I read Jill’s article about Deed of Gift forms with a bit of ohmygosh, I wish someone had told me this when I first started. My second major event after I started was Alumni Weekend. This was the first major event during which alumni would meet me and see who had taken over the care of their donations since the previous archivist had left. Granted, I did not get as many visitors to the archives as I was warned I would receive (not sure what that was about) but the visitors I did receive were interesting and fun.
However, I received one visitor who asked if she could look at some material from her class and, of course, I obliged and took out the material for her. Now, here I have to explain the set up of the archives…
When you first enter the archives, you come into the outer office where there is a computer set up for researchers and for my student worker to scan pictures, etc. To the left of the desk is “The Vault” where all of the archival material is stored. If you keep straight through the entry door, you will enter another office which is “The Inner Sanctum” also known as my office. The archives was not really designed to be an archives and it certainly isn’t set up for research (but that’s another post).
Anyway, after spending a few minutes looking at the materials, the alumna stuck her head in the door and announced “I’m taking these pictures and these articles. They’re mine. I gave them to the archives, now I want them back.” Um, what?!
I was totally gobsmacked.
A few minutes later, it happened again! What in the world? Did someone announce a give away in the archives and not tell me?
The problem was that I couldn’t very well stop these people from taking the materials, tackling alumni is frowned upon where I work. I contacted the University president about the incidents (we were between library directors) and he agreed that I was correct in allowing the alumni to take the material. No, I did not know if the material they took was truly their own but it was better not to offend the alumni.*
The archivist who was here before me had a wonderful relationship with the alumni as well as the community members, so often donations were just sent over or delivered on the fly without any records. After the two take-backs, I realized this needed to change so the following week I created a Deed of Gift.
The Deed of Gift helps the donor to understand that the materials they are donating to the archives become the property of the University to be used at the discretion of the archivist. And it allows me to say “No! You can’t have that back” with some authority. I do allow the donor to provide simple instructions and codiciles for the usage of materials (such as the return of material that does not fit within our collection development policy). But, more importantly, the Deed of Gift protects the integrity of the archives. Afterall, I cannot just have folks walking into the archives and taking stuff all willy nilly.
*For the record, not only was the material returned but the individuals along with their family members have since donated more materials and they have had no problem with signing the Deed of Gift. So all is well that ends well.
In the meantime, if your archives does not have a Deed of Gift, get one!