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Introduction to the Iowa Women's Archives: How Collections are Organized

A guide for students and classes who want to use IWA materials for assignments and projects.

What is Processing?

Archivists call the work of appraising, preserving, arranging and describing new collections processing. Processing a collection makes it available to users.

Processing Steps


  • Determining the historical value or significance of a group of records. Evaluating what material will be added to the archives.


  • Adding materials to an archives collection. Involves a gift agreement with the donor and the legal transfer of custody.


  • Organizing a collection into series, boxes, and folders.


  • Writing the finding aid--a guide to the collection and an overview of the collection materials.


  • Conservation treatments or digitizing for materials that are fragile or at-risk.

Processing a Collection

Parts of a Collection

What is a Finding Aid?

A document that describes an archival collection and helps guide users through how to use the collection.

Parts of a Finding Aid

Collection information:

  • Title, abstract dates span, origin. 

Access and use:

  • Copyright status, other permission restrictions

Subjects & Related Names:

  • People or organizations represented in the collection.

Biographical/Historical Note:

  • Background information on the individual or group represented in the collection materials.

Scope/Content Note:

  • an overall description of the collection, including its length, date span and a summary of each series

Box List:

  • List of series, boxes, and folders