Happy American Archives Month, everyone! I am sure you are celebrating by throwing away any unnecessary papers crowding your desk and organizing the important ones so you can find them later!!! (a little archivist joke, forgive me)
As an archivist, I always am excited meet folks who are familiar with my profession; and, if not, we can discuss that archives is a specialty without library science, and what kind of work we do (you can read up on student work and department projects on this very blog!). Most often the question comes, “what kinds of things do you work with?” It’s a good question!
Special Collections here at WFU has four main areas of collecting and expertise:
- Manuscript collections related to alumni and N.C. figures, particularly those associated with Wake Forest in some way;
- the N.C. Baptist Historical Collection, made up of microfilm and paper collections from more than 1,000 churches across the state;
- a Rare Books collection;
- and last but certainly not least, University Records.
I find University records both very simple to explain and very difficult. It makes sense to us all, I think, that someone (in this case, the SC&A department) collects the “important” parts of University history. Sam Waits’ cane? Got it. Dr. Hatch’s addresses or Dr. Wilson’s correspondence from his years at the University? That makes sense to folks’ ideas about “history” too.
But what might we have from the English department, or the Center for Global Programs and Studies? Archivists are trained in official records and gather plenty of experience on the job; students can be trained a bit, but a professional archivist can spot an official record a mile away. We collect many types of materials, listed in detail here, that include:
- items related to curriculum – course syllabi, course advertisements; annual reports about the year’s activities
- subject files that convey the strategy and work behind an office or department’s work, events, courses, and other activities
- correspondence and memorandums that detail University positions, discussions about faculty scholarship and governance, or even just collegial talk – though this is more common in the eras before e-mail
- meeting minutes, which sound boring but often contain nuggets of information about new programs, discarded ideas, and the discussions about them
I will specifically note that student materials are vetted carefully and most often discarded in a confidential manner or returned to their donating entity, since those are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, commonly referred to by its acronym, FERPA.
Manuscript collections often are organized by donor or creator; we have the Harold T.P. Hayes Papers, for example, or the Samuel Spach Dalton and Family Papers, which document not just the man but his family members. University records are organized by what we refer to as the “office of record” or “office of origin,” which can correspond to an event sponsor or the like. Some records have a clear point of origination: for example, Safe Zone training manuals belong to the LGBTQ Center, which administers that training.
Some items’ point of origin are a little muddier: for example, the whole campus rallies around the annual Hit the Bricks event. But which office could be considered the office of record? The event’s website indicates information should be directed towards the Pro Humanitate Institute (PHI). The University organizational chart is helpfully tucked into the Faculty Handbook – produced by the Office of Institutional Research (RG23) – which I look at at least once a month; the handbook indicates that PHI falls, eventually, under the care of the Office of the Provost. Thus, the records belong to that branch of the WFU family tree as well. In my work as Collections Archivist, I maintain that tree, also known as the University’s Record Groups. Take a look – you’ll find PHI (RG22.6) under the Provost, RG22.
If you work at Wake, I encourage you to take a look at our guidelines for donation and email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need assistance getting items to the archives or determining if older records that are no longer in use would find a happy home in our University Archives. And if you don’t, you can still celebrate #ArchivesMonth by bringing your local friendly archivist some Archive Cake.