On this page you will find information about donating your materials to an archives institution as well as resources for archiving and preserving your own personal materials.
Donating Your Items to an Archive
Archives all have different collecting policies, but typically they revolve around a geographic area or specific topics and are bound my a time period, i.e. the Albert Gore Research Center only collects items representing twentieth and twenty-first century Middle Tennessee history, or the Ray & Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies focus on collecting items related to pop cultural history. You can usually find an archive’s collecting policy on their website. The Gore Center’s is published here.
The first step to donating your materials is making sure they align with the archive’s collecting policy, and then contacting the archive about your collection. Email is a great approach because it gives you space to fully explain what is in your collection, and it gives the archive time to assess their current storage space and how your collection might fit with their existing collections.
Assuming you contact the archive and they are interested, they might schedule a meet up to see the material in-person. They also might jump straight to accepting your items because of their historical significance. Once you both have come to an agreement, the archive will ask you to sign a Deed of Gift, which formally transfers legal rights and sometimes the copyright of the material to the archives. At that point, the items are in the care of the archive, and archivists will organize and describe the collection in order to provide public access. Complete processing can take months, if not years, depending on the backlog and resources of the archive and its staff.
For more tips and things to consider, check out this donation guide from the Black Metropolis Research Consortium.
Maintaining Your Own Archive
Many people want to hold onto their memories for as long as they can, either so they can pass it on to family members or eventually donate the material to an archives institution. It is important to learn techniques to properly care and store your papers, photos, textiles, and more. Some marginalized peoples have a mistrust of formal archives institutions–and for good reasons. Historically, formal archives institutions and governments have neglected, erased, or destroyed the historical records of marginalized groups. Because of this strained relationship with the state, many LGBTQ people build a community archive that is not controlled by an academic or government archives institution. For an example, see the Lesbian Herstory Archive.
Preservation Tips for Personal Archiving
- Enclosures: Keep documents and photographs in acid-free folders and boxes that fit their size. You can find these supplies online, but be warned: they can be pricey. Some places to buy: Hollinger Metal Edge and Gaylord Archival. Stores like Staples sell record boxes, like Bankers boxes, which can be a good, cheaper alternative. Beware of folders and plastic sleeves sold at stores like Staples that claim to be “archival quality” or “acid-free,” because usually this is not true.
- Storage environment: Store boxes in cold, dry environments. Usually, rooms below 75 degrees Fahrenheit is best. Cooler temperatures slow down chemical decay. Avoid damp basements and hot attic spaces or garages. It is also good to store materials away from food and water, which can attract insects and rodents.
- Avoid using: non-stainless steel fasteners (staples, paperclips), rubber bands, rubber cement, tape, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, and synthetic glues.
- More information for specific materials: