By Dainan Skeem and Cory Nimer
This post is the third 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.
With the resource limitations the L. Tom Perry Special Collections faces, we know we need to collect responsibly. The best way we have found to do this has been creating collection development policies for each collecting area, allowing us to accept gifts with confidence while turning away those that do not fit our scope. The one collection area, however, that had gone without a policy for years had been the faculty papers, which resulted in accepting almost any faculty member’s papers when proffered. With the recent decision to form a Professional Papers Program that would collect the papers of not only faculty, but staff and administrators across campus as well, the need to collect responsibly increased dramatically. We began by looking at what other institutions have done in creating policies and found Frances Margaret Fournier’s advice on appraisal helpful. Tom Hyry, Diane Kaplan and Christine Weideman at Yale University went through the same process in 2002, and decided to apply collecting level guidelines and rely on existing collecting policies when acquiring personal papers of faculty members. We determined to follow a similar approach for most collections, believing that there was an adequate safety net for identifying and acquiring other important materials through consultation with the manuscript curators in the department.
Faced with a faculty of over 1,200, we first sought to establish the overall objectives of the program. Generally, we hoped that through the papers of faculty and staff we could document the social, cultural, religious, and intellectual history of the university. This approach had been suggested by Maynard Brichford as early as 1971, with faculty papers supplementing official records or providing alternative sources for administrative actions, faculty relations, or student life. However, we also decided to limit the collecting of teaching and research materials to faculty members associated with some of the more unique aspects of the Brigham Young University experience. This included selective acquisition of teaching materials from the Religious Instruction college, as well as documentation of teaching, research, and professional service from across campus related to Mormonism. While this limited collecting scope reduces our abilities to document the faculty and staff as individuals, we are working closely with other curators within the department to acquire these materials under other collection development policies.
When we created our policy, we needed to make sure it not only covered those situations where faculty were approaching us to accept their papers – reactive collecting – but also provided us with a roadmap to do proactive collecting where we would seek out faculty, staff, and administrators with materials that we would be interested in preserving. A survey done in 2003 by Tara Zachary Laver has given us many great ideas on how to find faculty papers. At this point, we are confident that our policy does provide for both, although proactive collecting is much more time-consuming and is done only when we take the time to do it while the reactive collecting continues to happen spontaneously.
Since implementing the new policy, we have been able to put it to use on several occasions. For example, in a reactive collecting situation, we were approached by the widow of a retired faculty member who was looking to archive her husband’s professional papers. He had been an astronomy professor and had kept raw data on thousands of scientific studies of gravitational and solar experiments. Because this type of scholarly research did not fit the scope of our collection development policy, we agreed to take only his professional correspondence, a selection of materials that were for the university archives, and some personal papers to flesh out who this faculty member was as a person. We then provided the widow with contact information for another institution we thought might be interested in the scientific data. Our policy made it much easier to accept some, but not all, of these materials.
We also use our policy to do some proactive collecting. We attend an annual seminar for faculty who are planning to retire and provide a short presentation on what we accept and how it is transferred. After the meeting, faculty approach us and we use our policy to determine what papers, if any, we will accept. We also began a project of mailing an autobiographical survey to all faculty retired within the past 10 years. This gives us basic information on every faculty member, helping us to document the diversity of our faculty across campus. A few of the questions ask what their teaching focus was and if they have kept their professional papers. We are still receiving replies from the faculty but will begin to compile the data and use our policy to guide us in deciding which faculty to ask for their professional papers.
Our policy is still a work in progress. We have been very pleased on how it has functioned so far but recognize that it can be very restrictive in what we take. This, however, is how we must work in order to responsibly manage our resources. We will continue to monitor its efficiency and know that over time we will need to make changes to make it the tool we wish it to be.
Questions to consider during our conversation at the annual meeting:
- What is the purpose of a professional papers program? To document the person or the institution? Or both? How do you document an institution without documenting the people that has made the institution? How do you do that without being too broad? How do you do this with limited resources?
- Proactive collecting versus reactive collecting? How do you ensure that your policy covers both?
- How does your professional papers program interact with other existing collecting policies?
Dainan Skeem curates the 21st Century Mormon & Western Manuscripts collection at BYU with responsibilities for documenting the current century’s history of the LDS church, Utah, and the West as well as the professional papers of BYU faculty and staff. He obtained master’s degrees in Library & Information Science and Learning Design & Technology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Cory Nimer is the University Archivist at Brigham Young University, where he collaborates closely with associated curatorial staff on the university’s professional papers program. He holds a M.A. in History from Sonoma State University, and an M.L.I.S. from San José State University.