Prepared by Rochester Regional Library Council
Documentary Heritage Program Committee
This electronic booklet is intended to help you identify what archival records you have and to help you recognize what questions you will need to address when considering the future of your organization's archives.
Every organization, regardless of its age or size, has archival records. These are records that, because of the information they contain (rather than because of how old they are), will be of permanent or continuing historical, informational, administrative, or fiscal value. They are, in short, an organizational asset. However, they will only be of value to the organization if they are accessible and can be used. While a number of organizations are establishing in-house archives, others are considering donating their archival assets to research libraries or historical societies - often called special collections or manuscript repositories.
In 1831-32 a young Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States. Like many Europeans of his day, he was fascinated to learn about this new country across the Atlantic. He published his observations in a famous book,Democracy in America .
One of the things which de Tocqueville found especially interesting in the United States was a fondness for forming associations for all sorts of purposes. He wrote, "The power of the association has reached its highest degree in America. Associations are made for the purposes of trade, and for political, literary and religious interests. It is never by recourse to a higher authority that one seeks success, but by appeal to individual powers working in concert."
The same is no less true today. Think how many organizations to which you currently belong - religious or charitable, hobby or recreational, educational or scientific, community or neighborhood, business or professional. And, if your mail is typical, nearly every day you receive invitations to join more: to further political candidates or causes, to preserve landmarks or endangered species, or to join with others to share interests in a thousand-and-one other subjects.
Many organizations to which Americans belong are national or even world-wide in scope. Others serve only particular states, counties or local communities. With their variety of purposes these organizations add texture and variety to a community's heritage. A knowledge of that heritage, provided by written documentation as well as oral tradition, proves valuable to members of the organization, to historians and to the community itself. This electronic booklet offers an introduction to keeping and documenting the history of community organizations.
Why Keep History?
Whether an organization is a church, a scout troop, a support group, a professional association, a volunteer fire department, a softball league, a hobby club, or even a local business, it generates records - including "archival records" which have permanent value.
- Archival records document important people and events of your organization.
Whether an organization has been organized for 100 years or for just a few months, it has a history in the community.
- Archival records are the noncurrent records of an organization.
Whether an organization's purpose is charitable, educational, religious, or recreational, the archival records tell a story about the community through the "eyes"of the organization.
- Archival records convey important information about past human activity.
We tend to think of arcival records or "historical documents" in terms of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or even diplomas, licenses, deeds and certificates. Archival records can, however, encompass a much wider and more ordinary assortment of documentary materials. Whatever the size or scope of an organization, there are materials providing a permanent record of its history such as:
- a charter or articles of incorporation indicating when and by whom it was founded,
- a constitution and bylaws telling its purpose and organizational structure,
- minutes of meetings recording details of activities accomplished and issues dealt with,
- financial records including not only details of income and expenses, but a sense of how the organization directs its efforts,
- bulletins, newsletters, programs, and other publications describing the organization's activities and concerns,
- newspaper clippings, photographs sound or video recordings documenting the organization's history,
- and for some, payroll records, building plans or other information.
Adequate historical records, well organized and readily accessible, can provide "documentation" or information for the organization's decision making. Documentation can:
- provide an impartial "organizational memory" to resolve legal or other disputes.
- facilitate accountability to members, parent organizations or regulatory bodies.
- help avoid re-inventing the wheel and needless duplication, thereby saving time, effort and money.
- assist in planning for organizational anniversaries or special events.
- help to instill pride in past accomplishments and inspire future improvements.
- identify long term members, volunteers, or contributors for recognition.
- and measure the organization's growth and development.
"Archival records" are the materials that are most significant in describing the origin, purpose, activities, functions and changes of an organization over many years. It should be the responsibility of someone in every organization to systematically save and preserve these documents in an orderly fashion for future reference. This job can be given to a historian, secretary, president, director, or manager, but it should be a clearly designated responsibility.
In organizations where the founding members are no longer active, the documentary record can be the sole source of information about the past purposes, intentions and activities of the organization. Common inquiries about the organization can be answered by referring to the archival records:
- When was the organization (or chapter) established?
- Who were the charter members?
- Who have been the presidents (or the award winners, or the committee chairs)?
- What programs or activities have the organization sponsored? (and When? and Who participated?)
- What resulted from the organization's programs and activities?
What Records to Keep?
Community organizations that are affiliated with state, regional, national, or international organizations should seek guidance from their parent organizations in keeping important records. In general, a local organization should keep records of the local chapter's activities and membership and the national organization should keep records of national activities, publications, etc.
Whether the organization has an established historical documents (archives) collection or an unorganized pile of papers, knowing which records are likely to be of permanent value will help the person designated as historian to cope with current documents. Maitaining the documentary records of an organization consists of:
- sorting and organizing,
- eliminating duplicates and non-essentials,
- planning policies and procedures for storage, preservation, and access to records.
The historian will also add value by, whenever possible, making sure that items are dated and that photographs and audiovisual materials are identified with who, what, where, and when. By making sure that the origin of the materials in the collection are sufficiently documented; that the collection is adequately maintained; and that information in the records can be retrieved, the historian ensures the utility of the archives for future use.
There are two general categories of records created by organizations: permanent items of lasting value (the archival records), and temporary items that are maintained only until they are no longer needed by the organization for day-to-day operations. There are usually a greater number of items in the second category.
Here are a few examples of the types of materials typically generated by organizations performing routine business operations. They are listed as either "permanent" or "temporary".
It is the permanent records that make up the core of the organization's archives:
Accounting & Fiscal
- certified financial staments
- general and other ledgers (accounts, plant, stock, note, royalty)
- tax agents reports
- exemption status
- records of fundraising, donations, contributions, bequests
Administrative, Legal, & Corporate
- public & governmental audits
- organizational charts
- system & procedure records/manuals
- inventory records
- charters, constitutions, bylaws
- copyrights, trademarks, patents
- claims, litigations
- executive office, or boards' policy statements, directives, meeting minutes, correspondence
- membership lists
- stock & securities records
- contracts (employee, government, labor, grant, etc.)
- federal, state, local licenses & permits
- incorporation records & certificates
- records of reorganization
Sales & Marketing & Advertising
- market research studies/analyses
- price lists, samples, displays
- drawings & artwork
- house publications (journals, booklets, newsletters, anniversary publications, etc.)
Plant & Property
- appraisals, surveys
- deeds, titles
- plans, specifications
- property maps
- blueprints, photos
- records of property features
Personnel & Insurance
- employee earnings & service records
- payroll records
- training manuals
- insurance appraisals
- plant claims
- original drawings & tracings
- time & motion studies
- officially prepared histories and historical overviews
- jubilee albums, anniversary booklets, programs from the organization's events
- diaries, journals, and other records of activities
- correspondence related to the organization's history, letterhead
- photographs (identified as to content and date, if possible)
- scrapbooks, videos, film
- taped and transcribed oral history accounts
- memorabilia (e.g. society badges, pins, insignia, uniforms, commemorative medals, flags, banners)
These may usually be discarded after a designated period of time unless they are the only records left
Accounting & Fiscal
- bank records (statements, canceled stock certificates & checks, etc.)
- budget work sheets
- bills, invoices, receipts
- periodic financial statements
- expense reports & vouchers
- general cashbooks & ledgers
Administrative, Legal, & Corporate
- election records, stockholder proxies
- vendor contracts
- authorization for expenditures
- correspondence from accounting, advertising, purchases,sales, etc.
Sales & Marketing & Advertising
- market data
- agent/distributor contracts
Plant & Property
- maintenance & repair records on buildings or machinery
- damage reports
Personnel & Insurance
- applications, terminations
- accident/injury reports, claims, settlements
- time & attendance records
- employee benefits/ expense accounts
- expired policies (liability, fire, etc.)
- work orders
- quality control reports
- inspection & job records
Making Choices About the Future of Your Archives
There are a number of choices an organization can make to insure that its historical documents are preserved for the future. An organization can:
- create and maintain its own archives,
- donate records to an existing archive or local history collection or to the headquarters or archives of a parent organization.
Before deciding if and where to keep the organization's documents, the group should consider the space, preservation, material resources, and staffing costs of keeping records and the related costs of making the records accessible for use and reference.
Historical documents with permanent value should be kept in a central, secure place that is dry and reasonably climate controlled for protection from deterioration. Extremes of temperature (hot or cold) and humidity (dampness or dryness) should be avoided. Most attics are too hot and many basements and garages are too damp to store paper, photos and tapes.
If an organization has a building, is there a adequate space where records can be filed and used? Is there a plan of action in case of fire, flood or natural disaster? Is there someone who can organize and file the records, prepare indexes or inventories of what is there, and retrieve and copy items when they are needed?
If an organization has no building, is there space in another building? If records are stored at a place of business, is there secure space in or near the office of the person responsible for those records? If a member must store records at home, is there secure space in a first or second floor closet or spare room? If records are stored at a member's place of business or home, are new records systematically added, and are the records readily available for use?
If an organization plans to donate its documents to an archival collection or to a parent organization, will the documents be readily available? Can the materials be processed and made available for research in a timely manner? Are the location and hours convenient for access to the documents? Are there records that require access more than once or twice a year? These should be kept with current records until their use is less frequent.
Other issues that arise when selecting a repository include determining ownership, copyright, and reproduction rights, user fees, and so on. These issues maybe addressed in a "donor deed of gift" or other transfer instrument. Also, you will need to check with a tax department to learn if there is a tax benefit in donating some fees.
An organization may want to seek additional information or the advice of an archivist in making these choices. Resources listed in this electronic booklet may help. An organization's records are important historical documents that deserve protection. Keep them safe for the future.
The following brief guide includes selected reliable sources that offer concise and practical advice for the person whose responsibilities include the care and arrangement of an organization's documents. Many of the resources include their own bibliographies. All of these materials and others are available through RRLC member libraries.
Let the Record Show: Practical Uses for Historical Documents, New York State Archives and Records Administration, 1989.
A 15 minute videotape introducing the importance of historical documents in contemporary life, can be used with "Archives and You."
Archives and You: The Benefits of Historical Records. State University of New York, New York State Archives and Records Administration, 1990.
A 12 page introduction to the importance of historical records in contemporary society.
Arrangement and Description of Archives & Manuscripts: A Manual for New York's Historical Records Repositories by Kathleen Roe. New York State Archives and Records Administration, 1990.
A detailed introduction to organizing historical documents.
Strengthening New York's Historical Records Programs: A Self-Study GuideNew York State Archives and Records Administration, 1991.
A basic manual with samples & self-study questions for setting up your archives.
Selected Bibliography on Historical Records Administration annotations by Vicki Weiss and Meridith Cherven-Holland. Documentary Heritage Program, New York State Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
A bibliography that provides a basic list of publications on the acquisition, care, use, and administration of archives and manuscripts
State, Federal, and Private Sources of Funding for Archives, Historical Societies, Libraries and Other Not-for-Profit OrganizationsDocumentary Heritage Program, New York State Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
This Documentary Heritage Program technical booklet briefly describes what theseorganizations fund and provides addresses and phone numbers if more detailed information is needed.
If you have further questions about documentation of your community's history, you may wish to contact the following:
Documentary Heritage Program, Rochester Regional Library Council,
390 Packett's Landing,
Fairport, NY 14450
Voice: (585) 223-7570
Livingston County Historical Society
30 Center Street,
Geneseo, NY 14454
Rochester Historical Society,
485 East Avenue,
Rochester, NY 14607
Ontario County Historical Society,
55 North Main Street,
Canandaigua, NY 14424
Wayne County Historical Society,
21 Butternut Street,
Lyons, NY 14489
Wyoming Historical Pioneer Association,
18 East Main Street,
Arcade, NY 14009
Note: In addition to these historical societies, many communities also have historical societies, museums, and public libraries with collections of interest to their communities. Contact the Regional Archivist for more information.
New York State Education Department,
9B44 Cultural Education Center,
Albany NY 12230
Phone: (518) 474-4372
Upstate History Alliance (formerly Regional Council of Historical Agencies,
11 Ford Avenue
Oneonta, NY 13820
The Upstate History Alliance is a non-profit agency that provides the tools and information to help individuals and organizations preserve, collect, and promote the history and traditions of upstate New York.
Society of American Archivists (SAA)
527 S. Wells Street
Chicago IL 60607-3922
Phone: ( 312) 922-0140
Fax: (312) 347-1452
The SAA offers a free publications catalog and a small brochure "Who is the I in Archives?"
Western New York Association of Historical Agencies,
P.O. Box 253
LeRoy, NY 14482
Phone: (585) 768-7433
The WNY AHA was founded to encourage cooperative efforts among historical societies, museums, municipal and county historians, related cultural organizations, and anyone interested in the historical and cultural development of Western New York.
Documentary Heritage Program (DHP)
The Documentary Heritage Program is administered by the New York State Archives, which has a goal of improving the documentation of New York State's historical development and works to raise awareness of the importance of historical records in New York State. The RRLC region for the Documentary Heritage Program includes the five county region served by the Rochester Regional Library Council. Services of the DHP include advisory services and workshops on topics such as "Basic Elements of an Historical Records Program" to provide training for paid and volunteer staffs of libraries, archives and historical societies. Preston Pierce is the Regional Archivist for the RRLC region. He may be contacted directly at RRLC.
Rochester Regional Library Council
The Rochester Regional Library Council, familiarly known as RRLC, has facilitated resource sharing among libraries since 1967. It is one of nine Reference and Research Library Resources (3R's) Councils in New York State. RRLC serves libraries and library systems in Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Wayne, and Wyoming Counties. For more information, please contact:
Kathleen Miller, Executive Director
Rochester Regional Library Council
390 Packett's Landing
Fairport NY 14450
Phone: (585) 223-7570
Fax: (585) 223-7712