Faculty Papers: A Strategy for Collecting

By Amy Allen

This post is the second 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.

Music scores written by a faculty member, part of the James Greeson Papers at the University of Arkansas. Photo courtesy Amy Allen.

The University Archives was established at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 2010. The University does not have a records management program. Donations of university records and faculty papers had been sporadic over the 50-year history of Special Collections and had been integrated along-side the manuscript collections.  Therefore, the University Archives does not exist as a physical space or physical collection but as a unit within Special Collections. As there is no distinct line between manuscripts and University Archives, faculty papers could be considered as part of either collection. When I began as the University Archivist in 2010, I created record groups to sort collections by originating office/department. The arrangement exists to order collections in a database only rather than imposing a physical arrangement, and I use the database primarily for reference purposes to pull together all the collections relating to a single department, including donations from faculty.

Music scores are one type of content faculty members might offer for consideration. Photo courtesy Amy Allen.

The University of Arkansas is a public research university, and collecting faculty research is encouraged by my administration. Rather than an official policy for faculty collections, I created Guidelines for Retiring Faculty, which refers to the more general University Archives Collection Policy. In selecting faculty members to approach about donations, I primarily work with subject librarians who know the faculty members in their area. Often a subject librarian and I will make a joint initial visit to a faculty member, with the subject librarian assessing books for the main stacks while I assess potential materials for Special Collections. In addition to research materials, I look for materials that could fill in the gaps in the university record, such as departmental reports, publications, faculty meeting minutes, and committee materials. Looking back over the faculty papers that I have collected over the past seven years, they have come from a variety of disciplines, including English, theater, journalism, rural sociology, athletics, horticulture, chemistry, music, and engineering.  The bulk of materials have come from humanities faculty.

My philosophy has been to attempt to look for faculty members that might have materials to serve dual purposes of research and university history, such as a faculty member who served as head of a department, who started a department or a center on campus, or whose research complements other collections in Special Collections.  Sometimes I contact faculty members whose retirement was advertised in the university’s news service whom I think might have materials fitting the collection scope.  The collections accepted from faculty members have been a mix of professional research, history of the university (such as the first director of women’s athletics), and materials that relate to other collections (such as a faculty member who was previously the press secretary to Senator J. William Fulbright, whose collection is also a part of Special Collections).  Some of the faculty members I contact are not interested in donating; thus far I have not been overrun with faculty collections.

The University Archives is still not a part of the everyday culture; however, Special Collections as a whole is more widely known on campus with a reputation for encouraging donations. Trying to process previously accepted collections which don’t fit the current collection scope and saying no to a donor are issues that I struggle with while trying to build a reputation for the University Archives. While I am still working on a solution for collections taken in prior to my arrival, I can at least work with current donors. If possible, I try to dig deeper to find something that will fit the collection scope to document the person’s career.  This is where having guidelines rather than a strict policy can help and hurt.  It can make it easier to say yes to materials but often harder to say no. It is often a matter of trying to reconcile the expectations and goals of the donor with the expectations and goals of the archive.

Questions to consider during our conversation at the annual meeting:

  • How do you say no while maintaining donor relations?
  • Would your situation be better suited to a formal policy or general guidelines?
  • What policies would aid while processing previously accepted faculty collections?

Amy Leigh Allen is the University Archivist at the University of Arkansas, a position she has held since 2010. Allen received a Masters of Library and Information Studies from the University of Alabama, is a Certified Archivist, and received the Digital Archives Specialist certificate.


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