what I did with the Richter papers.
Minimal processing is an effort that attempts to reduce cost and access time by minimizing the granularity of the descriptive and reviewing the cost effectiveness of processing activities. Cox is correct in stating that all researchers are not deeply knowledgeable about their subject matter. Minimal descriptions in such cases will result in frustration for researcher and archivist alike. While I agree with Greene and Meissner that finding aid should be short and concise, I strongly feel that time is well spent in developing terms that allow researchers to look through databases that can pinpoint the exact file and documents needed. I am more inclined to follow the suggestions of Mark Gorzalski (as quoted by Cox) in describing archival collections. Yet I stand with Greene and Meissner in believing that every collection needs to be treated as an individual. Justice cannot be done to a collection by applying rigid, uniform standards.
Maximal processing, by comparison, pre-describes the collection in concise terms, conducts basic/remedial conservation and prepares an EAD (encoded archival description) that is made available electronically right away. After these steps are taken, the collection is placed on a schedule for deeper processing in relation to other projects in the archive. The goal of UMass is to describe the collection to folder level only, with a typical four to five hours per cubic feet span of time. Once this is accomplished, the collection is re-described in a concise manner based on scholarship.
Harney, John (2009).
Executive Sponsorship or User Buy-In? Try Both
Infonomics Guide 2009, Supplement
This article emphasizes the need for identifying champions that would support your project. The author very wisely suggests that this should not be an either or proposition. Rather you should have management and user support.
In the case of Miss Richter’s papers, I hope that researchers find out that the collection is fairly accessible and mostly processed. I believe that increased demand for access will persuade the museum’s management to allocate financial resources to this project. The only funding available was the initial donation made by a Pratt alumna, which allowed the purchase of acid free folders and plastic to protect the more fragile papers. The funding to buy Filemaker Pro, the software that was found acceptable by the librarian, has not yet been made available. Thus I had to use Excel for my project.
Following Miss Richter’s death in 1972, staff from the American Academy packed the papers in cardboard boxes and placed in non-archival storage. The result was that many of the professional correspondence were heavily damaged by rusty paper clips and some substances that were spilled on some of the papers. Miss Richter kept carbon copies of all her manuscripts. These copies, which were done on very thin paper, are extremely fragile and should be encapsulated in plastic.
On the positive side, the papers are currently stored in a room where the temperature is usually kept at about seventy-two degrees F. The papers are housed in acid free folders, inside metal file cabinets. Handling has been reduced since the creation of the Excel spreadsheets, as we can now go to the exact folder where an individual letter may be housed by doing a simple word search.
Weeding parameters were established after considering the item’s importance to the collection and to the work performed by Miss Richter. The photographs that will be weeded have no metadata or other notations and have been published as illustrations in her many of her works. Newspaper clippings, most of which are in poor condition after being stored in inappropriate conditions, are being replaced as processing continues with copies made on acid free paper.
There are virtually no resources available for this project. As part of my practicum I did the collection processing; I did some conservation by removing rusted paper clips or pins, brushing the papers, moving papers to less crowded acid free folders. I replaced corrosive newspaper clippings with copies and place the clippings inside acid free paper. A Pratt alumna is writing the family history. There is no money allocated to finance the processing or buying appropriate software to document and provide electronic access to the collection. The work space is limited to a computer in the work room and use of either the work bench in the work room or a library table.
Given the fragile conditions of these papers, it is imperative to create an electronic portal that allows direct, quick access to the documents while minimizing document handling. An electronic portal would allow the curatorial staff to find documents from their desks computers, without assistance from the solo librarian. Outside researchers could locate items without having to take up the time of the solo librarian if an electronic portal was created.
I recommended obtaining relational database software that:
- would allow users easy and fast access to the collection
- would free the solo librarian/archivist’s time by having users search the database on their own reduces need to handle fragile documents
- is easy to install
- requires little user training
- supports the respect de fonds concept by allowing related materials, such as Irma Richter’s drawings or Jean Paul Richter’s notebooks, to be connected to Gisela Richter’s papers.
My first suggestion was Archivist Toolkit which meets all the needs listed above. Unfortunately, the Metropolitan Museum information technology policies would not allow the installation of any open source software. Drupal was also rejected for the same reason.
I then looked at the software packages installed in the museum’s computers, thus I suggested Access. This is a relational database that is inexpensive because it is already installed in the department’s computers. Unfortunately, this software package is not supported by the information technology department.
Finally I suggested Filemaker Pro which is an inexpensive, relational database used by other archives. It is user friendly, easy to learn and easy to install, access rights can be pre-determined for different user groups, the Richter Excel data can be easily be transferred to Filemaker from Excel and the museum’s IT department will support this software. While the librarian agrees with my recommendation, the purchase of the software will have to be approved by the department’s management.
Project Evaluation & Accomplishments
The Richter papers should be conserved because of their enduring value. They document the life of a leading figure in the world of the history of Greek art, history and archeology. Miss Richter’s letters describe, in an intimate fashion, the history of the museum and the development of its Greek and Roman art collection. Much of the art works acquired by Miss Richter are still integral parts of the fabric of this museum and represent a significant part of the museum’s Greek & Roman collection currently on exhibit. Her letters provide evidence of how works were acquired, exhibited and authenticated, making them a form of provenance. She also discusses the museum’s early public outreach efforts to bring ancient Greek culture to the lay public and to students of art history and archeology. Additionally, her letters are full of comments that describe life in New York City and the world during the first half of the twentieth century. Lastly, Miss Richter was one of the first female curators at the museum; therefore, these letters are valuable in the history of feminism.
The site manager is very impressed with my progress and productivity in this project; however, I feel the project could have moved farther if Filemaker Pro had been in place while I was working on the project. The organizational objections to the use of Archivist Toolkit, Drupal and Access also hampered my progress. Despite the IT frustrations, it is gratifying to see that the Richter archive has been mentioned in the Onassis Library web page and that means that scholars could potentially benefit from my work in two mouse clicks. Hopefully when a robust electronic portal is finally created, they may turn Miss Richter’s name into a hyperlink to the finding aid. Despite the IT delays, I managed through the use of Excel spreadsheets to capture enough information for the librarian to prepare a finding aid for this collection.
The Onassis Library for Hellenic and Roman Art
The Onassis Library is a non-circulating research facility housing twelve thousand volumes for the study of Greek and Roman Art. The collection specializes in early archaeological literature, exhibition and auction catalogues, sculpture, and vase painting. Included are rare books, photographs, and extensive archival holdings; among them, the Gisela M. A. Richter Archives, the Kelekian Archives, and the Piero Tozzi Archives.
The collection began in 1909 when the Classical Department was established. It has been developed by the generosity of curators, colleagues, and the Department of Greek and Roman Art‘s Philodoroi friends group. A 1996 gift from the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation permitted the Museum to transform the collection of books into a library.
Hours and Access
Available to Museum staff, graduate students, and qualified researchers by appointment only. Visitors consult the Thomas J. Watson Library before requesting an appointment.
Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
It is evident that this project needs funding; therefore, the librarian/site manager needs to find a champion as suggested by John Harney. He already found one external donor but the reality is that he needs more funds. I believe that now the librarian needs to engage his management in his search to fund the electronic portal for the collection.
It is has been gratifying to have had the opportunity to work on this project as I believe that it would be impossible to gain this type of experience had I been working in a larger archive, especially when one considers the lack of financial support. I learned about the diplomatic and/or political side of working in an archive, especially in a large bureaucracy.
At the beginning of the project I made a decision to let Miss Richter’s letters be my vehicle to learning about this interesting woman. In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to read her memoirs early on in the project because it would have helped me spell the names of many of her friends correctly.
This information can be viewed at https://nycowgirl1947.wordpress.com under the Gisela Richter page.