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: