How can you bring your materials together?

You are now ready to bring your materials together. Working on one location at a time, following your location work plan, sort through your materials and look for those that tell your organisation’s story. It may be useful to print out the list that you created in worksheet A3_OurStory as a reminder of what to look for. This isn’t set in stone so you can add other materials if you find interesting items that aren’t listed.

How do you sort your materials?

Gather your materials into meaningful groups (and sub-groups where relevant). If you have a working filing structure, you can follow that or you can create categories that best reflect what your organisation does. Some businesses use a formal classification scheme, or file plan, which specifies all the categories and sub-categories into which their records are organised.

You can clear out unwanted material as you go but you want to make sure that you don’t throw out anything you still need for business purposes. If you aren’t sure whether to keep something or not the Trash, stash or treasure flow chart may help.

If you can, get others involved, perhaps getting a team together to help. Make sure they know what materials they are looking for and why. Individuals could be responsible for collecting the materials from their own workspace or allocated locations. This would be a good project for volunteers to work on, particularly retired colleagues who have a first-hand knowledge of the organisation from an earlier period.

You can choose whether you want to work on digital or physical materials first or alternate between them. To avoid things being missed, tick off each location on your list when work on it is completed.

As you work through the materials, take a note of any particularly interesting, significant or eye-catching materials that would be good for sharing in publications, exhibitions, or on social media. This is covered in more detail in the Share It section.

Sorting digital materials

Depending on the storage system you have chosen for your digital materials it may be a straightforward copy into a cloud-based folder, a shared drive, or an external drive, and one of these systems may be used to transfer the selected materials to another computer.

There are different approaches you can take with sorting digital materials and you can use a combination of these depending on what suits you best at the time.

  • Copy across all files to your archive folder and then look through them and delete what you don’t want to keep in your archive
  • Look through all the files and only copy across the files you want for your archive

Your archive file will then become the go-to place for an original master copy from which working copies are created.

Digital materials may have several layers of folders within folders. It is important to work through these methodically so that nothing is missed. There are also some things to bear in mind when collecting files from a number of locations:

  • Different names may have been given to otherwise duplicate materials
  • Duplicate materials may be arranged in a different way, as shown in the example below

Sorting digital materials image

  • You may need to rename some files and folders and re-arrange them so that they better reflect your activities e.g. it would be more meaningful to have a folder named ‘John’ re-named with his role or activity
Sorting physical materials

As you sort through your physical materials remove any harmful fastenings, such as metal paperclips, staples, elastic bands or plastic folders, and transfer them into cardboard folders and boxes to protect them. You will also create a ‘box list’ so that you know what you have and where it is. The Box list template is provided for you to download and complete.

If you have the space to do it, create bundles to keep related materials together, for example annual reports, materials from a particular event/meeting, funding correspondence/documents. This makes it much quicker to list materials and find them later. It is not a good idea to bundle materials of similar formats together, such as photographs, flyers or leaflets, as the context in which they were created can then be lost.

As you will see from the Trash, stash or treasure flow chart, it is useful to keep duplicates of interesting or eye-catching materials which could be used for exhibitions and events. Using duplicates or surrogate copies of your materials in this way helps to keep your archive copies safe.

Toolkit tea break

Activity B3

Sorting through digital materials

Now you can get started sorting through your digital materials and making copies for your archive folder. 

It may take a lot of ‘tea breaks’ to sort through all your digital materials. If you feel like a change move onto the next activity and sort through your physical materials.

Open the Activity booklet and click on Activity B3.

Activity B4

Sorting through physical materials

In this activity you will start sorting through your physical materials, packaging them up and creating your box list.

Open the Activity booklet and click on Activity B4.


Jargon buster

Digital preservation is the active management of digital materials to ensure that the authentic content can be accessed over time despite changes in technology or media failure.

Digitisation is the process of creating digital versions of physical materials using scanning technology. 

Born-digital are materials where the originals were created digitally and not digitised versions of physical materials.

Find out more about these and other terms in the Jargon buster.