The Museum Archives Section of the Society of American Archivists includes those who are responsible for the organization and care of archival collections located in museums. These guidelines have been created by the section to assist all types of museums—independent museums as well as museums contained within larger institutions—in the development and administration of archival programs. The guidelines outline the components of a successful museum archives program and should be used in conjunction with detailed information on the administration of archives that is available through SAA and from other professional sources.
A museum's organizational records document the history and development of the museum, its collections, exhibitions, and programs as well as the contributions of individuals and groups associated with the museum. These records are unique and irreplaceable assets of the organization. A museum should maintain an active, professional archives program to systematically collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to its organizational records of enduring value and to recommend policies and procedures for the creation, maintenance, and ultimate retention or disposition of current museum records in all formats. By supporting an archives program a museum not only promotes its own history, but also ensures that its vital records are preserved and that information resources are readily available to support the work of its staff and meet the research needs of scholars and the general public. However, it should be noted that if a museum exists in a setting where a decision has been made to concentrate all institutional records in a central archives (e.g., university archives), it is the responsibility of the museum staff to work closely with the institutional archives staff to determine the appropriate setting for the archives of the museum.
A museum's archives identifies, preserves and administers records of long-term and permanent administrative, legal, fiscal, and research value not in current use. Records may be in any form—including, but not limited to, paper, electronic, photographic, and magnetic media. A museum's archival records could include:
The archives should have a mission statement, approved by the director of the museum or the institution and ratified by appropriate governing bodies of the museum or its parent institution, which defines the authority of the archivist within the museum and the parameters of the archival program. The statement should explicitly recognize the archivist's role in the museum and/or parent institution's records management program. All general policy statements concerning the archives should be in writing and approved by the appropriate authority.
The archives should be an entity within the museum's administrative structure, supervised by an individual having custodial and related authority delegated by the director of the museum or parent institution. When practical, the archives should be a separate department within the museum. The museum archives may be an administrative affiliate of a parent institution's archives.
The museum should have a professionally trained archivist. If resources do not permit this level of commitment, expert advice should be sought in the development of the museum's archives and archival training provided to the staff member made responsible for them. The functions of the archivist are to appraise, acquire, arrange, describe, preserve, and make available the records of the museum and collections of related materials acquired from outside the museum.
The museum should have a statement of policy which clarifies the difference between the official records of the museum and documents which might be considered the personal property of curators, directors, members of governing bodies, and other relevant positions. This is to discourage such persons from taking, as their own property, records that belong to the parent institution or museum, and that may be an integral part of the museum's archives. Donation of personal papers to the museum's archives is strongly encouraged in order to promote the preservation of significant documents not created by the museum itself.
The museum should define and make public an archives acquisition policy, which delineates the collecting of materials other than those created within the museum itself. The collecting activities and acquisition policies of other entities in a parent institution or outside institutions should be taken into account to avoid unnecessary competition. The policy should describe the conditions and procedures for accessioning and deaccessioning documents and collections that are not official records of the museum, and address principles regarding the ownership, administration, and use of all acquired materials.
The archivist must be involved in the determination of how long and under what conditions particular records are to be kept. The criteria for permanent retention include:
The advice of the archivist should be sought on policies and guidelines pertaining to the creation, maintenance, disposition, and preservation of museum records (including electronic records and systems) with the aim of avoiding the unnecessary creation of duplicate records and the needless retention of nonpermanent records. The archivist should be consulted for recommendations on the protection of permanently active records of archival value in non-custodial situations (such as collection or accession records under the care of the registrar, collections manager, or curator and computer network backups under the control of the information technology staff). The archivist should also approve the appropriate disposition of records that do not have permanent value, or are required to be maintained by the archives of a parent institution.
Subject to reasonable restrictions on the grounds of fragility, security, or confidentiality, records should be available to staff members, scholars, and other persons demonstrating a need to consult the material for research purposes. Access policies and restrictions should be in writing and applied equally to all researchers. Reference service should be provided to both on-site researchers and those at a distance.
Browse the following member-contributed references to case studies, journal articles, events, and other resources related to this standard.
|11. Access: Examples of Policies||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials|
|10. Arrangement, Description, and Preservation of the Records: Examples of Processing Procedures and Standards||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials|
|9. Location and Conditions: Examples of Disaster Plans and Recovery||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials|
|8. Current Records: Examples of Records Policies||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials|
|7. Criteria for Retention of Museum Records: Example of Schedules||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials|
|6. Acquisition Policy for Collected Materials: Examples of Policies and Deeds of Gift||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials||-1|
|5. Museum Records and Personal Papers: Examples of Policies||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials|
|4. Professional Archivist: Examples of Job Descriptions||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials|
|2. Mission Statements: Examples||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials||3|
|1. Definitions and Scope: Example Documentation||francine||07/23/2012||Reference Materials|
Best Practices for Volunteers in Archives (PDF; August 2014)
Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education (PDF; February 2014)
Describing Archives: A Content Standard, Second Edition (DACS) (March 2015)
SAA Members: Contribute related resources (e.g., journal articles, case studies, etc.) by using the links at the bottom of listed standards.