Call for Member Comment: Best Practices for Volunteers

Best Practices for Volunteers is a set of suggested guidelines for archives institutions and organizations about the use of volunteers. It is a companion to Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education.

The document was drafted by a subgroup of the SAA Council based on Council discussions in September 2013 and January 2014 and in response to member feedback. After feedback from the Council in March, it was distributed to selected component groups for initial comment from April 4 to 21, 2014.  More than 50 comments were received, and the draft was revised.

This revised draft is now available for public comment on SAA’s website. The call for comment will also be distributed via discussion lists, In the Loop, and social media feeds. Comments will be received through May 21, 2014.  This current draft and additional comments will be reviewed again at the May Council meeting (May 22-24).

After this draft is revised based on member and Council feedback, it will be submitted to the SAA Standards Committee in June 2014. In addition, the document will be reviewed by legal counsel to ensure that it provides accurate information that is consistent with federal law. The Council will review the Standards Committee's recommendation at its August 2014 meeting.

To comment on this draft: Log in to post comments publicly to the website or send an email message containing your comments to The deadline for final comments on this revised draft is 5:00 pm Central time on May 21, 2014.

Download Best Practices for Volunteers in Archives (PDF)

2 Comment(s) to the "Call for Member Comment: Best Practices for Volunteers"
mjgascoine says:
Comments on Volunteers in the Archives draft

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this draft. Overall, I believe it to be excellent and on-target. But, being a professional archivist myself I have a few red flags:

- Example no. 4. under Acceptable Volunteer Arrangements:

"As a public service, an individual helps process an archival collection that might never get processed otherwise." - I think you are stepping over a line when you ask a 'volunteer' to 'process a collection'. I think that should be the exclusive purview of the archivist. Processing is an art and requires training and EXPERIENCE. Volunteers don't have that. I could see perhaps, having a volunteer assist an archivist with this task, but I think an intern would be a better fit. I consider this experience to be closely associated with a hands-on training exercise or even an archival apprenticeship. I think it can be taken out and that example no. 5 is the right one.

nnasr says:
General comments.

It seems like this document provides thorough guidelines for the use of volunteers in archives, particularly where it emphasizes that volunteers should be covered by one's liability insurance. 

I have a few thoughts to offer for consideration. 

Guideline #5: I think that this is implied throughout the document, and may be already well understood, but I wonder if it would be worth making a statement prefacing the text in this recommendation with language about how the use of volunteers involves a significant time commitment by paid staff that in essence takes them away from other work. It's a trade off, and particularly if there is high turnover among the volunteer workforce then more time is spent bringing volunteers up to speed, checking their work, and conducting evaluations, and there is the potential that the quality of work done by both the volunteers and those supervising volunteers will decline as a result. The more volunteers one takes on, especially in a smaller institution, the more time is spent managing them and the less time is spent doing other work.

Guideline #6: Again, this guideline implies that there is a significant time investment necessary to establish and maintain a volunteer program. It seems worth emphasizing, if not in this guideline and in guideline #5, then perhaps in an additional paragraph in the introduction (between the first and second paragraph). I am imagining a scenario where an individual may be trying to make a case for additional paid staff and having their request dismissed because it is thought by upper administration that skilled work can just be done by a bunch of volunteers. 

My $0.02,

Nadia Nasr