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The goals of any historical records repository are to acquire, preserve and make available historical records. However, acquisition, preservation and access do not occur in a vacuum; their success depends on a functioning administrative structure.
It is tempting to treat your administrative policies and procedures as the products of a one time exercise that occupy an infrequently opened file drawer. Neglecting your administrative structure threatens the sustainability of your repository. Without a healthy budget, how can you purchase adequate processing supplies? Without a well defined mission, how will you know what to do with the records in your collection? Without adequate recordkeeping, how will know what you have in your repository and where it came from?
Regularly reviewing the administrative elements of your repository allows you to take a step back from the day-to-day activities of running your repository and assess it from a broader perspective. A perspective that will improve your ability to balance and manage your core functions, make you more valuable to your governing body or parent organization and more credible in the eyes of funding agencies and donors.
In the following video, Anne Ackerson, Executive Director of the Council of State Archivists, and Joy Houle, Executive Director of the Saratoga County Historical Society at Brookside Museum, discuss the benefits of strategic planning for historical records repositories.
In this section you will assess the following:
A well written mission statement briefly describes why your repository is unique and what makes your collection valuable to a range of users. It defines your organization’s aims for preserving, and providing access to the historical records in your custody. In addition to informing the public of who you are and what you do, a mission statement provides employees with a shared commitment to general goals and values. Specific details of how you will meet these goals belong in your collection policy and strategic plan not in your mission statement. While it is possible that your repository is part of a larger organization that has its own mission statement, you should have a unique mission statement for your repository.
The mission statement of the Marist College Archives and Special Collections states:
In accordance with the mission statement of Marist College and the mission statement of the Cannavino Library, the Archives and Special Collections serves the college and local community by collecting, preserving, providing access to, and interpreting primary resource material on the culture and history of the college and the local region.
Drafting or revising your mission statement is a participatory process that includes staff, administrators and representatives of your governing body. A broad spectrum of participants ensures that you will have a well reasoned statement capable of providing you and your staff with a common purpose and shared sense of the importance of your work. The final version of the statement should be approved by the governing authority of your organization and widely distributed after approval.
A mission statement:
- Clarifies your repository’s role to members of the governing board, staff, volunteers and the general public
- Describes your repository’s relationship to your parent organization
- Provides a foundation for setting goals and objectives
- Guides future planning efforts and program development.
Standards and Best Practices
- Archives Association of British Colombia, A Manual for Small Archives. Chapter 1 Getting Started: Your Archival Organization
- Gregory Hunter, Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives: A How-To-Do-It Manual Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. (2003)
- Elizabeth Yakel, Starting An Archives. Society of American Archivists and Scarecrow Press, Inc. (1994)
- International Records Management Trust Managing Archives pages 12-14 deal specifically with developing and analyzing a mission statement for archival programs
- James M. O'Toole and Richard J. Cox Understanding Archives and Manuscripts Society of American Archivists (2006)
Planning for the future of your repository can take many forms ranging from a set of annual goals to a five-year strategic plan. Regardless of the format and complexity of your planning documents, a written guide to future activities will help you allocate resources, gauge your success and identify areas for improvement.
Strategic planning is the process of defining what future activities you will undertake to fulfill your repository’s mission. While there is no standardized design for a strategic plan and you should develop a format that meets your needs, it is important to address a few central questions in your plan.
- What are the core functions of your repository?
- What are your short, medium and long-term goals?
- What resources are available to meet those goals?
Ideally your plan is written by a team that includes managers, staff and representatives from your repositories governing body. If it is appropriate, you may also want to consider including outside stakeholders such as funding groups or researchers in your planning committee. Your planning team should honestly assess your repository’s strengths and weaknesses, propose avenues for improvement, and suggest future projects to better fulfill your mission. Of course it is difficult to predict the future so your strategic plan should be revised when your repository undergoes major changes. Your governing body should approve your strategic plan and any revisions.
If a fully developed strategic plan is not realistic for your repository, consider drafting an annual work plan outlining:
- What you will work on
- Who is responsible for completing the work
- What resources you need to complete the work
- When you will finish the project
- How you will measure success
While a work plan won’t provide a vision for your future it will give you clearly defined goals, identify short-term gaps in resources and personnel, and establish performance indicators for your work.
- Assists your repository in making the best use of financial and staffing resources
- Provides detailed measures for evaluating your repository’s performance and development
- Improves your repository’s accountability to its governing body and user community
- Provides achievable goals for staff and volunteers.
Standards and Best Practices
Budgeting and Finance
The cornerstone of good financial planning for your historical records repository is the development of an annual budget. Budgeting procedures vary from organization to organization. You may have your own independent budget or your budget may be one line in a larger institutional budget. In either case, dividing your annual allotment into set categories makes it easier to track expenses and responsibly manage your finances. A systematic approach to budgeting ensures you have adequate funds for the activities identified in your written plans and enough money to accommodate occasional unexpected expenses.
Budgeting and financial planning:
- Provide accurate accounting of your repositories income and expenses.
- Clarify the exact financial needs of your repository
- Enable the efficient use of resources
- Addresses processing, preservation, and outreach priorities
- Increase awareness of the archives program in your organization.
Standards and Best Practices
- Smith, G Stevenson, Managerial Accounting for Libraries and other Not-For-Profit Organizations
- John Durel Building a Sustainable Non-Profit Organization
- William Maher “The Importance of Financial Analysis of Archival Programs” Midwestern Archivist 3 (no. 2, 1978) 3-24
- Bishoff, Liz and Allen, Nancy “Business Planning for Cultural Heritage Institutions”
- Library of Michigan, Public Library Financial Management Guide
Ideally, your program should have a professionally trained archivist on staff. In cases where it may not be possible to hire a professional archivist you should make arrangements for your staff to have access to consultants with the appropriate training and experience. In addition to an archivist, your historic records program should have adequate staffing to carry out the mission, goals and objectives of your program. Many programs meet their staffing needs with a combination of professionals, volunteers, and interns.
Given the tight budgets of most historical records repositories you may choose to seek “free labor” from volunteers and student interns. However, volunteers and interns should not be seen as a replacement for professional staff and you need to dedicate resources to planning a volunteer worker program and supervising their work. Volunteers work best when they are given discrete well defined projects that utilize their skills and are consistently supervised. Interns may be given more professionally oriented tasks, but those should also be under the supervision of a trained individual. As with all new staff members, volunteers and interns need thorough orientation and training before they work with historical records. Volunteers willingly give up their time to aid your repository and it is important you find ways to consistently reward their service.
Like all professions, the archives field undergoes changes in standards and practices. These changes require your historical records program to provide ongoing opportunities for staff development and training. Professional organizations such as the Society of American Archivists (SAA) as well as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC), the New York Archives Conference (NYAC), and many local professional organizations regularly offer workshops and online training for archivists. You should encourage your staff to take advantage of these opportunities. There are also many free online opportunities for professional development including list serves, blogs, webinars, and online forums where archivists can regularly interact with their colleagues. For example, ArchivesBlogs.com syndicates content from a large and diverse list of archives related blogs and the Society of American Archivists maintains a number of email discussion lists relating to archives and archivists.
Professional archival staff
- Protect your collections by adhering to professional practices and standards
- Train and supervise volunteers and interns to supplement the work of paid staff.
- Improve the credibility of your organization in the community, with funders and with potential records donors.
- Enhance opportunities for collaboration with other historical records programs.
- Your historical records program will have a professionally trained and experienced archivist on staff or have an archivist readily available to consult with your staff
- Your historical records program will have adequate staff to meet your mission, goals and objectives
- Your volunteers and interns will understand the basic practices of managing historical records.
- Your staff will have consistent access to professional training opportunities
Standards and Best Practices
- SAA Best Practices for Volunteers in Archives
- SAA Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education
- ACRL Competencies for Special Collections Professionals
- SAA “Lone Arrangers” Roundtable, Resources
- Michael Kurtz Managing Archival and Manuscript Repositories Society of American Archivists (2004)
- Jeannette Bastian and Donna Webber Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors and Students Society of American Archivists (2008)
Policies and Procedures
Your organization should have a written set of policies and procedures for the administration, care, and use of collections in your repository. These policies and procedures should be based on professional standards and best-practices and cover all archival activities in your repository.
While developing a comprehensive policy manual is somewhat overwhelming, the various sections of this assessment will assist you in drafting an adequate set of policies for your repository. Developing a full spectrum of policies will take time but your initial efforts should focus on developing a mission statement, collecting policy, acquisition procedures and a disaster plan.
Written policies and procedures:
- Ensure adherence to professional standard and best practices.
- Maintain continuity during staff transitions and governance changes.
- Serve as training tools for staff, volunteers, and members of your governing body.
- Establish lines of authority and accountability for your repository.
Standards and Best Practices
- SAA Museum Archives Section Standards and Best Practices Resource Guide
- SAA Sample Forms for Archives and Records Management Programs
- Menzi L. Behrnd-Klodt Navigating Legal Issues in Archives Society of American Archivists (2008)
Records are important assets to any organization. Records and the information they contain facilitate decision making, ensure accountability, and protect your organization’s assets. Records management is the process of managing the creation, use, destruction or long-term preservation of records in your organization. A records management program is a written set of policies and procedures that govern what records are created in an organization, how long the organization retains those records, and how those records are stored, used and disposed of.
While you may not have the authority to develop a full blown records management program for your entire organization, it is important to appropriately manage the administrative and operational records of your repository. For example, accession records, deeds of gift, research requests, finding aids, budgets, mission statements, annual reports and policy manuals are types of records that should be retained permanently by your repository. Other non-permanent records such as receipts, purchase orders, and routine correspondence can be destroyed according to an established schedule and set procedures.
A records management program:
- Improves the efficient use of resources by reducing duplication of records, improving their accessibility, and enabling cost-effective records storage.
- Ensures records are available to meet the legal, regulatory, administrative, and fiscal needs of your organization
- Identifies what records are worthy of long-term preservation, determines the best formats for those records and ensures the regular and systematic transfer of permanent records to your archives.
Standards and Best Practices
- Northeastern University An Introduction to Records Management for Non-Profit Organizations
- New York State Archives Policies and Procedures Essentials
- William Saffady Records and Information Management: Fundamentals of Professional Practice 2nd ed. ARMA International 2003
- ISO15489-1 Information and Documentation - Records Management - Part I: General
- ISO/TR 15489-2 Information and Documentation - Records Management - Part 2: Guidelines
- ARMA International