Billy Graham Center

A Heritage at Risk - Report of Group A: Guidelines and Minimum Standards for Preserving Evangelical Archival Records

    Introduction Part I: Policies and Procedures
    Part II: Service and Staffing
    Part III: Facilities

    Part IV: Holdings

    Part V: Users/Uses
    Part VI: Getting Started

    Sources for Further Information


These "guidelines and minimum standards" address some of the concerns that nondenominational evangelical groups must confront as they consider their responsibility to preserve the records of enduring value that belong to their organization, or to document the mission, spiritual heritage, and activities of Protestant evangelicalism generally. But this document goes beyond simply outlining the basic requirements for establishing an in-house archival program. Its purposes are twofold.

First, by focusing attention on some of the commonly accepted archival standards, and the support necessary to meet these standards, these guidelines may be used as bench marks against which evangelical groups can measure their own ability to establish and maintain an in-house program. By so doing they play an important role because, although it is easy to be tempted by the enthusiasm that may be generated during an event such as a centennial, starting an archives is simply a first step in a long journey to preserve important historical records. It is a means rather than an end. If evangelical groups correctly approach the question of how best to preserve their records, they must make a series of crucial decisions and, in order to make these wisely, planners must clearly distinguish between means and ends.

In other words, before electing to start their own archival program, evangelicals--like any other group--must remember that by so doing they are accepting a continuing responsibility. Although an archives can serve important ongoing needs far beyond its widely perceived role as a vehicle for reminiscence, meeting these needs requires ongoing staff and financial support. Because of this, the establishment of an in-house archival program is not necessarily the best tool for every organization to use. In such instances, these guidelines will serve the most useful role if they help an organization conclude that an outside archival repository can provide better care and access to its institutional records. The guidelines may then serve as a gauge against which to measure the quality of care that evangelical groups may expect an outside repository to provide.

Second, these guidelines will be useful to organizations that do make the commitment to preserving their own historical records by starting an in-house archival program. Each section has been designed to do more that simply dictate minimum standards. By explaining why different components are important to an archival program, they are useful in educating administrators, preparing and justifying budget requests, and establishing priorities. Taken together, the sections paint an overall picture of a complete archival program, and they will be useful in dealing with records creators, donors, and patrons.

Finally, it would be well to mention at the outset that both the problems that evangelical archivists confront and the goals to which they aspire are similar to those faced by archivists from colleges and universities, mainline religious denominations, ethnic and labor archives, state historical societies, and other types of repositories. Because of this fact, there is a wealth of archival literature already available that deals in great detail with specific topics discussed only briefly here, as well as organizations that exist specifically to serve the needs of the archival profession. A few sources of the sources available for further information are cited at the end of this report and readers are strongly urged to consult these sources for additional, more detailed information.

Part I: Policies and Procedures

Before an archives opens its doors, the organization it serves should take time to draft and approve several fundamental policy statements. These will clearly articulate the archives' overall mission within the institution, guide the services it will and will not offer, and establish procedures that the archives will follow in fulfilling its mission.

Such policy documents are important because they are reminders that, although an archival program can serve many needs, it must allocate its resources to best achieve the primary goals it was established to achieve. Written policies, agreed upon prior to the time when the archives begins operations, also help to steer a straight course during the initial period of operation and avoid misunderstandings between the archival staff, administrators, donors, and users. Basic policy statements should include:

A. MISSION STATEMENT/STATEMENT OF PURPOSE, tied to the organizational mission statement, should be written by an interested group convened by the senior leadership of the organization and composed of individuals representing records creators, records curators, and records users. The statement should address at least the following points:

1. why an archives is being started and how its mission related to that of the parent organization;
2. how the archives supports the parent organization's mission;
3. the legal authority that gives the archives the right to do those tasks that comprise its mission;
4. the primary and secondary needs the archives should meet;
5. administrative placement of the archives within the parent organization's structure.

B. A COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT POLICY should be drafted and approved by the parent organization. It should address the following issues:

1. the subject areas in which the archives will collect, including collecting priorities;
2. the types of records the archives will collect and whether the archives will limit its focus to only institutional records;
3. whether to form an advisory committee or some similar mechanism through which the archivist may seek counsel in making decisions about what ought to be preserved, and the role any such committee should play;
4. describe the states of processing through which archival materials go;
5. whether the archives will purchase materials or only accept donated materials;
6. how active the collecting program should be in creating documentation, such as oral history, to fill gaps;
7. special collections within the archives;
8. appraisal guidelines;
9. financial appraisal of donations;
10. other repositories collecting in the same field and any relationships with these repositories;
11. deaccession policy;
12. specific limitations such as specific formats of records, languages, size of holdings, subject matter, geographical, and time period.

C. An ACCESS POLICY should detail the following: 1. a clear definition of which records will be considered open, which will be restricted, and which will be closed to researchers;
2. time periods of restrictions imposed on records;
3. procedures for access to closed records;
4. statement of equal access to open, unrestricted organizational records;
5. procedures governing permission to reproduce or publish material from archival records.

D. A FUNCTIONS AND SERVICES POLICY should detail what services the archives will perform for the parent organization and for outside patrons; the extent to which it will perform such services; and any functions and services archives will not perform. Specific issues to be addressed should include:

1. copying by or for patrons;
2. free research time;
3. hours of operation;
4. auxiliary functions;
5. services charges;
6. processing of holdings.

Part II: Service and Staffing

All archives must perform certain basic functions and services as a part of their everyday operation. Although the extent of these services and functions will vary according to the size of the individual archival program and the parent organization, each requires ongoing institutional support. This section concentrates on the minimum archival and program functions that should be a part of any archival operation, and the staff support that is necessary to perform these functions.

A. Archival functions

1. APPRAISAL AND ACQUISITION includes the process of determining what activities, events, individuals, groups, or similar topics should be documented, as well as establishing procedures and taking the action necessary to acquire such documentation. Specific activities may include establishing acquisition priorities, evaluating specific groups of records, soliciting donations of records or family papers from donors, and insuring that the archives obtains legal title to all records it acquires.

2. ARRANGEMENT AND DESCRIPTION is more commonly known by the library terminology of "cataloging" or making records usable so that researchers find in them the information they seek. This includes conducting research to create a biography of the individual or an administrative history of the office, group, or organization that created the records; taking care to preserve the original order of each collection; and producing a detailed outline showing the location of particular types of records within each collection. Other specific activities may include producing finding aids, maintaining a card catalog or an automated data base of information about archival holdings, and ensuring that different types of records (such as photographs, maps, letters, and computer tapes) are housed in proper storage containers.

3. PRESERVATION MANAGEMENT encompasses activities taken to insure that the records in the archives' custody are physically maintained so that the information they contain continues to be available to researchers. This includes physically protecting original records in the archives custody from unnecessary deterioration, damage, or theft, as well as sometimes producing copies of fragile or otherwise unusable records. Specific activities may include repairing or encapsulating damaged records, maintaining proper temperature and humidity controls, developing, monitoring, and enforcing proper storage and handling procedures.

4. ACCESS TO RECORDS AND REFERENCE SERVICES includes a series of activities undertaken to assist researchers in using archival records. This includes not only maintaining a supervised, secure area where records may be used, but also answering questions about specific collections, making suggestions about where additional information may be found, monitoring the handling and copying of documents, insuring that restrictions placed on specific records are strictly enforced, and responding to mail and telephone requests. Other activities may include maintaining regular hours when researchers may use archival collections, keeping a record of when and by whom collections have been used, and conducting reference and exit interviews with researchers.

5. ADVOCACY AND OUTREACH is promoting the use of an archival collection, not only within the organization served by the archives, but to others outside of the organization as well. Specific activities may include creating displays (possibly including museum artifacts as well as archival documents), presenting public programs that give added visibility to the archives or to specific collections that are in the archives' custody, contacting likely user groups and preparing materials describing collections they may find useful, and publishing publicity such as brochures, checklists, or audiovisuals that acquaint people with the archives and its services.

6. RECORDS MANAGEMENT is an organized series of activities that take place during the time between when records are first created and the time when they are either destroyed or permanently preserved. Records management is extremely important to an archival program because it can help to insure that no permanently valuable records are inadvertently destroyed. Typical activities may include inventorying all records that are created by the parent organization, determining the time during which such records will be needed by the office that created them, and making a schedule that will govern what their final disposition will be and when it will take place. The archives should be involved in any existing organizational records management program. Where none exists, the archives should be consulted before any organizational records are destroyed.

B. Program functions

1. LEGAL AND ETHICAL ISSUES are an important aspect of any records program. Even after records are no longer needed by the office that created them, their disposition and use may be governed by a variety of laws such as ownership, right to privacy, copyright, the right to know, donor-imposed restrictions on use, and literary rights. It is important that an archival program know how such legal considerations affect records in their custody, and how to administer a records program that complies with such laws.

2. INTER-INSTITUTIONAL COOPERATION can enable an organization to have a more effective archival program. Knowledge about archival programs that have similar collecting interests can help to avoid or alleviate strains caused by competition. Contact with other archival programs can provide additional problem-solving expertise; it may nurture resource sharing, such as with conservation facilities or cooperative purchasing of archival supplies.

3. PROGRAM PLANNING AND AUTHORITY should be a component of any archival operation because it enables records curators to anticipate rather than simply react to upcoming events or needs. Centennials or other anniversaries, accreditation reviews, audits, and other important institutional activities require resources and advance preparation if the archival program is to contribute meaningfully to the achievement of an organization's goals. Central to program planning should be control over a line item budget. The archives should have the authority both to prepare and defend its own budget. Initially, such a budget should include start-up costs, such as space preparation and the initial purchase of supplies and equipment, as well as ongoing program costs such as staff, supplies and equipment, continuing education, and professional development.

C. Staffing

1. REQUIREMENTS: All archives require, at the minimum, a person trained in basic archival procedures and techniques to direct the overall program and carry out the archival and program functions enumerated above. Under ideal circumstances, such a person will begin work with the benefit of prior graduate archival education; however, if this is not possible, then the parent organization must commit itself to assist the person designated to direct the archival program to obtain a professional education that encompasses the areas noted above as quickly as practicable.

In addition to an archivist to direct the program, there are several other types of staffing that may, according to the size of individual programs and the responsibilities assigned to them, be necessary for the archives to fulfill its mission to the parent organization. These include:

a. CLERICAL/PARAPROFESSIONAL help to assist with such duties as supervising the research room when patrons come to use archival materials, answering mail and telephone inquiries, performing routine typing or other clerical tasks, or taking charge of the archives for short periods of time when the archivist is performing duties away from the office, such as surveying records, presenting public programs, or working with potential donors. Often such help may be obtained by allocating a few weekly hours of staff time from other departments within the parent organization.

b. TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE to undertake an in-house microfilming or documentary conservation program, or if the archives is responsible for an extensive records management program. Technical assistance may also be necessary if an institution has in its collection a large number of records that are iconographic, machine-readable, oversize, fragile, or otherwise requiring special care and expertise to preserve and make available.

c. VOLUNTEER/STUDENT/INTERN/GRANT SUPPORTED staff may be a valuable resource for an archives; however, they should not be seen as a substitute for a professionally trained archivist to direct the overall program. Volunteers, students, and interns may be particularly useful in clerical or paraprofessional duties such as are listed above. They may also be effectively used in public programs and sometimes in arrangement and description of archival collections. Likewise, grant supported staff may be a good supplementary source--especially to obtain short-term expertise in a given program. However, grant supported staff cannot bring an archival program the continuity it needs to operate on a long-term basis and should not be seen as a substitute for regular staffing by the archives' parent organization.

2. STAFF TRAINING/CONTINUING EDUCATION: It is important to remember that there are several types and levels of education that should be of concern when an organization commits itself to beginning an archival program. Planners should consider the educational background and the experience they want in the person who will direct the program; training that should be given to any clerical, paraprofessional, volunteer, or other staff members; and continuing education that will make up for any educational deficiencies as well as to keep the archival staff abreast of important new knowledge.

a. THE ARCHIVIST: As noted above, under the best circumstances, an organization will hire a professional archivist with formal graduate training in archival methods and techniques, as well as some practical experience, to direct the archives. However, if this is not possible, it is necessary for the organization to hire someone who is willing to obtain archival training, and then to support this effort at obtaining the needed education. In addition to formal archival training, other relevant experience may include course work in history, library science, political science, public administration, or records management. The archivist should also be able to work independently, have organizational and communication supervisory skills, and be (or quickly become) familiar with the organization(s) that the archives serves.

b. OTHER STAFF: all staff who work with archival records should have at least a basic education in archival methodology and procedure, as well as the overall mission of the archives. They should be thoroughly familiar with the policies and procedures established by the archives, rules and regulations, and fundamental legal and ethical concerns. Such training should be the overall responsibility of the archivist who directs the program.

c. CONTINUING EDUCATION/STAFF DEVELOPMENT: should be an ongoing priority of the archival program. Educational opportunities may be offered through national and regional archival associations, in graduate or university extension programs, or developed in-house or in cooperation with neighboring archival institutions.

Part III: Facilities

The archival and program functions noted in Section II require not only staff support, but space as well. Although the size and configuration of such space will vary according to the extent of holdings and the nature of individual archival programs, it is necessary to allocate administrative, storage, processing, and research space for the archives' use. The following are guidelines to the function and characteristics of such space requirements.

A. MINIMUM SPACE CHARACTERISTICS: The archives should be assigned permanent area within the institution it serves. Since archival materials are unique, they must be well protected against all possible damage, whether due to carelessness such as by misfiling or improper handling, to purposeful loss such as by theft, or by substandard storage conditions that encourage the deterioration of the records themselves. The space occupied by the archives should include the following minimum characteristics:

1. GENERAL SPACE CHARACTERISTICS: The area dedicated to use by the archives should be accessible to archival staff and researchers during the parent organization's regular business hours. This area should consist of space that can serve several different functions, including an office in which the archivist may perform administrative duties; a reading room or other supervised research space where patrons may use archival records; storage space in which archival records may be safely and properly stored; and processing space where archival work such as described in Section II-A and II-B may be performed.

2. SECURITY: At a minimum, the space dedicated to use by the archives must be secure during closed hours. Since archival records are unique and irreplaceable, access to the records storage area must be restricted at all times, both to staff of the parent organization and to outside researchers. The area must also be protected by fire prevention and detection equipment.

3. ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROLS: Since an archives exists to preserve unique historical records, it is particularly important that the environment in which archival records are stored and used be regulated well. The space devoted to this purpose should be free from insects and rodents and protected from floods and other natural hazards. Different types of archival materials require different temperature and humidity levels. Ideally, the temperature within an archival area should be regulated to maintain a constant temperature of sixty-eight degrees fahrenheit and a relative humidity of fifty percent. Levels close to these standards are acceptable, but it is important that the environment remain as constant as possible. Care should also be taken so that records are stored and used in an area free from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation that is found in unfiltered sunlight and fluorescent lighting.

4. EQUIPMENT: Although equipment needs will vary according to the size and extent of an archival program and the types of records in the archival collection, there are several minimum equipment needs that should be met. The research/reference area should contain tables at which patrons may use archival records, a desk from which the reference supervisor may oversee activities in the reading room, and a secure area in which patrons may store coats, briefcases, and other personal belongings. The reference area also should contain equipment such as microfilm readers that are necessary to use certain types of records. The area in which archival records are processed should contain work tables (separate from those used by patrons) and other supplies such as boxes, folders, and labels that are necessary in the work of arrangement and description. The administrative area should include a desk and other equipment that is common in all offices. The record storage area should contain proper shelving, boxes, file cabinets, and other equipment necessary to properly store archival records. Depending upon the nature of the archival program, other equipment such as display cases may also be needed.

Part IV: Holdings

A. Most in-house archival programs concentrate on preserving and making available their own organization's records of enduring value. However, each organization should also bear in mind its responsibility to document not only its own history, but also that of evangelicalism generally. Specific questions concerning what to preserve and what not to preserve will be detailed in the collection development policy discussed above, but each program should consider the following categories of resources and the relative priority it wishes to assign to the collection of each:

1. permanently valuable records related directly to the Archives' parent organization;
2. papers of employees, former staff member, or other individuals important to the history of the archives' parent organization;
3. records and papers created by other individuals and groups, but related to the mission of the archives' parent organization;
4. records and papers related to the subject of missions or evangelicalism generally;
5. nonarchival/supplementary materials such as maps and books that support research in the archives' primary resources.

Part V: Users/Uses

It is important to always remember that archival materials are being preserved so that they may be used, and that all activities undertaken by the archival staff should be directed to this end. At a minimum, an archives should serve the ongoing administrative and preservation needs of its parent organization. But at the same time, the archives should be aware of all potential user groups, those it can and cannot serve, and the services it is able to provide. Decisions pertaining to users and uses should be articulated in the Access Policy (see Section I.C. above).

A. CLIENTELE: In planning an archival program, it is important to consider all of the possible user groups that might be served. As a part of this, it is necessary to match the desire to serve with the resources--human, financial, and otherwise--available to each individual program.

1. Ordinarily, the research needs of staff members from the archives' parent organization will receive first priority. In order to best serve their needs, the archives staff should make every effort to anticipate audits, accreditation reviews, crusades, centennials, retirements, reunions, promotional campaigns, and similar events that will likely be enhanced by the use of archival records.

2. The archival collection may also be extremely useful to researchers from outside of the parent organization. Scholars, college and public school students, genealogists, local historians, and others may all be interested in using historical evangelical records in secular and nonsecular research projects. If an archival program makes the decision to serve such outside research needs, it will need to commit staff resources to not only assisting researchers who come to work in the archives, but also to publicizing the archival collection to the secular research community.

B. SERVICES: An archival program can provide many different services to individuals and groups. In order to make the most effective use of its resources and energy, the archival staff should consider the range of possible services, their importance, and the resources and expertise required to fulfill them. Some of the most important issues include:

1. RECORDS MANAGEMENT: The relationship of the archival program to an institutional records management program should be carefully considered. In certain instances, the archives may have primary responsibility for such a program, but an in-house archives should always have some formal part in the decision-making process by which institutional records are either selected for permanent preservation or destruction.

2. REFERENCE SERVICES: As it decides which user group or groups it will seek to serve, the archival program must consider specific aspects of its proposed service. Reference requests by telephone or mail require time and resources to answer. Policy decisions should enumerate the extent of such service, the circumstances in which service will be offered, and what fees for service, if any, will be charged. The archives also should consider the impact of maintaining a schedule that has extended hours of public service when a small staff must devote its primary attention to serving researchers.

3. PRESERVATION SERVICES: Although preservation in its broadest sense is at the core of any archival program, decisions should be made about specific treatments and operations, such as encapsulation, surface cleaning, microfilming, and document repair that an archives will undertake in-house, and which services will be contracted to an outside agency. In addition, the in-house treatments and services will be offered only to individuals and groups within the organization, or whether they will be offered to individuals outside of the organization as well.

C. PUBLIC PROGRAMING: This can have an important impact on any archival program--encouraging donations of material, increased use, and other forms of support. But as with other archival services, public programing should be subject to prior thought and limitations based upon the archives' priorities and resources. Types of programming should be defined, as well as the internal support that will be needed and any fees that will be charged.

Part VI: Getting Started

The following is a model plan that highlights some of the priorities and expectations for the initial stages of a newly developed archival program.

A. Phase I--prior to opening the archives:
1. develop policies and procedures;
2. assign and prepare space in which the archives will operate;
3. hire an archivist/records curator.

B. Phase 2--within the first six to twelve months: 1. the archivist/records curator should learn the administrative history of the parent organization;
2. the organization should provide any training needed by the archivist/records curator;
3. the archivist/records curator surveys all records of the parent organization.

C. Phase 3--within the first six to twelve months: 1. based upon the results of the survey, move appropriate materials to the archives; 2. establish initial intellectual controls. D. Phase 4--open the doors.

Sources for Further Information:


Archival Forms Manual. Compiled by the Society of American Archivists' Forms Manual Task Force. Chicago, IL; 1982.

Gray, David P., Compiler. Records Management for Parishes And Schools. Detroit, MI: Archdiocese of Detroit; 1986.

Suelflow, August R. Religious Archives: An Introduction. Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists; 1980.


Society of American Archivists
600 South Federal Street, Suite 504
Chicago, IL 60605

Evangelical Documentation Information Group
P. O. Box 661
Glen Ellyn, IL 60138
[Note: The above group no longer exists. Mail sent to it will not receive a reply.]

Archivists in Religious Institutions
c/o American Bible Society
1865 Broadway
New York, NY 10023

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