CoPAR Bulletin 4
Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records
Dedicated to helping anthropologists,
information specialists and others preserve and provide access to the
records of human diversity and the history of the discipline.
Finding A Home For Your Records
Archiving anthropological records is valuable from at least three perspectives:
preserving data that are potentially relevant for future research and analysis; providing
historical information to ensure the accurate interpretation of the data; and enabling the
study of the history of anthropology for scholars within the field as well as those
interested more broadly in the history of science.
Anthropological records can be divided into three categories: research materials;
professional files, including administrative and teaching records; and personal papers.
These records, which mirror the complexity and diversity of the various subfields of
anthropology, come in many forms: paper, recordings, film, video, material objects and,
Finding a home for your records, both print and non-print items, involves identifying
possible repositories and deciding which might best match the nature of the collection and
facilitate future research.
Identifying Possible Repositories
There are a substantial number of repositories around the world that collect
anthropological materials. Each one has guidelines which define the parameters of
acquisitions. With so many possibilities, where should you start when trying to locate an
appropriate repository? A common first step is to check the organization with which one is
mostly closely affiliated. For example, if you are affiliated with an academic
institution, check to see if there is an archive, library, museum, or institute within
that institution that collects materials related to your research. If not, check for
repositories matching the subject matter or geographical setting. Many repositories are
quite subject-specific. Records might also be appropriately deposited with an organization
local to where the work was done.
The records of individual anthropologists are often located in multiple places. This
situation is exacerbated by the lack of a central listing or database. As a result,
researchers frequently have difficulty locating archival materials. To ease these location
challenges, it is important to look for a repository that other researchers will associate
with your work, either by institution, geography, or subject. For example, for scholars
working in Melanesia, the Melanesian
Archive at the University of California, San Diego is a logical choice; for those in
ethnomusicology, Indiana University would
be a good match; or for those in African Studies, Northwestern University
is a prime location.
Do not be discouraged if a repository is not interested in accepting your records. Look
further for an alternative site. Archives, museums, libraries, associations, societies,
research centers, institutes, and cultural centers that are interested in collecting and
archiving anthropological material can be found on the local, regional, national, and
international levels. In the United States, national monuments and national parks, as well
government agencies such as the Department of the Interior,
the Army Corp of Engineers, and the Bureau of Land Management, hold
anthropological collections and archives. If you are not currently affiliated with a
particular organization, ask for assistance in finding possible repositories. Local
libraries are a good source of information and many will have the following directories:
Anthropological Resources: A Guide to Archives, Libraries and Museums. Lee
Dutton, editor. 1999, Library-Anthropology Resource Group. New York: Garland Publishing.
Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the United States, 1988.
National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Phoenix: Oryx Press.
British Archives: A Guide to Archive Resources in the United Kingdom, 1995.
Janet Foster & Julia Sheppard. 3rd edition. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.
The Official Museum Directory, 1998 (annual). Washington, D.C. American
Association of Museums. 28th edition.
Museums of the World, 1997. München: K.G. Saur. 6th edition.
Research Centers Directory, 1999(annual). Gale Research, Farmington Hills, MI:
Gale Research. 24th edition. (This is a guide to nearly 14, 200 university-
related and other nonprofit research organizations. Subject and geographic indexes. Master
index includes research center name and principal keywords in the name).
Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers: A Guide to Special
Libraries, Research Libraries, Information Centers, Archives, and Data Centers Maintained
by Government Agencies, 1998(annual). Marc Farber, editor. Gale Research Co., Detroit,
Mich.: 22nd edition. (This is a guide to more than 23,000 special libraries,
research libraries, information centers, archives and data centers.)
Native Americans Information Directory, 1998. Kenneth Estell, editor. 2nd
edition. Detroit: Gale Research.
Native American Archives. 1998. Native American Archives Coalition. (List in
progress). Subgroup of the Archives and Archivists of Color Roundtable, Society of
American Archivists. Internet access (www.heard.org/naac).]
American Library Directory 1997-1998(annual). Volume 50. New Providence, NJ.
In addition, many academic institutions and the Library of Congress have large
databases accessible free on the Internet, that list books describing archives, museums,
libraries, and manuscript collections world-wide. Librarians and archivists at these
places assist in identifying repositories. The National
Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution (tel: 202-357-1976; e-mail: email@example.com) and the Tozzer Library at Harvard University (tel:
617-495-2253; e-mail: TozRef@fas.harvard.edu)
are examples of two places where staff have volunteered to help. Addresses for three major
databases are: Harvard University (http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/tozzer/); University of California (http://www.melvyl.edu); and Library of Congress (http://lcweb.loc.gov/catalog/).
Choosing a Repository
A formula does not exist for selecting the best repository. Keep in mind that for ease
of access it is better for all of an individuals records, both personal papers and
research project materials, to be in a single repository. Having everything in one place,
however, is not always possible. Reasons include multiple person research projects,
copyright of the work being held by corporations or agencies, affiliation with multiple
institutions, and acquisition restrictions of a given repository. If, however, a
repository wants to separate your materials in a way that would jeopardize the integrity
of your records, shop around for one that is willing to keep your records intact. An ideal
repository should have the following characteristics:
- Concern with the subject of anthropology and interest in building anthropological
- Quality of management
- Financial stability
- Curatorial excellence including the ability to organize materials effectively to
expedite retrieval, specifically good inventory control and development of finding aids
- Quality of storage
- Commitment to maintenance, including conservation of existing formats and use of new
technologies to reformat obsolete ones
- Focus on access and assistance to the users
- Willingness to provide satisfactory agreements on such issues as ownership, copyright,
permission to assess, rights for disposal, and disposition of books and other formats
All of these factors should be evaluated and weighted according to the needs of the
records. It can be difficult to imagine what care present-day materials need in order to
assure future utility. Permanence and accessibility, however, are key factors. What is the
likelihood that the repository will exist in ten, twenty, or more years? How long will the
records be kept? Sometimes keeping a collection "safe" in a long-term reliable
repository is more important than risking the unknown. Format may also drive the decision.
For example, minimal access in a computer archive may provide restricted access in the
short-term, but hold the data for future integration into global databases in a form
useful in perpetuity.
On the other hand, repositories of all kinds must assess records and determine
suitability for acquisition. Archivists have a responsibility to be selective about the
documents that will be housed in their repositories. They will not accept collections
without appraising the intellectual, historical, or research value, as well as the scope
of the subject matter, age, degree of rarity, size/space/ environmental requirements,
range of formats, processing needs, and viability of restrictions/requirements for access.
Few repositories can afford to store duplicates, and certain types of documents that are
more frequently used by researchers may be favored, such as correspondence, teaching
materials, field notes, site cards, laboratory diaries, and other unpublished research
records. Non-print materials, in particular, will be assessed for future usability and
costs of maintenance. In general, repositories are looking to preserve information that
has enduring historical and/or research value, compliments other materials in their
collections, can be physically accommodated, and ultimately, can remain accessible for
Lynne M Schmelz
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