Ohio History Journal

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University Archives:

A Matter for Concern


Although the role of higher education has been of importance in the

development of our nation, interpretive studies of the contributions of our

system of higher education are relatively scarce. Could this be due, at least

in part, to the fact that so few colleges and universities in the United

States maintain institutional archives? There are less than two dozen pro-

fessionally trained, full-time college or university archivists with the neces-

sary staff and physical facilities to conduct an adequate archival program.

Even by including those institutions which combine an institutional ar-

chives and a historical manuscript program, the number does not exceed

three dozen! Before a thorough research study on any topic can be under-

taken, there must be a body of data available for the scholar to analyze.

It is questionable that the institutions of higher learning in the United

States are contributing to such a research source to any great degree.

There are at least three reasons for a college or university to establish

and support an institutional archives. First, an archival program will se-

lect, preserve, and reference the records of the institution which are of re-

search value and thereby serve as an administrative memory to the officers

of the school. Although history may not repeat itself, most issues have a

historical background and many situations are similar enough so a study

of past administrative actions will assist an official in resolving a current

problem. However, the necessary data must be readily available to him for

study. An archives provides this resource.

In addition to an archives serving as an administrative memory, a second

reason for supporting an archival program  is the assistance a trained

archivist can render to help solve the "paperwork" problem so evident in

the nation today. Most offices are currently being flooded with forms, re-

ports, correspondence, and other types of information. While the basic

function of an archivist is to preserve the documentary heritage of the in-

stitution, many records must be discarded so as to avoid being engulfed in

a tide of paper. By conducting record inventories, microfilm studies and

preparing retention and disposition schedules of all records created and re-

ceived in each campus office, an archivist can provide the necessary guid-

ance to administrators so the records of value are kept for future use, but

most records are discarded and the "battle of the bulk" can be won. Not

only are the records of value preserved, but by eliminating most of the

records the costs of filing equipment and space are reduced and the effi-

ciency of the office is increased. In some instances, a serious fire hazard is

also eliminated by clearing out record accumulations in attics, hallways,

and basements.