Case Study - Family Photograph Collection (UCB)

Submitted by James Eason, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Elise Stern Haas family photographs.

BANC PIC 1992.078. 

I. Overview

Collection type:

Family photographs, received with family papers. Chiefly 20th century, with some 19th century content.

Extent and scope:

Approximately 5,700 photographic prints (ca. 2,700 in 29 albums), 660 negatives, and 65 miscellaneous items (e.g. slides, postcards, drawings, manuscript items).


Photograph albums and loose photographs received, along with personal papers, from a prominent family. The collection includes studio portraits and snapshots, chiefly of private life and leisure activity, that picture many prominent individuals in San Francisco Bay Area business, philanthropy, and government.  A small group of photographs document the important modern art collection of Michael and Sarah Stein.

II. Approach


Received in the early 1990s as part of a larger manuscript accession of family papers, the photographs were transferred to the library’s pictorial unit for separate processing and cataloging. Such treatment is standard local practice for photograph collections with research value and significance in their own right. The photographs were largely housed separately when received, chiefly in albums. They were not “picked” from within manuscript files.

This collection was processed in the mid-1990s, prior to articulation of “More Product, Less Process” principles. It is a useful example of arrangement and description at the series and sub-series level, and as a departure from item-level listing and housing, which is the norm for photographic collections. This series-level approach was employed even though many significant individual are pictured and many portraits by extremely important photographers (Lange, Steichen, Weston, et al.) are present.


  1. An archivist surveyed the materials.
    1. He identified logical groupings, based chiefly on family group relationships and subject matter that could be used as conceptual series.
    2. The archivist determined six series: 1) Elise Sern Haas, Walter A. Haas, Sr. and family; 2) Meyer, Stern and Newmark families; 3) Haas, Koshland, and Lilienthal families; 4) the Sigmund Stern Grove; 5) Material from Therese Ehrman Jelenko; 6) Miscellaneous people and locations.
    3. Some series, particularly the family groupings, were further divided into subseries based either on featured individuals or on subject matter (such as events, travels, or residences.)
  2. It was decided not to create a container list inventorying the folders or items within the collection, but rather to rely on the series descriptions only, and note storage locations (shelving locations, box numbers, or volume numbers) with material relevant to each series or subseries.
  3. Archival folders were supplied for batches of photographs (not individual items), and folders were labeled with series/subseries numbers and identifying folder headings.
  4. Individual photographs were not numbered. Albums were given volume numbers, and items were counted.
  5. Series and sub-series descriptions are the core of the finding aid and replace the traditional container listing entirely.  They consist of
    1. Title
    2. Date Range
    3. Scope and content summary note
    4. Individuals pictured note
    5. Note: locations
    6. Note: events
    7. Note: photographers
  6. Albums were described in more detail than files of loose photographs, with the same data elements used for series and sub-series (listed above).
  7. While the standardized notes (individuals, locations, events, photographers) are lengthy and rather detailed, it was faster to make these notes about each series or album than it would have been to inventory the items within and tie this information to each item.
  8. One small series was listed at the item level due to anticipated researcher interest: 120 items consisting of the Therese Jelenko photographs of Michael and Sarah Stein and their art collection and Paris life.


 The EAD finding aid:

Note that the frontmatter is rather lengthy and detailed and could be briefer, yet still adequate, under MPLP principles.


The collection has been open for research and used numerous times over the past 10-15 years. Statistics are not available.

III. Processing rate


Processing and finding aid authoring were done entirely by a processing assistant, working part time, with periodic consultations with the archivist and curator.

IV.  Pros and Cons


  • A collection-level MARC record specific to the visual materials collection provided better access to the photograph collection than would a single MARC record encompassing the family papers, with photographic portions simply noted as a sub-unit of the papers.
  • Relatively rapid processing, without item listing, item numbering, or other time consuming item-level work typically applied to photograph collections.
  • Series or subseries notes listing individuals, events, etc. provide many access points for keyword searching. These access points lead researchers to a limited and manageable number of boxes, albums, or oversize folders.
  • More specific inventory listing could be made of selected high-value material in future, and nested within the finding aid’s series descriptions.


  • A researcher interested in a specific individual, place, event, or photographer will find a finding aid reference via keyword search, but will have to request several containers and browse to find the image referenced. Also, they won’t know exactly what relevant material will be present, or any specifics about it.
  • Unnecessary retrievals and browsing almost certainly result from the general descriptions.
  • Lack of inventory control could introduce security risk.

Document owner: Polina Ilieva. Version 3.0. Last reviewed: August 20, 2012

Last updated: April 10, 2013