The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection
We now know a bit about Cyrus Teed, founder of the Koreshan Unity, and about the collection of records and papers accumulated by the Unity and its members. But how do we transform that collection from the initial state of near-chaos in which we found it into an organized, accessible collection that is easy and inviting for researchers to use?
In addition to generous financial assistance from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) which allowed us to hire a full-time Project Archivist, it has taken a lot of planning and hard work that began long before the Koreshan Unity collection arrived in Tallahassee.
The work began in September 2008 with a visit to the College of Life Foundation, the Estero, Florida headquarters of the successor organization that continues to administer the Koreshan Unity’s remaining business affairs.
One lower room of the building housed the Koreshan Unity archives. All four walls of the room were completely shelved from end-to-end and floor-to-ceiling, and all the shelves were filled with envelopes of various shapes and sizes crammed with records and papers. Looking back at the room as we first saw it, we can see three of these walls in the left foreground and the center and right background.
The records in this room included everything from late 19th century Cyrus Teed writings, to financial records and State Park records from the 1970s, to piles of disorganized photographs of every time period, subject and image quality. What to do?
Here’s what: We began a preliminary inventory of the collection by numbering every shelf in the room and preparing a rough listing of the contents of each shelf based on envelope descriptions and a cursory review of their contents. Koreshan State Historic Site staff were very generous with their time and helped complete the preliminary inventory after our visit, packing the records in boxes labeled to coordinate with our assigned shelf numbers, and preparing a rough list of the records already stored in boxes. Months later, the bulk of the packed collection was stacked in what had been the College of Life library awaiting transport to the State Library and Archives. Looks better already, doesn’t it?
Following the May 2009 transfer of the collection to the Archives, staff conducted an initial sort of the boxes and envelopes of records into general categories based on the information from the preliminary shelf and box inventories. We expected that these general categories – administrative records, Cyrus Teed papers, member family papers, subject files, tracts and articles, photos, etc. – would form the initial basis of record series that would be more fully identified during detailed processing of the collection.
So here we sat with stacks and stacks of boxes in rough groupings that we hoped to transform into logical, well-organized record series. Where do we go from here? To the next post in this series, of course! Keep an eye out for Part Five.