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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  May 2006, Week 2

ARCHIVES May 2006, Week 2

Subject:

Re: Deaccessioning (obsessively long)

From:

Leon Miller <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Leon Miller <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 8 May 2006 10:29:12 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (127 lines)

"After forty years as a regional history center, there have emerged some new
historical societies as well as new local libraries. A number of these have
contacted me over time and said they exist now, so I should send them our
collections about their area. Some have not a clue on how to preserve
materials, how to catalog archival collections, have no research facility or
hours....Your question is not an easy one as organizations will change their
mission over and
over.....expanding them when times are good, and restricting them with times
are hard."

I agree with Dean (especially his excellent comment about the problem of
shifting missions) in that the only responsible course is to avoid
transferring collections to the types of organizations he described and
instead try to establish cooperative and mentoring relationships with such
organizations when you can.

For the sake of argument I'm going to approach this from a different angle
and suggest that there are many times when transferring holdings to another
institution is appropriate, but before I do I want to make two comments
about the original post. First, it's suspicious for one institution to
approach another and ask it to hand something over. Second, Mary said that
"the other archive states that it is their mission to collect the current
papers of this organization." That is a classic scam.

Attempting to bring together a complete set of institutional records or
family papers into one repository is a valid goal. If the other repository
has high professional archival standards (that is, if it's a true
professional research archives and not the kind of amateur repository Dean
described), you may want to consider cooperating with them.

However, this rationale is sometimes used by unscrupulous so-called
"archivists" to raid other archives' holdings. These so-called "archivists"
will approach the current leadership of organizations and lobby them to
become their official archives, knowing that another archives already
fulfills that function. The organization signs an agreement with the
poaching archives to donate their records from that date forward. The
poaching archives then contacts you and demands that you turn over your past
holdings so they may have the complete set. Signing the deed of gift for the
organization's current and future records was only a ruse; their real goal
was to acquire the more valuable historical records that your archives
already preserved.

A closely related type of poaching is when a so-called archivist learns that
a repository holds something on deposit, contacts the donor's heirs, and
manipulates the heirs into removing the deposit and donating it to his
repository instead.

There are rare instances when both types of poaching may be justified: the
archives "poached from" may no longer be run by professionals or may no
longer have adequate resources to care for and make available its holdings,
making the transfer of selected holdings the responsible thing to do.
However, it's preferable to arrange these kinds of transfers with the
consent and cooperation of everyone concerned instead of in this kind of
"behind your back" fashion.

With that off my chest, I'd like to tackle Mary's question from the opposite
tack. If there is an established, professional, responsible archives in your
area and you acquired an archival collection pertaining to that
institution's collection policy, then you might very well have a
professional and ethical responsibility to transfer those holdings,
depending on the circumstances. Even when there is not a strong professional
or ethical obligation, you may still wish to transfer the collection as a
professional courtesy.

Furthermore, if a donor comes to you with a collection that you know
pertains to another institution's collection policy, and you know that the
other institution is a well-managed professional archives, then you have an
archival ethical obligation to inform that donor of the other institution's
collecting areas, to explain fully to the donor why his or her donation
would be more appropriate at the other institution, to encourage that donor
to donate the materials to the other institution instead of to yours, and to
offer to help facilitate contact between the potential donor and the other
institution.

If you have made a good faith effort to persuade the potential donor to
donate his or her materials to the more appropriate institution, and the
donor still insists on giving them to you anyway ("Those people are so
rude..." or "They lost Aunt Sally's Raspberry Fool recipe and I'm never
giving them anything again..."), then, and only then, is it proper for you
to accept the donation.

So, I would suggest that you consider how important the materials are to
your collection, how much respect you have for the other institution's
professional standards, and whether your repository has the professional and
financial resources to appropriately care for them and make them available
to researchers. If your repository is not staffed by professional archivists
or is grossly underfunded; or, if the records are not central to your
mission or your collection policy, if transferring them would not violate
donor intent or open legal tangles, if the materials pertain significantly
to the other institution's collecting interests, and if you are personally
satisfied with the professional standards of the other archives, then
transferring them might be the right thing to do.

Lee


----
Leon C. Miller, Manuscripts Librarian
Special Collections, Jones Hall
Tulane University Libraries
New Orleans, Louisiana 70118
ph: 504-865-5685, fx: 504-865-5761, [log in to unmask]
http://specialcollections.tulane.edu


On Behalf Of Mary Sicchio
Sent: Friday, May 05, 2006 11:07 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Deaccessioning

Dear Listserve:
Do you have any advice for a small archive who has received
two requests from a neighboring archive on two differing
collections that they feel should be in their archive.

A posting from the Archives & Archivists LISTSERV List sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, www.archivists.org.
For the terms of participation, please refer to http://www.archivists.org/listservs/arch_listserv_terms.asp.

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