Placing Organizational Archives in Repositories

Margot Note

Margot Note

October 24, 2022

While archivists process historical holdings, storing the materials may require additional space within or outside the institution. 

After conducting an archival assessment, archivists can determine if the existing space will suffice. They will also want to consider how often staff members and users need some materials compared to others.

One solution is offsite storage. Onsite holdings can store well-used materials, while offsite locations store the rest. The offsite vendor handles the storage, protection, and transfer of materials and frees up resources and space within the organization. However, one major disadvantage is that all materials are not immediately available. Therefore, planning is necessary to ensure access to the materials when needed. 

Possibilities of Placement

Another solution is to find a different custodian of the collection altogether. Given limitations on time, space, and money at the organization, archivists may consider the possibility of placing their records of enduring value in an archival repository. Repositories in public, academic, or private institutions specialize in preserving and making accessible manuscript collections and institutional records from various sources. However, institutions should weigh the pros and cons of this option carefully. Depending on the geographical location and collection strengths, finding an appropriate repository for the archives may be easy, or it may require an extensive, lengthy search. Large universities, for example, often have well-known archival repositories within large metropolitan areas. It may be more challenging to identify appropriate repositories in smaller communities.

Making Choices

All manuscript repositories have collection development policies with distinct collecting scopes. Understandably, they cannot acquire every archival collection offered. Organizations will want to initially investigate repositories that specialize in similar collecting subjects or a repository with which the organization already has a relationship. Depending on the institution, founders or prominent people within the organization may have strong ties with their alma maters; these universities often are interested in collecting the papers of their graduates or the records of organizations with which they associate.

Starting a Conversation

In discussing the possibility of placing archival materials in a repository, the organization may wish to evaluate the repository’s policies regarding:

  • Deeds of gift detailing the ownership of the intellectual and property rights of the materials
  • Schedules of transfers to the repository describing the timeframe for initial and future additions of archival material
  • Understandings of how the repository will make materials available to the organization when needed
  • Processing strategies, procedures, and timelines
  • Creation of inventories and finding aids, their granularity, and expected publication date
  • Restriction agreements describing what materials should be restricted and for how long
  • Providing financial assistance for processing and housing records

In considering an appropriate repository for the organizational archives, the institution will also want to consider the location and the ease with which the records can be transferred and accessed. While high-profile repositories offer prestige, the organization may wish to consider other options if they are remote or restrictive. Conversely, organizations may not exist forever, so establishing a relationship with a repository is prudent, even if the archives remain in-house for the time being. 

Match Making

As a consultant, I often help place personal or organizational archives into repositories. The key to that work is having honest conversations about what is possible to do and within what period; managing expectations is essential so that the organization and repository share common ground about how the collection will be protected and used. Equally important is an inventory of the materials to be donated. Subject descriptions, date ranges, locations, conditions, notes, total linear feet, and other details about the collection make transferring and accepting materials easier for repositories. Having a clear idea of the content and context of an organization’s collection allows repositories to steward organizational records of enduring value. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here.

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