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Document Your Collections

If you experience or suspect a theft, your collections documentation will help you identify missing items and prove they are yours.

Common archival finding aids and other forms of collections documentation can provide evidence of your repository’s ownership and of theft.  In addition, collections documentation can assist in your recovery efforts. A thief may attempt to obliterate any record of a stolen item, including removing from the document itself all traces of your organization’s ownership. Therefore, it is important to store all such documentation securely and control access to it.

Accessioning Process and Documents. Deeds of gift or transfer documentation that list the type and contents of historical records can help to prove ownership.

Descriptions of records. Most historical records programs provide points of access to their collections that can be useful in proving that records belong to your repository.

  • Catalog. A card catalog, a database, an online public access system, or a simple list of collections serves as the main point of access for many historical records collections.
  • Finding Aids. A finding aid provides more detailed information about a collection, usually listing boxes and folders with their descriptive labels. Finding aids are likely to be your most detailed and reliable source of information to show records are missing or that they came from your holdings.
  • Documentation of High-Value Items. Item-level documentation is seldom created in archives, but it may be justified for items with high monetary or historical value. Such records may need to be kept in a special, high-security location.  High-value items should be well documented, with written descriptions that may include measurements, any unusual markings, and images of the item.
  • Other Documentation. Other forms of documentation, such as databases, documentary editions, publications, exhibits, digitized files, microfilm, and duplicates, may provide evidence of ownership or offer clues that help you recognize and identify stolen items that turn up.

If you suspect a theft has occurred, conduct an inventory of targeted collections and compare your findings with relevant forms of collections documentation. Schedule routine inventories of your most important records, especially those with a high historical and/or monetary value, to ensure their safety and demonstrate your institution’s due diligence.