The AAVSO Archives—Description




The primary purpose of the project is to organize, evaluate, and catalog the AAVSO’s historical archival material so that everything has a place, can be located efficiently, and can be returned to its place so that it can be found again when needed.

The secondary purpose of the project is to identify material that is an important or significant part of AAVSO history, or is simply interesting. All such material will be described in the archive catalog with notes, cross-reference information, and keywords, so that the catalog will be useful both as a finding-aid and as a research tool.

Rules for a system of arrangement

While libraries may have strict cataloging rules to follow, there are no corresponding sets of rules for archives. Every archive is unique, and it is the archive itself which determines the rules. There is, however, one fundamental archiving rule to be applied whenever possible: to preserve the original order of any found set of papers.

With these thoughts in mind, the system of arrangement generally mirrors how the AAVSO has generated its documents. First, there are distinct historical “epochs,” which divide according to the periods of leadership: the Pickering/Olcott era, the Campbell era, the Mayall era, and the Mattei era. Second, there are distinct ways in which documents are generated, or materials are acquired at AAVSO Headquarters: Correspondence, Organizational, Administrative, and Special Collections. These basic building blocks form an identifier for each item, folder, box, and collection. The identifier then becomes a means to describe the physical location on a shelf, and the sub-location within a box and folder, of an item listed in the catalogue. The following are the parts which make up the identifier:

A. The Era

ECP Pickering Era 1877–1911

WTO Olcott Era 1911–1915

LC Campbell Era 1915–1949

MWM Mayall Era 1949–1973

JAM Mattei Era 1973–2004

Subsequent years are to be added to the archive at 5-year intervals.

B. The Collection

The AAVSO Correspondence Collection is all material found filed in letters folders, many of which were found labeled with a specific correspondent’s name.

The AAVSO Organization Collection comprises any material pertaining to AAVSO’s divisions, committees, minutes, treasurer’s files, secretary reports, and so on. These are, in general, any files involving decision-making that were found filed as such, apart from the AAVSO Correspondence files and other collections. This collection also contains anything pertaining to the AAVSO in general which does not fall into any of the other categories.

The AAVSO Administration Collection consists of such items as meeting notices and planning, papers relating to publications and mailings, samples of printed matter, business items, and so on. This is generally any material generated by, or representative of, routine office functions, and which was found stored as such.

Special Collections comprise all material given or bequeathed to the AAVSO, and any internal material that cannot (or should not) be assigned to the AAVSO Correspondence, Organization, or Administration collections; for example, the AAVSO Charts Collection.

The other parts which make up the identifier are self-explanatory: C. box number; D. file unit (usually a folder or group of folders); and E. the item or set of items within a folder. The identifier is used to make up a label on a box or folder, or as a call-number in the catalog. A call-number, for example, would be written: AAVSO Corresp. LC Box 5 McAteer, C. Y.

As a visual locating aid, the box labels are color-coded—white for Correspondence, blue for Organization, green for Administration, and yellow for Special Collections.

The catalog

The archival material was originally catalogued using ProCite relational database software. The catalogue has since been exported as a set of delimited text files so that it can be migrated to a mysql database and, eventually, be made web-accessible.

When a selection of archival material is arranged, placed in folders, and boxed, a catalog entry is also made for the material. Depending on the value or interest of the material, an entry might be made with only minimal information—a name or title and a date—or it might consist of detailed notes, cross-references, and so on.

Material is usually cataloged folder-by-folder, but in many cases, an entry will be made for an entire set of folders or boxes, or even as an entire collection, without further detailing. Here is a typical catalog entry for a folder of material of general interest:

Item: Texas Observers. Burleson, Texas; 1929. 1/8 in. [Folder].

Notes: Souvenir photographic collection presented to Leon Campbell; includes: photographic star-fields made with the Charles A. Post Camera at Burleson, Texas; photos of the Burleson telescope and its installation, and the Texas Observers members.

See also: Oscar Monnig; Sterling Bunch; James H. Logan; Blakeney Sanders.

Also see O. Monnig corresp. in MWM Collection regarding Bunch Telescope.

Keywords: Amateur groups (formal)/ Manuscripts, typescripts/ Telescopes and Instruments

Call Number: AAVSO Organiz. LC Box 3 Texas Observers

Future work

The major parts of the AAVSO Archive are now arranged and cataloged. What remain are several special collections, the remainder of the Mattei era correspondence and other papers, and a fair amount of AAVSO material having less immediate importance. More detailed catalog entries will be made for selected items on a continuing basis. Storage space is at a premium at AAVSO Headquarters, but the process of breaking-out the files from old boxes and drawers, and carefully re-boxing and shelving them, has helped to make efficient use of what storage space we have.

Physical deterioration

Attention is given to basic physical preservation as papers are processed and problems encountered. Badly deteriorated or soiled material was immediately photocopied on acid-free paper, but there still remain many pages of pulp paper that are currently in fair condition, but which will need to be photocopied in the near future. Most of the pulp paper can be found in the Campbell era files, especially those of the 1920s and 1930s. This preservation work will probably begin in 2005.

Preservation for access

Another part of archival preservation has to do with replicating selected documents as digital files. There are two advantages to this work: 1) a copy of the document will exist in case the original is lost or destroyed; 2) the document will be accessible to many more readers and researchers than would be possible if they were required to visit AAVSO Headquarters to inspect the original item. Depending on the document selected for digital replication, an item might be scanned or photographed as an image, or it may be scanned as text (i.e. via an optical character recognition program), or both. A preliminary selection of material for possible scanning has been marked in the catalog.

Online access

As staff time and headquarters resources allow, eventually, many of the documents selected for digital replication will be posted to the AAVSO website. A searchable finding-aid—derived from the archive catalog is also being planned.


The AAVSO Archive Project is a major first step towards preserving the AAVSO’s institutional memory. The continuing maintenance of the archive, using established rules and procedures, will ensure that our institutional memory will be dynamic, that it will be regularly exercised with additions and research, and that it will be available to many.


Anon. [probably H. Stephansky 1953], “Friends of the AAVSO !!!” (bulletin board posting), AAVSO Org. MWM Box 7 AAVSO/HCO Group 1, Folder f, AAVSO Archives, Cambridge, MA.

Harvard College 1953, resolution “At a meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College in Cambridge, October 5, 1953,” AAVSO Org. MWM Box 7A AAVSO/HCO Group 3, Folder i, AAVSO Archives, Cambridge, MA.

Mayall, M. W. 1953, letter to AAVSO membership (August 5), AAVSO Org. MWM Box 7A AAVSO/HCO Group 3, Folder i, AAVSO Archives, Cambridge, MA.

Menzel, D. H. 1953, Harvard Observatory Memorandum to AAVSO (December 8), AAVSO Org. MWM Box 7 AAVSO/HCO, Group 1, Folder a, AAVSO Archives, Cambridge, MA.

Stephansky, H. 1954, letter to Richard W. Hamilton (January 15), AAVSO Corresp. MWM Box 5 Hamilton, R. W., Folder 1, AAVSO Archives, Cambridge, MA.

Williams, T. R. 2000, letter to Janet A. Mattei (October 21), AAVSO, Cambridge, MA.


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