Skip to Main Content

Special Interest Group Archive: Archives SIG 2/20/2020

These are the notes from meetings dating back to 2015.

February 20, 2020

The 2/20 SIG meeting was convened by Margaret Stanne from the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection at Elting Memorial Library. This meeting's topic was "Ask an Archivist". Attendees brought with them specific questions they had from their work, and shared them with the group for feedback. The next meeting is scheduled for June 18th, 9:30-12:30. Convener TBD.

Meeting Notes


  • How do you catalog non-circulating manuscripts or archival materials? This is especially challenging for those who are part of a public library system and have a catalog designed primarily for library materials.
  • Item types are crucial. For some library system catalogs, new item types have to be approved. It is important that the item type matches up to the item in question.
  • Some add “special collection” to call number.
  • If the item is online, make sure to add a link to the digitized version whenever possible.
  • Some people are deliberately choosing not to make these items discoverable.


  • What are people’s experiences in terms of interacting with researchers?
  • Some find that researchers want to photograph things without discrimination. But what are they doing with the images exactly?
  • At one museum, they explicitly state that no photographs are allowed. There is only an exception granted for journalism. People always instinctively want to get their phones out, but the museum considers it a security issue. If someone is genuinely interested in researching a topic, they can photograph a few pages.
  • The goal is to have things be shared with people, however some patrons feel entitled to access whatever they want.
  • It is up to the organization to put limits on how much access people have to materials.
  • Copyright statements are important when distributing scans of pages. Most note that the materials must be used for research / educational purposes.
  • However, from the perspective of a researcher: if you are doing serious research, either you’d be there for hours, or you need to be able to take pictures.
  • At one Unversity archives, there is an automated system for access request. This requires people to abide by certain rules. They determine item by item whether something can be photographed. Some requests have to be denied.
  • One organization requires that if a photo is used for publication, they need to receive a copy of the publication it was used for.
  • Walk-ins: sometimes it is good to give researchers a very general place to start. This allows staff members to pull more specific things while the researcher is occupied.
  • Detailed Rights & reproduction contracts are very helpful

 Objects v. archival material: how do you determine where an item belongs?

  • A collection development policy can help make it clear what is a circulating item, vs. what is a rare book, manuscript, etc.
  • There are a lot of sample policies online to help guide the creation of one (Harvard for example).
  • A good collection policy will allow you to say no to unwanted donations, and to categorize items better.
  • Documentation is also very crucial. Employees need to document what they did so future employees can understand their methods.

Should collections always be kept together? Can materials be separated by item type? 

  • You can accession items together, but then move them to other collections.
  • Put a label with the accession folder. Everything needs to be marked with a unique number so that it can be reassembled into a specific order. Using the year in the accession number can help you keep track of when it was added to the collection.(Ex. 2020-)
  • Important to have a master list of items and back this list up in multiple locations. Some print out an up-to-date copy regularly.
  • Past Perfect can be used to record / track items, but it can be complicated.
  • One person uses a google spreadsheet to keep track of items and their current locations.

If part of a large collection was accessioned last year and part of it this year, would you change the accession ID?

  • Acquisition dates and accession numbers are different. The accession number can be changed while the acquisition date stays the same for the entire collection.
  • A Collections policy helps prevent things being donated indiscriminately.
  • If someone gives you something and they’re a potential donor have to be careful not to offend.
  • Including a gift of deed allows for complete control over what to do with the collection.   
  • Institutional knowledge: one person alone has a lot of knowledge. It is crucial to make sure this information is passed on.   
  • “Institutional memory” – the institution doesn’t remember—it’s one person.  It needs to be passed on.

Has anyone ever gotten advisement / assessment?

  • Greater Hudson Heritage Network provides some advisement for object collections. They also have some grants for available for boxing, but the items have to be objects.
  • It can be helpful to get advice from an expert, but the suggestions have to be reasonable based on your specific organization.
  • DHPSNY is a great resource that focuses specifically on archival materials. For an assessment they provided a binder with suggested policies and information.
  • Funders appreciate that you’ve had a professional come an assess your collection. It can also be a great way to convince a board of trustees that you need something specific. Assessments can also be a useful tool for strategic planning as they can provide recommendations for the future that could be incorporated into a multi-year plan.

Has anyone had an appraisal done lately of collections?

  • Appraisals can be very expensive to have done.
  • However, they can also be incredibly useful. Can be used to prove to boards that you need specific resources to maintain an item.
  • How do you value something that is irreplaceable?
  • One organization just has blanket insurance instead of insurance based on specific items.Another org had an insurance agent who was willing to take the value of what was paid 30 years ago.  
  •  There must be easier ways to evaluate the value of an item – on some shows (like antiques roadshow) they are always saying “comparable resources.”
  • Looking at the sold prices for items at online auctions can provide a good indication how much a specific item was worth.

What do you tell local groups who are closing and looking to donate their archival records?

  • There is a chance local historical societies would be interested in organizational records. Some county historians might collect thos materials.
  • While your specific archives might not be able to accept it, you could still help it to find a good home. 
  • It really helps to have someone connected to the materials go through them first and sort the materials. It is also useful when they can provide any additional information relating to the materials. 
  • This can be a challenge as people sometimes expect that the organizations will take care of sorting. 
  •  Gently encourage people to donate their materials themselves. If they wait, information could be distorted or lost through the following generations.This can be framed as,  “we’d love to take care of those for you.”
  • There are some outreach possibilities for this. Archivists could reach out to retirement groups or lawyers who do estate planning, letting them know it is a possibility. 

Environmental Concerns:

  • There are increasing environmental concerns relating to climate change.
  • Some items should really be moved based on best practices. However, opinions can be different depending on who you ask.
  • Interal advocacy is really important. You have to create standards for your organization and advocate to board / department heads based on your needs.
  • Documentation is crucial, especially when it can help prove things need to be a certain way. When explaining, it's best to tailor based on the interests of the department.

Useful resources

NYAC Conference: This year's New York Archives Conference is being held at Marist College from June 10-12. The conference is a great resource for archivists and is relatively affordable (last year's registration cost was $75). To make things even better...Jen is presenting this year!

DHPSNY: DHPSNY is a great resource for archivists. The organization (funded by NYS) provides free archival needs assessments, condition / preservation surveys, and resources for strategic planning. They also host many professional development events including in-person workshops and webinars on a variety of different topics.

Greater Hudson Heritage Network: GHHN provides grants, assessments, and professional development relating to physical historical collections. (Note: their primary focus is objects and not archival materials).

Archivist Think Tank: A facebook group dedicated to helping solve archival issues.

Your Thriving Non-Profit: A facebook group focused on supporting non-profits and answering thorny questions.

Organizing Archival Records

The book Organizing Archival Records by David Carmichael was suggested as a great resource for processing archival collections.

Image result for Organizing archival records David W. Carmicheal

Archives Memes

Everything is better with a meme! Our convener Margaret introduced us to some fantastic (and relatable) archives memes. Follow @archivistmemes on Twitter for more!

Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
21 South Elting Corners Road | Highland, NY 12528
Phone: (845) 883-9065