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.
1. YOUR OWN RECORDS
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
2. PERSONAL PAPERS
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.
3. OTHER RECORDS
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
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.
5. SUPPORTING LIBRARY
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.
1. SURVEYS OF ORGANIZATIONAL RECORDS
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.
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.