Statement Concerning the Closing of Archives

June 23, 1990

The information contained in historical documents and records in all forms is a valuable property of the institution that created or received it and is part of the historical heritage of mankind. Archival materials are unique, permanently valuable, and largely irreplaceable.

Effective management of valuable property and corporate resources is a basic institutional responsibility. In the same way, proper care of archival materials is an institution's duty to its trustees, shareholders, members and community. The hiring of an archivist signals a commitment to this duty by permanently valuable historical materials.

Establishment and development of an archive is a major task that requires time, resources and attention. It also is a commitment that carries with it an ongoing responsibility. For this reason, any decisions that may lead to closing an archive or curtailing its operations should be taken carefully and deliberately.

The institutional cost of temporary or permanent closing of an archive is substantial. In a closed archive, information needed to protect institutional or individual legal rights and interests or for day-to-day business is inaccessible. Information needed to meet legal, administrative or financial requirements or to provide a balanced and accurate picture of past events or actions is missing. Furthermore, information may be lost forever if the archival records are lost. The institution's reputation as a responsible citizen and its image within its community and beyond may be threatened.

Financial costs of closing an archive also are high. Outside the protective archival environment, valuable documents and files may be lost. If not, they are likely to deteriorate and, without a trained archivist, may lose their organization, integrity and value as evidence. Electronic data and photographic materials suffer particularly without proper archival care. Reestablishment of archival controls is labor intensive and expensive.

The Society of American Archivist recognizes that many institutions face fiscal pressure that may from time to time lead them to consider closing an archive or curtailing its basic activities. Nonetheless, the Society believes that an institution must assess both short and long-term and direct and indirect costs of this action before making any decision in this regard. Archival experts should be consulted concerning the costs and consequences of any action. Deliberation should be particularly cautious if private or donated historical materials are involved or if the archive has been supported in any part by grants, public funding, or volunteer work. Such factors can create potential liability for the institution. A proposed closing also must be discussed with the users of the archive, both within and outside the institution.

After careful consideration, should it still seem necessary to close the archive or significantly curtail operations, it is imperative that adequate notice be given to archival staff to permit them to plan an orderly transition, to make arrangements for the safety of archival materials owned by the institution, and to find suitable employment elsewhere. Again consultations with outside archival experts are essential to ensure that the institution's interests are secure.

A plan must be in place for physical protection of historical materials upon closure of the archives. Access to the materials must be strictly regulated and unauthorized or unsupervised access prohibited. A preliminary agenda of steps needed to reinstitute the archive also should be in place.

Should circumstances so dictate, the institution may consider donating its archives to a suitable repository provide that adequate funding is available to providing for responsible care. Such a decision should result from a careful negotiation of both parties' rights and responsibilities.

The Society of American Archivists stands ready to provide information regarding these matters at any time.