Managing Institutional Archives at a Community College Library

By Steve Hunt, Santa Monica College

Community college libraries often have responsibility for managing institutional archives. These are collections of materials unique to the institution such as student newspapers, yearbooks, course catalogs, schedules of classes, student or staff magazines, marketing materials, photographs, realia, and various other ephemeral materials.  

College archives serve as the institutional memory of the institution. Materials they contain are used for accreditation, program review, marketing, promotion and historical research.  It is important that the library have good control over the materials in its archival collection so that it can respond to information requests in a timely and efficient manner. The work involved to accomplish this can be challenging. Community college libraries usually do not have staff trained in archival management and archival materials can demand a large amount of time to make them accessible to users. 

Consider starting with an inventory of the archive collection. The first pass can be a broad description of collection areas that can be made more detailed in later iterations. Data to be collected should include title, subject, description, creator, source, format and date. Refer to the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set and the Describing Archives documents listed at the end of this article for more information.

Suggested list of activities for organizing institutional archives

  • Development of archives mission statement, collection scope and development policy
  • Conducting an inventory of the collection
  • Review and reorganize collection where necessary
  • Creation of a thesaurus
  • Creation of collection guides, finding aids, lists and other tools for librarians and end-users
  • Digitization of selected content
  • Creation of workflow for handling incoming items
  • Resolve backlog for incoming items
  • Checkout and re-filing procedures
  • Weeding of out-of-scope material

Creating and managing digital content presents its own issues.  Digitization of print content can be done in-house for photographs or other materials that are not too numerous or not too large in size.  A low-cost consumer-grade scanner can be used, and content can be indexed and made available using a content management system such as Subscriptions for are available at a very reasonable price. For larger projects  such as digitization of a student newspaper, please see our prior article on this topic, listed below.

For content already in digital form, such as on the college website, librarians should work with local content creators and maintainers and urge them to adopt generous retention policies that will preserve access to content beyond its immediate reason for creation. Ideally content will not be deleted but maintained online.  If content cannot be maintained on the open college website then an institutional dark archive might be established for maintenance of digital content.  

Further Reading and Resources

Guidelines for College and University Archives. Society of American Archivists, August 1999.

Dublin Core Metadata Element Set. Version 1.1: Reference Description. 2012.

Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS). 2nd edition, 2013, rev. March 2015. Society of American Archivists.

Santa Monica College Corsair Sails Into the Digital Age. CCL Outlook, March 2015.

Carmichael, David W. Organizing Archival Records. 4th ed. Lanhan: Rowman and Littlefield, 2019. Available on Amazon and in libraries.