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Donation FAQs

Are any of my 9/11 materials historically valuable? How would I know?

People often assume that their mementos, the records of their personal lives and the lives of their families, have no historical value.  Sometimes that’s true, but many times it isn’t. Materials related to the 9/11 disaster are more likely to be important. 

So if there are items you are ready to discard, and you would be willing to donate them so they could be part of your community’s and your nation’s history, consider contacting a historical repository. Let an archives or museum professional advise you whether they think some or all of your materials would be historically valuable.

What is a repository and what do repositories do?

  • A repository is an organization that collects and preserves historically valuable materials and makes them accessible to the public. 
  • Historically valuable materials come in many formats:
    • three-dimensional objects, including items such as quilts or medals
    • papers, photographs, and maps
    • film, video and audio recordings
    • electronic files, such as documents, emails, and digital photos
  • There are several kinds of repositories:
    • Historical societies usually collect materials related to a particular town, city, county, or region.  They may collect objects, as a museum does, and/or they may concentrate on archival materials such as papers, photographs, maps, film, video and audio recordings, and electronic files.
    • Archives generally collect the historically valuable records of organizations and papers of individuals and families (for example, their paper records, photographs, maps, audio and video recordings, and electronic files). They usually don’t collect three-dimensional objects. College or university libraries and archives or special collections departments may collect both the records of the institution and materials related to local history or subjects of academic interest.
    • Public libraries may have local or regional history collections of unique papers, photographs, maps, and other historical materials, not just books and periodicals.
    • Museums generally collect objects (three-dimensional artifacts, art works in all media, etc.); they usually don’t collect archival materials except as supporting documentation of their object collections.
    • Companies or large institutions may have their own archives, which generally collect only their own records.  A company that was deeply affected by 9/11 may collect related material in its archives.
  • Repositories make their historical materials available in many ways:
    • Public exhibits
    • Research facilities, where the public can look at and study the materials
    • Educational materials for schools and learners of all ages that are based on historical documents and objects
    • Online exhibits
    • Online descriptions of their holdings, so people all over the world can learn about what they have
    • Online digital copies of some of their holding
  • Repositories follow professional standards and a code of ethics.

What are the benefits of donating to a repository?

  • Your materials will be carefully stored and preserved for posterity. You can be confident that they will be cared for professionally under better conditions of light exposure, temperature, and humidity than most people can provide in their homes.
  • You, as the donor, will have continued access to the materials.
  • Your materials will be shared with others through exhibits, public programs, educational materials, and access to researchers.
  • Your materials will contribute to the public’s experience and understanding of the history of 9/11 and of your community and nation.

How do I choose a repository for my materials?

If you are interested in donating materials to a repository, you should look for one that will be well suited to your collection. Here are some things to consider:

  • Mission and commitment: Collecting 9/11 materials should be consistent with the organization’s mission, and the organization should be committed to collecting these materials and to promoting their existence and use. For example, a neighborhood historical society in New York City might be interested in your collection because the impact of 9/11 on the community is an important part of the neighborhood’s history.
  • Institutional stability: The organization should be well established and supported, and unlikely to go out of business or cut back on its support for archival or object collections.
  • Location: Ideally, the repository should be relatively accessible to you and your community. However, you may have to weigh this against the organization’s stability and its commitment to collecting 9/11 materials.
  • Facility: The storage and public access areas of the repository should have appropriate environmental controls (cleanliness, temperature, humidity, light exposure levels) to ensure that the items in your collection will remain in good condition as long as possible.
  • Adequate resources: There should be sufficient storage space, public access, and staff, some with archival or museum training.
  • Existing relationship: Is there a library, historical society, museum or other such organization with which you have an affiliation? If the organization meets some of the other criteria, it might be a good choice.

What is the process for donating my materials to a repository?

There are some things the repository will require in order to carry out its responsibilities, but most repositories will want to work with you to meet your needs, too.  If they cannot, you may want to donate to another repository.

  • Talk with an archivist, curator, or other appropriate staff at the organization and check its website. 
  • Ask any questions you have, and see how you feel about the organization and how comfortable you feel working with the staff.
  • Determine how well the repository meets the criteria listed under: How do I choose a repository for my materials?
  • If you decide you want to donate materials, you will need to work out the details with the repository:
    • They will have to decide what is appropriate for their collections. There may be items of yours that do not fit their collecting policy. 
    • There may be sensitive items you have that you do not want to be made available to the public for several years. You can put time-limited restrictions on accessibility to parts of your collection.  However, a repository’s reason for collecting material is to make them publicly accessible eventually, so if you want something to be permanently restricted, the repository probably will not be interested in keeping it.
  • Once you have agreed on the terms of your donation, you will sign a Deed of Gift that transfers legal ownership of your collection to the repository and states any restrictions or other terms you have worked out.

What do I need to do with my items before donating them?

  • You do not need to sort or organize your materials in any particular way. The way you have them organized now, just as they are, is fine and may help the archivist or curator to better understand your collection.
  • Part of what makes your collection valuable is the stories behind the items in it. Therefore, you may want to make notes about particular items or groups of items that explain why you saved them and why they are important. These notes can help the repository staff make the materials more interesting and useful. Tie an identifying tag to individual objects whenever possible.
  • You might consider photographing the items before donating them or ask that the repository do so.

What happens to my records in the repository?

  • Accessioning.  Once the Deed of Gift is signed, your materials will be physically transferred to the repository, where they will be accessioned as part of the repository’s collection. The materials will be stored in appropriate, climate-controlled facilities and in containers that protect them.
  • Description.  Archives and museums have different ways of describing their holdings but ultimately have the same goal of making information about them available to the public.
  • Promotion and use. A good repository will make an effort to let its audiences know about its collections and will encourage their use in many ways—for research, education, public programs, exhibits, and so on. When you are learning about repositories, pay attention to what kinds of programs they offer and how their holdings are used.