Notes from an Archivist: Finding a Home for Your Body of Work

As an archivist/curator, my job is two-fold. First, I have to make a recommendation to my Board about making room in my archive for donations and second, I have to find the time and money to organize the collection for storage and display.

I recently had the experience of placing the archive of my late father-in-law, M. H. Halberstadt in the archive of Special Collections at the University of California-Davis. It was an interesting exercise since I was on the other side of the exchange in this situation and I was trying to make our donation as attractive as possible. So I would like to share a few insights from my experiences as both an archivist and a donor.

What kind of donation do I look for? Like most museums, I am very particular about what I choose to house.

First , my museum has a Collections Policy and takes only material that is somehow related to the heritage of their geographic area. Prospective donors should always ask first about the Policy. If the material meets this hurdle then…

Second , the donor MUST have clear title to the material. An estate that is in dispute or ownership that is murky will not be considered. After these two criteria then,

Third , my priority is given to material that supports a collecting area of the museum, or…a collection that comes with the money for organization and archival support.

And another consideration . I will not take a donation that I cannot care for. Sometimes an item is simply too large or too exotic for my limited space and staff. Museums follows a strict set of ethics listed by the American Association of Museums Association (AAM) and should not acquire items they cannot house properly.

Donate??…Is this stuff important? I am NOT Ansel Adams.You might be surprised at what museums, libraries and institutions find important and collectible. One of my favorite local photographers was a school teacher in rural Saratoga around 1900 who rode around on her bicycle, capturing aspects of her community. Her bicycle appears in many of her images. Another woman photographer, about the same time, decided to make a photo inventory of every adobe structure in Santa Clara County . Her images are now invaluable.