Guidelines for College and University Archives

Discusses the definition of college and university archives, as well as the administrative relationships, records management, core archival functions, facilities and equipment, and supporting services involved.

Discusses the definition of college and university archives, as well as the administrative relationships, records management, core archival functions, facilities and equipment, and supporting services involved.

SAA Council Approval/Endorsement Date: 
August 1999
Create Unofficial Standards Resources

Executive Summary

A. Definition

The archives serves as the institutional memory of the college or university and plays an integral role in the management of the institution's information resources in all media and formats. To fulfill the responsibilities of that role, the archives identifies, acquires, and maintains records of enduring value that chronicle the development of the institution and ensure its continued existence. The archives documents the process of institutional evolution by retaining both the evidence which shapes decisions and the decisions themselves.

B. Mission

The archives takes its mission from the mission of the institution, to educate:

C. Constituents

1. The archives primarily serves users throughout the institution.

a) Administrative units have ready access to the permanent record, which includes: 

b) Students connect with the institution by learning about its history and placing themselves within that context. Access to archival materials that support curriculum and introduce them to the excitement and rigors of original research enhances their educational experience.

c) Faculty use the archives for research in collections that provide unique materials, which document the wide range of intellectual history; chronicle the contributions of individuals; and record processes as reflected in the records of the institution.

2. The Archives serves an extended community.

a) Alumni/ae maintain old ties and build new ones with their institution from ready access to the materials which document their connections. The archives refreshes their knowledge about the history and mission of the institution which are perceived by many alumni/ae as a significant factor in their development. The archives is, in addition, important as a place, relatively unchanging in the midst of constant change, to which they are able to return physically, to confirm their memories.

b) Researchers—those who are writing their first source paper in graduate school as well as established scholars with extensive publications—benefit from the richness and reliability of archival collections. By supporting an archival component within its educational mission, an institution can reach and serve a more broadly based research community.

D. Organizational Structure

An effective archival program requires a mandate from the president or governing board that authorizes the archivist to identify records of enduring value, document their physical location, preserve them, and establish methods of control that provide ready and consistent access to archival holdings.

To meet these criteria, the institution must provide resources that support the ongoing function of the program:

Administrative Relationships

A. Mission

The archives takes its mission from the mission of the institution, to educate:

B. Goals

The basic goal of academic archives is to aid the institution in its survival and growth by supporting the institution's education mission. To fulfill the responsibilities of that role, archives share the following goals:

C. Implementation

Academic archives will fulfill their mission and goals by focusing both the tangible and service components of the program on meeting these responsibilities. This means that:

D. Administrative Authorization

A document authorizing the archives' existence and conferring the authority to accomplish its mission should define the archives program. The authorizing document should have the official approval of the highest appropriate governing official, such as the president or chancellor, and governing body, such as the board of trustees, administrators, or regents of the institution. This authorizing document provides the rationale, focus, authority, and continuity for the archives program.

While administrative placement, structure, and governance will reflect institutional differences and cultures, the status of the archives program should reflect the following considerations:

E. Personnel

Academic archives require appropriate professional and support personnel to manage a viable archival program. There should be a flexible administrative structure which allows fiscal and personnel adjustments to meet growth and changes of archival functions. Personnel should have the authority to accomplish the range of responsibilities and services that meet the archival program's established goals. Position descriptions, educational requirements, and scholarly credentials should reflect current professional standards.

1. Professional staff.

Professional staff should include a full-time, permanent director who is a professional archivist with strong professional credentials, such as certification. The director should have strong management skills for effective interaction with administrators, faculty, students, alumni, and the public. Because of their broad responsibilities, directors should have an administrative rank that provides authority to carry out the program's mission.

Additional professional staff may include other archivists, professionals with advanced degrees in related fields (e.g., preservation, library science, records management, or relevant academic disciplines), and consultants with credentials and experience in any of these areas.

2. Support staff.

Support staff should include paraprofessionals or nonacademic staff to provide reference, technical, and administrative assistance. These staff members must be able to handle minimal reference and supervisory duties when the archivist is absent, as well as having demonstrated technological and organizational skills.

Active archival programs in both the large and small institutions will need additional full-time and part-time personnel. Institutional factors and preferences will determine specific functions and position descriptions, but may include some of the following:

F. Justification for Expanding Archival Programs

Academic archives may be called upon to justify their existence, promote their programs, and work toward expanding them. One way to evaluate program needs and areas for improvement and growth is to regularly gather data such as the:

Records Management

A. Introduction

Many college and university archival programs include records management. This section outlines basic considerations and components of records management programs either within or organizationally separate from archival programs. See also the suggested readings in Appendix II.

B. Records Management Objectives

C. A Policy Statement:

D. Organizational Relationships

The administrative relationships must facilitate a systems approach to records management; i.e., analyze and appraise all components of an information systems as a unit. This approach requires coordinated and cooperative organizational relationships to bring together and address the needs of the records creator, information technology staff, records management, archives and others. Organizational relationships should:

E. An Advisory Body Can:

Appropriate members of this body include: the institution's archivist and records manager; along with representatives from legal services, internal audit, each of the major organizational units, and the institution's information technology unit.

F. Components of a Records Management Program May Include:

Fundamental areas of a basic records management program include:

1. Policy and procedure development.

Policies should provide authority and define parameters of the program, define relationships with other institution units (See C. above), and denote levels of responsibility and services provided. The records manager/archivist should produce a records management manual to specify the institution's records program policies and procedures.

2. A records retention and disposition program.

a) Inventory and appraise records to gather basic information about the organization's records to facilitate records appraisal, to establish retention and disposition schedules, to achieve economies in the storage and disposition of inactive records, and to identify the institution's vital records.

b) Develop schedules to define retention and disposition responsibilities. During the schedules' development, they must incorporate legal, audit, administrative and historical values of the institution's records and information. The archivist should consult the institution's legal counsel and internal auditor while reviewing or approving these schedules. This review can be the responsibility of the advisory group described in D. above.

c) Records managers/archivists can use a variety of methods to implement retention and disposition policies.

—Make them available to those in the working offices; i.e., office administrative staffs.
—Publicize them using the most accessible communication vehicle; e.g., administrative manuals, Web pages or other online communication technologies.
—Share retention and disposition policies with information technology staffs and with those responsible for the institution's information resource planning.
—Implementation should also include provision for periodic audits and reviews to insure that the retention policies are up to date and that campus offices are implementing them appropriately.

3. Data collection/forms management.

4. Active records management.

5. Inactive records management.

6. Training and outreach program.

To be effective, the records manager/archivist will have to rely on others in the institution to assist in carrying out the objectives of the records management program. The training and outreach program should:

Core Archival Functions

A. Acquisition

In an institution with a records management (RM) program, the archivist monitors the incoming records to insure that all records series arrive on time; periodically reviews the program to ensure that it adequately documents the school's operations as functions and units change; and seeks to acquire the records of student and other groups outside the formal program. If the school has no RM program, the archivist must perform some RM functions (see the section above) to obtain the records of enduring value.

Archivists will pay special attention to the development of digital records and work closely with units, offices, and computer centers to preserve and make these records accessible. This may require the archivist's involvement with systems design and implementation. Archivists will base their appraisal, acquisition, and retention of records of enduring value on the archives' mission statement, which is a function of the institution's mission. Through appraisal, archivists determine which records belong in the archives, based on their long-term administrative, legal, fiscal, and research value.

Through acquisition, archives obtain those records which meet the appraisal criteria. (See Appendix I for types of college and university archival records.)

Using their appraisal criteria, each archives should develop:

1. A regularly updated, written acquisitions policy, including:

The Society of American Archivists' self-evaluation document may be helpful here and in other archival activities.

Archivists should:

2. A written plan to improve documentation of weak areas by establishing acquisition priorities to target the records of key offices and groups.

3. A contact or "pursuit" file on every office or individual with which the archivist has discussed transfer of records or the donation of papers; this file should record dates of contact, agreements on transfers or donations, the current status of contracts, and supporting correspondence or phone memoranda.

4. A short brochure outlining archival services and records transfer procedures for campus offices.

B. Processing Archives

Processing includes all the archivist's activities to accession, arrange, describe, preserve, and make available the documents in the archives.

Through accessioning, the archivist usually takes physical control of records by transferring them to the archives repository and begins establishing intellectual control. In the case of some digital records, other campus offices (e.g., the computer center), may maintain the physical records while the archives provides access through systems of intellectual control.

A holistic approach, i.e., remembering that all archival functions are interconnected while performing each activity, is important throughout archival work. The following sections emphasize this interdependence of archival functions.

1. Accession record.

Archivists create an accession record—noting the records' date, title, bulk, condition, transferring office or donor, conservation needs, and access restrictions—when records come into the archives. This record is not functionally unique to accessioning. It also includes elements of rudimentary arrangement, description, and preservation. The form of the accession record, especially if recorded in a database or other digital format, may become the base or platform for the later functions of arrangement and description.

2. Preservation is also not just a one-time procedure when records "come of age" as they arrive in the archives.

The preferred procedures for dealing with such items often change and are too specific and detailed to describe here. (See Ritzenthaler in Appendix II, as well as the National Media Lab, AIIM, and SAA Web sites for guidance in this area.)

Through arrangement, archivists deal with records according to the principles of provenance, respect des fonds, and original order to maintain the records' context and natural, organic order to document the transactions of their creating or assembling office or individual in the office's or person's regular, daily activities.

If the materials have no discernible order or have been re-arranged or mixed, the archivist should first try to re-establish their original order. If this is not possible or if the items have no original order, e.g., posters or publications of ad hoc or transitory campus groups or other ephemera, the archivist may arrange the materials in whatever order would best facilitate their use.

The final arrangement of materials will usually be alphabetical or chronological within record groups or series, showing the hierarchical relationship of each fond (creating office or individual) to the institution's other fonds. Archivists should clearly label all folders and containers of records, papers, and other materials to show their proper location within the record groups or series.

Through description, archivists use a variety of finding aids to:

Description begins during accession as the archivist develops the basic record for each incoming unit of materials. This record usually includes the title, bulk, inclusive dates, condition and restrictions on the record group, series, or collection of personal papers arranged by title in the institution's organizational structure and placed on a computer list, database, or other format to permit quick, easy access to relevant information. A finding aid for each archival unit should be available to researchers on external, even worldwide networks, in the campus online public access computer, and at the archives. The detail in the finding aids will vary depending on:

Full record description is one of the most complex and challenging archival tasks. It may by the most rapidly changing and developing area of archival theory and practice in the 1990s; so only a brief summary is possible here. (See also Miller in Appendix II.)

As Miller notes, the full description includes information about:

Archivists usually present this information on several levels:

While this is probably the most common structure of description, Miller outlines a system without repository guides or record group finding aids. This system focuses on the basic archival unit, the series; then uses electronic linking to indicate hierarchy and context and electronic finding aids to provide access.

Influenced, if not driven, by computer and network—Internet and World Wide Web—technology, archival description in the 1990s has focused on standardization of language and information, authority control, and ways of presenting information through such formats as MARC (machine-readable cataloging) and EAD (Encoded Archival Description).

Arrangement and description need not be to the same extent or level for all materials. Archivists must keep careful, constantly updated, permanent records of both the intellectual arrangement and physical location of all items, processed or not, as long as they are in the archives and, especially, if items are temporarily removed, e.g., for copying or exhibition.

While these principles should guide the intellectual arrangement and organization of archival materials, practical considerations may determine records' physical arrangement within the archives. Once the archivist has established intellectual control of the records:

C. Controlling and Promoting the Use of Archives

1. Controlling Archival Use.

Policies for using archives should include items such as:

a) Researchers may:

b) Archivists should:

Maintaining statistics of use and records of entrance/exit interviews is important for reports and publicity, as well as for evaluations and planning future policies and practices. (See also Pugh in Appendix II)

2. Promoting Archives: Outreach Through Service and Publicity.

Archivists may use a variety of methods of outreach to inform resource allocators, campus units, and potential donors and users about the value and contents of archives and to facilitate their use. In a sense, everything archivists do—including all the sections above and documents such this—are aspects of outreach. The areas of service and publicity deserve special consideration.

D. Service

Academic archives provide administrative, research and educational services. By performing these functions, archives clearly establish their role in contributing to the information needs of their institutions and those of the larger research community.

1. Administrative Service.

Academic archives perform several basic services to administrators, faculty, student governing bodies, and other campus units, e.g., alumni, development, physical plant, and public relations:

But academic archives are not only information sources. They also help sustain colleges and universities by serving as a repository for treasured items from former students' school days; by providing students, alumni, and their friends and relatives with unique items, images, and information; and by helping celebrate anniversaries to strengthen emotional ties to their college or university.

2. Educational and Research Services.

Archives should serve all interested persons as a source of images and information about the institution. The scope of reference service will vary with the amount and type of requests; but should, at least, provide guidance on possible sources of information and on how to use them. Academic archives should also serve as an educational laboratory where students may learn about:

(The level and availability of educational and research services will differ in private and public institutions. For other appropriate restrictions see "Access" above.)

3. Publicity and Public Programs.

There are many possible types of outreach. Each archives' resource and archivist's imagination and ability will shape how they use opportunities such as:

Facilities and Equipment

Space requirements and facilities will vary with the size of the institution and the development of the archival program. Planning for archival facilities should include consideration of the potential types of media to be stored, the archives' organizational environment, the potential clientele for the archives to support and serve, and the types of functions and services the program will provide. The following recommendations are for minimal facilities and equipment for the proper functioning of an academic archives.

A. Facilities for Academic Archives

1. General considerations.

2. Other considerations.

a) Administration: Provide adequate space for staff and standard office equipment and supplies.

b) Work areas: Provide separate space for examining and processing records. This area should be large enough to accommodate large tables, computing equipment, and other equipment for processing records.

c) Reference/research area: This space should be separate from, but convenient to, storage and work areas. It must be:

It should provide:

d) Storage areas: Only archives' personnel should have access to the stacks. The area should be large enough to:

e) Other areas: The functions provided by the archives program will determine the space for other areas. Space needs may include areas for;

B. Equipment and Supplies

Archives should have enough shelving for present holdings and for five to ten years of projected growth. It should be constructed of material that is safe for archival records with adjustable shelves to accommodate the types of materials and containers used for storage.

Archives must provide appropriate storage equipment for oversized items, photographs, maps, and other items which may vary in size or types of media. Major types of necessary equipment and supplies include:

Special equipment required will depend upon the types of records and their potential uses. Other items to consider include microform reader/printers, public access and network computer terminals and printers, and a scanner.

Supporting Services

Supporting services will vary, depending upon the types of materials within the archives and the kinds of services and functions provided. Supporting services may include access to:

Appendix 1: Types of Academic Records

The following list of types of records in most academic archives is suggestive, not exhaustive. The relative importance of such records will vary with each institution in accordance with the institution's and archives' mission statements. Documentation need not be restricted to these types, nor should archivists substitute this list for analysis of their institutions' archives. (See also Samuels in Appendix II.)

1. Legal or constituting documents (e.g., charters, constitutions, by-laws), vital records or security copies produced by any campus vital records program, policy statements, and reports (along with their supporting documents), minutes, substantive memoranda, correspondence, and subject files of the institution's:

2. Reports of:

3. Records of:

4. All publications, newsletters, posters, or booklets about or distributed in the name of the institution or one of its sub-units, e.g., books, posters, magazines, catalogs, special bulletins, yearbooks, student newspapers, university directories and faculty/staff rosters, alumni magazines, and ephemeral materials.

5. Special format materials documenting the operation and development of the institution, such as:

6. M.A. and Honors theses and dissertations.

7. Digital and other electronic records or lists of where such items are maintained and finding aids for accessing them.

8. Artifacts related to the institution if space permits and the institution has no museum.

9. Vertical files of primary and secondary materials for quick responses to general reference questions. Vertical files of secondary materials may be in the reading room for researchers.

10. Records and papers produced by school-related organizations, groups, and individuals while actively connected with the school, such as private papers of faculty members produced while working with or for the school; as well as manuscript collections related to the school—unless the archives is in a division with a manuscripts department. Some archives have greatly increased the documentation of their institutions by having all records and papers produced by school personnel in the course of their profession during their employment at the school, excepting personal correspondence, lecture and research notes, and products declared official school records.

Appendix 2: Select Bibliography for Academic Archivists

Periodicals — American Archivist and Archival Outlook (Society of American Archivists), Archivaria (Association of Canadian Archivists), Archival Issues (Midwest Archives Conference), Provenance (Society of Georgia Archivists), and Records and Information Management Report (Greenwood Publishing Group).


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