Archives OfficeFor academics, summer is the time to clean their offices and send the stuff they’ve collected throughout the year over to the archives.  How do I know this?  Because for the last few weeks I’ve had to stumble over people’s “stuff” to get into my office.  As in I keep finding random boxes of material without any sort of identification sitting in front of my door when I arrive in the morning.  I don’t know who the little fairies are that keep leaving this “stuff” for me but I have a couple of things to say to them:  1.  I sincerely appreciate your efforts to contribute to the history of the University but (and this is big) 2. if you don’t ID the material I can’t give you proper credit (and if you’re embarrassed to admit the material is yours then, um, you probably shouldn’t send it to the archives  :-)).

Oddly enough, I had read this post a while back and thought, oh you poor thing, I am so glad I don’t have to deal with that.  *sigh*  I spoke too soon.  Anyway, this random dumping of material caused me to throw out a question to my friends in the Twitterverse about how they deal with unidentified material being left at their office and there seemed to be a lot of differing opinions.  First of all, let me clarify that I am talking about records transfers from an office on campus to the archives, not donations from community members or alumni. 

The prevailing answer seemed to be that I should do nothing and allow people to continue sending material to the archives because to do otherwise might discourage them from sending anything at all.  While I do understand this argument (and, believe it or not, I do consider it to be a legitimate argument as I have been accused of living by the “all or nothing code” on way too many occasions), I don’t think it’s acceptable to just leave stuff at the door of the archives either. 

I think it’s perfectly acceptable to lay down some ground rules for a variety of reasons, here are a few:

  1. I am dealing with limited space so storing material until I can get around to processing it is really not an option
  2. If the person leaving the material cannot answer the 4 Ws and the H, how can I?
  3. Leaving material without at least letting me know where it came from destroys provenance

Therefore I’ve proposed that at our next manager’s meeting we discuss instituting a records transfer policy that would include a little bit of paperwork (nothing too time consuming but something that will help me to answer the 4 Ws and the H).  I’ve looked at the records transfer policies for Drexel University and the University of Texas at San Antonio and I think these would be terrific jumping off points.

I also like what Linda Benedict said:

  • If it’s in a picture frame, remove it from the frame before sending it.  I really don’t have a lot of space for frames and things like that
  • Include as much information about who is in the picture, what the event was and the date.  While I realize that sometimes not all of this is known, it would really help if there is a tiny bit of identifying information even if it’s just the office where the material originated from, sometimes that can spark a memory for others.
  • If you have absolutely no information, you can keep it.  I won’t go that far but I would say think like a researcher before you send unidentified material to the archives, is it really relevant?  Does that random picture tell a story?  Is there a connection to the University?  If not, then don’t send it.  If there is, send it and let us determine whether it’s a keeper or not.

*Just a note, italicized words are my own random musings.