HOW TO COLLECT AND PRESERVE ARCHIVES
Mr. Banz began his speech discussing problems that newly-formed historical societies face when collecting for their archives. As he stated, “I have discussed these problems with a lot of smaller organizations or with groups that want a refresher course. It is a good idea to engage the ideas of an expert in the first couple of years instead of waiting until you have been into the project for 15 years and then realize your problems.”
The first thing every organization needs is a collection policy. If you do not have a collection policy, stop everything you are doing and create one. A collection policy is the most important document an organization can have. In this policy, you need to include your mission statement. Your mission statement can be one to three sentences and needs to clearly and specifically state what your organization is about: what is the purpose; what is the mission; and what are you going to do. From that point you build a collections policy that is to be used as a guideline for society members accepting items for the archives. This uniform procedure not only helps the society establish a firm foundation for accepting donations, but also, the person making the donation knows what is and is not accepted by the society. The collection policy must be strictly adhered to at all times. Constructing and instituting a policy can be a very frustrating as well as a frightening experience for any historical society. Do not copy any other policy. , You can get ideas from others, but make up your own policy. It should be designed specifically for your organization. This can be accomplished by a series of memorandums.
You can start to develop policies and then discuss them at the directors’ meetings and then present them to the society’s members if so desired and then establish guidelines as you go.
Be careful when you write your collection policy. There are all kinds of ways you can have compromises, additions and corrections. It is much like our Constitution – it can be interpreted and revised, but it is not so strict that it cannot break. Look for a person who writes well and can compose and connect ideas for review. At this time, Board involvement and approval should be done for any policy revisions and updates. Start slow and take one thing at a time.
Accepting artifacts is initially the same as paper materials. You have initial contact with a person who makes you aware of the artifact. This is a donor driven gift. There are two types of donor driven gifts, the regular and the conditional. You want to avoid conditional gifts at all costs. Conditional gifts have certain criteria the society must meet in order to obtain the item. For instance, you may have this if you display it. Such criteria must be adhered to throughout the society’s existence. It may be a great idea at the time, but do you want to display the item forever. About the only time that an organization takes a conditional gift is when the gift is rare and so important that someone will be willing to accept the specific conditions. This is where your collection policy will reflect what your mission is. Take only unconditional gifts so you may do what you want with that particular item.
Think about active collecting; do not wait for a donor to bring things to you. Go out and see if people will loan you an object for the remainder of their life and then donate it upon their death. Or, have the loan set up for a certain period of time, after which time the object will belong to the organization. You must be careful with loans. You do not want to have a large number of loans in your collection because they do not belong to the society. Loans must be given back to the person when requested; even the donor’s estate can request that the item be returned. This is the number one problem with loans so it is best to avoid them altogether. Think about purchasing objects. Develop an acquisition fund so when an item is available for purchase, you might be able to acquire that item for your archives. Most people are not giving items away for free anymore because they feel the item may be of value. Consider sponsored purchases; e.g., a local business will purchase the object for your archives. Another possible acquisition method would be estate planning; if someone has an item they wish to donate at the time of their death, they would include that donation in their Last Will and Testament.
When you are offered an object, do you take it? You should first determine the item’s historical value. Is the item an original? Do not get involved with reproductions. A reproduction is everywhere and means the original is somewhere else, unless it is a very significant reproduction like a Bicentennial piece. If you accumulate too many reproductions, it will take up all your storage and you will not have room for more important items.
Does the item relate to the mission statement? For example, if someone wants to give you a beautiful china set you should not take it if it has no connection to Dover. If this does not fit your mission statement, someone else needs to collect it. If a person donates news articles concerning Dover and you are collecting items about Dover because that is what is in your mission statement, you should accept the news articles.
At this time, you should have a reputable organization such as the York County Heritage Trust verify and inspect the object for authenticity, and if needed, outline the procedures for archival storage and any other questions that may arise. A detailed description of the object, and a photograph are needed to establish the condition of the object at the time it was donated. This procedure is a marker to tell the archivist how the object has deteriorated over a period of time. You have to be able to find out if deterioration is a result of the way you are storing it, or was it in that condition when it was received. Be especially careful with clothing. Write down any moth holes and damaged spots when received. If you look at the condition report, you will be able to tell if you are storing it improperly. Make up a sheet that shows a little about the history of the item and the family from which is came, what the item is made of and what condition it was in when received. Keep this on file with other information you have on the item.
A committee, not an individual, needs to determine and state whether you are going to keep the item or not. Who are the members of this committee? Members could be a curator or a historian in the organization; you should have some board members and some committee volunteers. Are they going to be a lifetime committee or serve a certain length of time? Do not put just anyone on the committee. Choose someone that knows the history of Dover. For example, if you have a farmer that knows agricultural tools, he would be a logical person to have on the committee. Discuss your gifts and sale offers to accept or reject items. Be able to say “no” to people by explaining to them why you are not taking the object. Then, even though you say no, they will call back with other items. You can say it is very much appreciated but does not fit into our Mission Statement. Give them suggestions such as the appropriate person to call, or where items may be taken for consideration. People will want to know what an item is worth. By law, you cannot do an appraisal, so never state the value of an item.
Next, you need to transfer ownership of an item. To transfer, you need a legal document called Deed of Gift, which must be signed by the donor and then be witnessed. If not signed, you are not the owner. If you have such an item and no Deed of Gift and someone wants to claim it, ask for proof that it belonged to them. If stated that an item was loaned, ask for a loan agreement. After transfer of ownership, send a thank you letter. Be prompt with your responses.
A thank you letter is valued more if it is handwritten, rather than typed and signed.
Each object should be labeled. The label can be a paper tag, an inked or lacquered tag. Do not write directly on the object, especially a textile item. You can make a label and sew it on the material writing small and neat and showing the number so it can be easily traced. Using the old-fashioned card files or computerized database, your artifacts should be listed showing the accession number, a description of the item, the date donated and the name of the donor, paperwork belonging to the item the sales receipt if you purchased the item and the Deed of Gift form. All of this information should be placed in acid-free folders and placed with the object. Having the information available with the object will cut down on research time.
Donated objects can be displayed in various ways. They can be placed in a locked display case in many public locations including churches, schools or other historical sites. You should have minimal access to your objects so they cannot be touched or broken and have maximum protection of the artifact. Place the display case where a lot of people are around. Have a secure storage area with limited access to unauthorized people.
If you are going to loan out items from your archives you must have a form signed by the loaner before it leaves the archives. When you have an incoming loan, you want to have a detailed condition report and a photograph of the object. Do not do long term loans. Also, get a certificate of insurance, and have the object certified as to its worth by an appraiser prior to its acceptance. You can also research the item through antique books to find the item’s worth.
When you go to obtain an archive item, take a kit with you that contains the following to be prepared for whatever you might encounter: acid-free paper, white cotton gloves, blankets, bubble wrap, boxes, and file folders. Make sure you read the loan paper before you sign your name.
If you have an archives item that is no longer needed or wanted, the committee must agree upon de-accession. The reasons are:
1. The object is a fake.
2. The object is damaged or deteriorated past restoration.
3. Cost is obsessive.
4. Object is of inferior quality.
5. Object has been restored so it has lost its integrity or original appearance.
6. Object duplicates other items in collection.
7. Object is unrelated to the collections policy.
8. Object has been stolen and is unrecoverable.
9. Object must be de-accessioned for legal or ethical reasons.
The American Organization has information about the Code of Ethics and the Society should obtain a copy and follow these ethics. It clearly states certain policies and procedures to follow. One of the policies is not be de-accession an item before you have had the item two years. It can be offered to the original donor. If they do not want the item you may find another organization that may be interested in having it. If you want to sell the item and do not know to whom the item belongs, advertise your intentions. If you sell the item, the money must only be used to purchase other archive items.
Mr. Banz ended his discussion by saying The York County Heritage Trust would like to assist the Greater Dover Historical Society with their Archives and help us in any way needed.
The Society wishes to thank Mr. Banz for his informative and lively discussion. The Society looks forward to working with Mr. Banz, his staff and the York County Heritage Trust.
This site was last updated 08/06/12