Faculty Papers: Why a Policy?


By Christine Weideman

This post is the first in a series designed to provide background and context for a panel presentation about faculty papers scheduled during the College and University Archives’ meeting during the 2017 SAA Annual Meeting.

Weideman faculty papers blog post image
Screen shot showing search results for faculty papers in the Yale University finding aid database.

Manuscripts and Archives developed its faculty papers policy fifteen years ago.*  We continue to use it to both acquire new collections and respond to offers of others. If you work in an academic setting in which it is expected that the archive will collect faculty papers, it is essential that you develop a policy that you can apply in both proactive and reactive work. If you don’t have a clearly articulated policy that you can easily explain to administrators and potential donors and that justifies the decisions you make, you will end up accepting collections that you should probably have turned down.


One of the important things we did when developing our policy was to talk to highly respected faculty members and Yale administrators (the latter are almost entirely former Yale faculty members) about what we were trying to do. When we have to explain our policy to potential donors to justify our decisions regarding their materials, we are able to discuss who we talked to as we formulated the policy. Dropping the names of those Yale persons with whom we consulted has been very helpful in gaining buy-in of both our decisions and policy, especially when working with potential donors who are Yale faculty members themselves (rather than widows or children). Our ability to rely on the names of those consultants won’t last forever as most of them have since retired, but they have been useful for some time in giving credibility to us and our policy.

As we explain in the article we wrote about the process of developing a policy,* one of the most valuable lessons we learned was the importance of evaluating/prioritizing records creators and identifying the specific subjects or record types in which we would be interested. Knowing the latter helps guide conversations with potential donors towards what might be valuable and helps you steer away from materials in which you are not interested.

Once you have developed a policy, you need to determine who, administratively, needs to approve it so that you have support for the decisions you make. This is particularly important in those cases when you decline to take in a faculty member’s papers and that faculty member becomes offended and complains to your boss. Your boss (or other administrative leader in your library) must be able (and willing) to use the policy to support your decisions and that will only happen if you have spent time sharing and getting approval for it.

Questions to consider for our conversation at SAA:

  • Why do you think you need a faculty papers policy in your workplace?
  • What can you learn from previous acquisitions of faculty papers that might help you in drafting a policy?
  • What assumptions would undergird your policy?
  • Who would you consult with as you developed it?
  • From whom would you need to get approval once the policy is drafted?

*“’Though This Be Madness, yet There Is Method in ‘t’: Assessing the Value of Faculty Papers and Defining a Collecting Policy,” The American Archivist, Vol 65 (Spring/Summer 2002): 56-69.

Christine Weideman has been director of Manuscripts and Archives in the Yale University Library since 2008. She is an SAA Distinguished Fellow and has written and presented extensively on archival core functions.


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