Giving it away…about giving it away

By Rick Barry


Not long ago and for the first time, I had the experience of arranging for the gift of a 70 year old personal family letter to an appropriate heritage institution – archive, library or museum. In the absence of guidelines for deciding where to do this, the simple checklist below was developed and generalized for personal/business/institutional or other records.

What to decide?

1. What’s the goal?

2. What kind of records are they?

3. Are they yours to give away?

4. Questions to ask?

5. Deciding on recipient?

6. Follow up

What’s the Goal?

Obviously, this is the most im­portant question to answer up front, as it will provide the most important criteria used to make choices and decisions along the way. In my case, it was mainly twofold: 1) ensure that members of my parents’ children and their current and future families had continuing access to the object; 2) I thought the letter had some historical value that would be of interest to many others; 3) I was concerned about its physi­cal state, an already 70 year old handwritten letter on non-acid free paper, and the absence of a serious preservation environ­ment during that period and otherwise likely to remain so.

What kind of record/collection is it?

Personal, company, institu­tional: academic, non-profit, church, government, mixed?

Is this sufficiently self-evident or does the donor need to consult a specialist?

Might it be seen differently by the recipient?

Are they yours to give away?

Are their company/institu­tional guidelines covering the donor’s own organization governing donations?

Do they contain materials re­ceived from external sources requiring permissions?

Are there intellectual property rights to be honored?

Are there prior limitations on release – restricted access, business confidential national security restrictions? Private email exchanges?

Questions to ask

Use organizational instrument or design own personal interview instrument, based on goals, keeping in mind not to offend the potential recipients with lengthy poorly phrased questions.


Do you seek donations of private/personal record, official government or business records?

How do you think your in­terests might match up with mine?

Do you accept donations of individual records or is you collection limited to larger fonds?

If accepted, what access would you provide? Analog? Digital? Both?

Do you have a Deed of Gift that I might obtain?

Deciding on recipient

Determine the likely most appropriate final landing place: archive, library, museum, personal records or business institution?

Seek out options based on context of material to be donated.

Conduct discussion using your interview guide.

Compare results and Deed of Gift against goals.

Follow up

Inquire about when the gift might be accessioned.

Inquire about the descriptive information around the planned accessioning time.

Search the recipient’s digital finding aids, if any, to find your gift.

Visit site to view original.

Inform others you wish to know about it.

This enlightening article “from the other side” is for all of you who have ever been or may ever be approached by a potential donor wondering if you were interested in their records. It may even provide the basis for your own Donor’s Checklist.

page 10 - Business Archives Newsletter, February 2011