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 Getting things to put in your archives will not be a problem. The difficulty lies in getting those things that truly document the life of your convention, union, or body. You must know what you want to acquire.

A. Adopting an Acquisition Policy

State what you want in an acquisition policy that may or may not be part of your program statement. An acquisition policy sets limits to what you will acquire. It defines the scope of your collection.


You want the historical records of your convention, union, or body. These include the constituting documents, policy and procedure manuals, financial and legal records, minutes and proceedings, annuals, yearbooks, reports, official sermons and messages, correspondence, agendae and programs, publications, photographs, and sound recordings of that organization and its subordinate departments, agencies, and divisions. These are yours by right once your organization has made the archives its official repository.


You may want the personal papers of leaders of your convention, union, or body. These include personal photographs, correspondence, diaries, and other items treasured and kept by individuals and usually disposed of by their heirs. Personal papers give clues to understanding their owners and so may help future researchers understand why these leaders acted as they did. Personal items often make interesting exhibits. Visitors to Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to Southern Baptist Convention, are thrilled to see Annie Armstrong's notebooks. The notebooks contain little information useful to a researcher but are treasured as an artifact.

On the other hand, personal papers require time and space. Be certain that you have the right to refuse donations and to discard what you do not want.


You may also want the records of administrative and geographic divisions that are independent of your convention, union, or body. You may want the records of associations and local churches. Whether you would attempt to acquire these records depends on (1) your resources and (2) whether these bodies are establishing their own archives.

A new archives with limited resources might do well to restrict its own acquisitions and to encourage administrative and geographic divisions, associations and churches to establish their own archives. The Southern Baptist Historical Commission, which is the official archives for the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States, encourages state conventions, associations, and churches to document their own histories; but it also acquires microfilm copies of associational and church records. In other words, the Commission does not attempt to be the archives for associations and churches, but it does try to get some of their records on microfilm, a format that does not require a lot of space.


You may want to limit your acquisitions to formats that hold the most information in the smallest space. Large framed portraits, a former president's favorite chair, antique office equipment, blueprints of your first headquarters are nice to have, especially if you plan exhibits. But how important are they as historical records? Will they fit on a shelf?

Paper takes more space than microfilm. And most archives are microfilming their most important holdings. Yet few are discarding the original papers, for they are afraid the film may not last as long as paper. They use the microfilm as a backup copy, storing it in a place other than where the papers are stored.

Microfilm, other types of film, slides, sound recordings, computer discs and tapes--each presents specific storage problems. And each requires equipment of some kind in order to be viewed or heard if your archives is to serve as a research center. Your acquisition policy should include what formats as well as what records you want.


You may want to include a supporting library in your acquisition policy, especially if you are planning to offer reference and research services in a place where there is no library. The library need not be large but should include histories of your convention, union, or body; biographies and memoirs of its leaders; and other reference tools that would help researchers understand your historical records.

B. Getting What You Want

Once your acquisition policy is adopted, go after the records which fit within the scope of your policy. Share with officers and employees of your convention, union, or body a copy of your program statement which authorizes you to secure particular materials for the archives. Inform them that you are preparing to receive records that are no longer useful to them in their work. Remind them that the records belong to the organization. Emphasize that you will provide guidelines for them concerning what records you want and how to transfer them.

N.B.: You want groups of records, not individual items. You want file folders, not one piece of paper from this file and another from another file.

Archivists use the phrase record series to refer to a group of records arranged and maintained together because the records have some relationship one to the other. They may relate to a particular subject or function, be the result of the same activity, or have a particular form. You want records series.


Discover what records series each officer and employee has. You may want to use a survey form; a sample is in Appendix A and a blank form in Appendix B. Send the form to each person, asking for its return by a certain date. Or make an appointment with each person and you two fill out the
survey form together.

After you have completed the surveys, look at the completed forms and decide which records series you want from which persons. You want those series that contain the most thorough documentation in the most concise form. You want to acquire each series from the person most responsible for the function or activity it documents. You may choose to take everything from the officers and chief executives. They are most responsible and they are personally of great significance in the history of your convention, union, or body. From other employees you would take only those records series that have information found nowhere else. For more help, see below under "Appraisal."

Tell officers and employees which records series should be transferred to the archives. Ask them not to remove papers from file folders or reorganize the records. You will find it easier to understand the records if you can receive them arranged just as they were used.


Ask former officers and employees, or their heirs, for records of your convention, union, or body that they may have. These records belong to your organization, but they are in the possession of individuals who may or may not choose to give them to you. Ask for them politely, and treat their return as a gift.

If you want personal papers and other records, ask for them. Advertise. Mention specific items that you seek such as issues of a newsletter or certain years' annual meeting programs. Publicize your archives. Tell the press of gifts you receive, letting people know that you accept donations.

You may want to use a statement of gift to transfer the ownership of gifts to your archives. A statement of gift includes the name of the donor (the person giving the gift), the name of the recipient (your archives), a description of the gift, any conditions or restrictions to the gift (for example, restricting access for a number of years), a statement indicating transfer of ownership, the date of transfer, and the signature of the donor.

C. Appraisal

Before accepting anything, whether by gift or by transfer from officers and employees of your convention, union, or body, you should decide whether the records offered are worth having. The first question to ask is: Do they fall within your acquisition policy? If they do, then you should ask these additional questions.

Do they have continuing administrative, legal, or financial value to your convention, union, or body? Do they provide evidence that documents the organization, policies, decisions, functioning, and performance of your convention, body, or union?

Do they provide information about persons, places, events, and actions?

Is the evidence or information they provide unique? Could a researcher learn the same things from other records or only from these?

Are they usable? Can they be understood? Are they in good condition? Can they be preserved? How many records like these are there? Some record series, for example manuscripts for a magazine, are just too large to keep. Instead of keeping the whole series, keep a sample such as the manuscripts for one month's issue every ten years.

This process of determining the value of what is offered to an archives is called appraisal.