Artist's Legacy Toolkit: Organize

[ Introduction | Using this Toolkit | Identify | Organize | Preserve | Access | Resources | Copyright | Digital Files | Records Management ]

How Will You Need to Access Your Materials?

Your answer to this question will help you decide what method of organization is best. Regardless of your career level, a good records management system (how documents are organized within a filing system and how information about records is kept) can improve the efficiency of your business and your ability to archive your artistry. Many systems are organized chronologically, but you may want to organize by choreographic work, material format, content, event, etc. However you organize your files, programs, costumes, media, and other objects, remember that consistency is the key for future retrieval.

Image of Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project:
Video materials separated with items with unique numbers
on left and unnumbered items on right.
Photo by Kat Bell.

1. Designate storage areas for each of the main categories of your system. This could be labeled folders, drawers, boxes, and shelves.
2. Eliminate unneeded duplicate copies, saving a small number of older items and a larger, but limited, number of more current items that you might use for reporting or development purposes. Dance/USA recommends saving 5 copies, however you might add more or less depending on the needs of your organization.
How long should you keep materials? Your organization should have a formal records retention schedule that staff can consult to determine whether records need to be kept or may be securely discarded. If you don’t have a records retention schedule, this tool will help provide some guidelines:

→ See Legacy Tool #3: Document Retention and Destruction Schedule

3. Label media, artifacts, and paper materials using a consistent system. Label items as they are created – taking the time now will ensure items are identified fully. You may not remember where a photograph was taken, by whom, and who is in it ten years down the road.

→ See Legacy Tool #4: How to Label

For best practices in labeling digital, photo, and audiovisual materials:

→ See Legacy Tool #5: Digital Material Data Sheet

→ See Legacy Tool #6: Photo Materials Data Sheet

If you are further along in your career, examine what you have and your methods for collecting and saving materials. Are you missing information or is there a discernible pattern to gaps in your documentation? Determine what you need to locate or create. Identify possible sources for obtaining missing materials such as former company members, board members, friends, relatives, venues where you performed, and videographers who may have items that belong in your archive.

Image of Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project:
Unsorted materials in Lib-2 before organization.
Photo by Kat Bell.

Take Inventory

An inventory not only helps you locate your materials, but it is vital when calculating insurance needs, transferring your files to another organization, or developing a disaster plan. We've provided a sample document that gives you the flexibility to develop an inventory only as detailed as you need. Think about how items are already labeled and how that information can be transferred to a spreadsheet. If you need assistance with your inventory, contact us!

→ See Legacy Tool #7: Inventory Template Guidelines

→ See Legacy Tool #8: Sample Inventory Template

Creating and Using Unique ID Numbers

 What is a Unique ID Number?

A numbering system unique to your archive. It functions like a library call number system, helping you find items and relate them to information in inventories or catalog records.

Unique ID Numbers are applied to physical items. For tips on creating filenaming conventions for digital files, see the Records Management Guide.

How to use Unique ID’s:

In general, video and audio materials should receive individual ID numbers for every item. (See How to label.) For paper materials in boxes or drawers, you can simply number the box or drawer, or at most the folder. (Example: Cabinet 2, Drawer 4. Example: Box 17, Folder 3) Unless you are actually creating catalog records for individual photos, programs, etc., you do not need to give ID’s to these items.

Tips for creating a Unique ID system:

  • Keep it simple! Remember that creating a very long ID will make it harder to physically label items, and increase the likelihood of confusion or errors.
  • A Unique ID # does not need to encode a lot of information about the item. This information (date, title of work, type of material, etc.) will be stored in your inventory. A basic system might look like this:
    • Short prefix for the format + a number (0001, 0002, 0003, etc.)
    • Example: V0037 = video, item number 37
    • Since assigning unique numbers is often done in conjunction with creating an inventory, the number will likely correspond to the order in which the item was inventoried, i.e., item 0301 was the 301st item added to the inventory. See above for tips and templates for creating inventories.
  • Put numbers on items with post-it notes while creating the inventory. When you are finished, go back and add the numbers with acid-free labels or tape and acid-free marker. This way, it will be easier to make any changes during the process.
  • The most important thing is to be sure that each item gets a unique number that is not duplicated anywhere in the collection, and that this number is correctly recorded in the inventory.
  • Document your system so that future staff will be able to implement it consistently. 

[ Introduction | Using this Toolkit | Identify | Organize | Preserve | Access | Resources | Copyright | Digital Files | Records Management ]