Call for Member Comment: SAA-ACRL/RBMS Guidelines on Access to Research Materials

January 24, 2019—The SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force seeks member comment on the revised Guidelines on Access to Research Materials in Archives and Special Collections Libraries. These guidelines outline the responsibilities for researcher access, as well as legal and institutional obligations, for a repository in preserving collections for use. 

The SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force to Revise the Statement on Access to Research Materials was convened in 2017 to review, update, and expand the Statement on Access to Research Materials. The goal of the Joint Task Force was to address digital and born-digital materials, as they are not mentioned in the current version of the statement, and to streamline the document for maximum usability. To that end, the Joint Task Force removed ambiguous language, acknowledged the range of repository types and how these guidelines can be utilized, and removed redundant or outdated information. 

The statement was first drafted by the Joint Committee on Library-Archives Relationships as "Standards for Access to Research Materials in Archival Manuscript Repositories," endorsed by SAA and ACRL/RBMS in 1973. Since then, the statement has been revised several times, most recently in 2009.

To comment on this draft: See the attachments below for the proposed revisions in PDF or Word format. (For reference, view the current version of the Statement.) Log in to post comments publicly on this webpage or send an email message containing your comments to The deadline for final comments on this revised draft is Friday, February 15.

ACRL-RBMS_SAA Guidelines on Access_DRAFT.pdf86.11 KB
ACRL-RBMS_SAA Guidelines on Access_DRAFT.docx20.24 KB
4 Comment(s) to the "Call for Member Comment: SAA-ACRL/RBMS Guidelines on Access to Research Materials"
jordon says:

Thanks for the opportunity to comment, and excellent work getting to this point!


  • Second bullet: shouldn't it be "as *are* allowable"?
  • Re: “intellectual access” to unprocessed materials, that can be interpreted widely (theoretically, baseline intellectual access could simply mean one maintains offline description about a collection and provides access to that description by request), but it may suggestyou're requiring we tell the public about all unprocessed collections. I am not opposed to this in limited cases, but not all cases, mainly because doing so sends the signal that an unprocessed collection may be accessible. Perhaps this should be *encouraged* but informed by collections management context and capacity to respond in a timely manner to requests for access to unprocessed records. I feel like making this a requirement overlooks to considerable labor implications of timely response to requests such as these. 
  • Read through to be sure all bullet points lead with a verb. They all don't.
  • Accessibility: we really should be doing more than merely "complying" with the ADA, which is a really low barrier (and is required by law, thus obviating the need to express it here, technically). Really we should be intentionally thinking about how *best* to provide access to people of different physical abilities, not just meet the bare minimum. Disability is often referred to as the "overlooked" diversity, and so this policy would do well to address that.
  • You may want to include somewhere that you intend to provide access to users "regardless of identity or ability" to drive home the diversity emphasis.
marqu897 says:
Advocacy and limiting restrictions

I agree with the previous poster, specifically on two points:

Under Policies, I would add:

  • Advocate for policy change to remove additional barriers, where appropriate.


And, under Laws, Regulations, and Resrictions, I would substitute "donor agreement" for "donor request".

The SAA Code of Ethics, and the statement below in these Guidelines, stress the obligation of archivists

to negotiate as open access to records as possible. Once that is settled, we should resist further

requests for restrictions - which this word leaves open to possibility.

Thanks for your succinct statement of all we should be doing to assure open and equitable access to the records in our care!

Kathy Marquis

aclemens says:
Comments on SAA/RBMS Guidelines on Access to Research Materials

Thank you for creating these draft guidelines.

I appreciate the succinctness of the guidelines, but I believe there are at least a couple of places where they would benefit from additional detail.

First, I think it would be useful to be more explicit about encouraging repositories to ensure that their security procedures, service points, and spaces are not prohibitively restrictive, difficult to use, or uncomfortable. The Policies section states "Remove as many barriers to access as is allowable under institutional policy," but it doesn't encourage repositories to consider what these barriers to access might be, or how their policies might serve to restrict access. For example, how do repositories allow users to access or edit their account information (e.g. their first name)? Must repositories insist that users provide multiple government-issued ID cards to access material and/or enter our spaces? Who are we excludling, inconveniencing, or harming by following extant security policies, and how are we to weigh those concerns when revising or deciding to continue with our policies? Relatedly, I think that the guidelines should encourage repositories to consider how accessible and welcoming their spaces are to diverse user communities, including non-English-speaking users and trans users (e.g., are there all-gender restrooms?, is there decent way-finding in place to those facilities?, are sanitary products available regardless of bathroom "gender"?). There's a lot to say about how we can make our spaces and collections more accessible and welcoming, I realize, but I hope that at least an clear commitment to providing access to diverse user communities is explicitly reflected in the final document. Essentially, it seems to me that the current guidelines lack the "why" of our commitment to access, and they are sometimes vague on the "how" of ensuring equitable access.

Second, the Formats section states "Accommodate users who request access to digital materials in alternative formats." Should that guideline apply only to digital material, or should it apply to collection material across the board? I realize that providing an alternative format may not always be feasible, but it seems like that would be very useful for access.

Third, the Laws, Regulations, and Restrictions section states "Inform users of restrictions that apply to collections, make this information generally available and apply it consistently." I think this is a bit unclear, but I believe that this bullet intends to suggest that repositories should inform users of collection restrictions, make restriction information publicly available, and apply restrictions consistently from user to user. I think changing "this information" and "it" in the sentence to more specific phrasing would clarify this.

Fourth, the Laws, Regulations, and Restrictions section also states "Discourage donors from imposing unreasonable restrictions, encourage a specific time limitation on restrictions that are imposed, and make the duration of the restriction known to users." I agree with this guideline but think it would be useful to provide additional information on how to determine whether a restriction is "reasonable." 

Finally, the Accessibility for People With Disabilities section states "Comply with state and federal guidelines for accessibility of collections according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), respective SAA and ALA accessibility guidelines, and other related parameters." Perhaps this is referencing specific phrasing elsewhere, but I'm not sure that "accessibility of collections" is all that's at issue here -- should this also include accessibility of our spaces (both our reading rooms, which I think are implied in "collections," and our event/social spaces, which I don't think are implied in the above)?

Thank you again for creating these guidelines and for asking for comments.

100559 says:

I appreciate you coming up with these preliminary rules.

Although I admire how brief the recommendations are, I think there are a few instances when further information would be helpful. retro bowl

First, I believe it would be helpful to be more clear about the fact that repositories should be encouraged to make sure that their service points, security protocols, and spaces are not too restrictive, inconvenient, or difficult to use.