Click below for answers to frequently asked questions on topics related to collection development.

What does the Harvard University Archives collect?

The Harvard University Archives collects, preserves, and provides access to a comprehensive record of academic, administrative, student, and social life at Harvard, from the 17th-century to the present. The collections in the Archives comprise over 50,000 feet of University records and publications, personal and faculty archives, and related historical materials that include paper correspondence, minutes and reports, photographs, film, audio and video recordings, and electronic files.

Each collection or archive is unique. Please schedule a consultation with a member of our staff to review a collection and discuss the process of donating materials to the Archives.

Is there paperwork involved in donating my collection/archive?

Yes.  For donation of personal archives and other unpublished historical materials the Harvard University Archives requires a completed Certificate of Gift.  The Certificate of Gift is the formal, legal agreement that transfers ownership and legal rights to donated materials. 

Executing a Certificate of Gift is in the best interests of both donor and the Archives. After discussion and review of the various elements of the Certificate, it is signed by both the donor or donor's authorized agent, and an authorized representative of the repository. The signed Certificate of Gift establishes and governs the legal relationship between donor and repository and the legal status of the materials.

Can I place my collection or archive on deposit?

The Archives does not accept deposits of collections/archives on ‘permanent’ loan or deposit. The Archives can only accept collections/archives which will remain permanently in the Archives and permanently available for research.

Yes.  The Archives does provide donors and/or any agent authorized by a donor access to the collection or archive during the regular hours of the Archives.  In the event that a donor wishes to borrow any materials from his/her collection or archive and take them off-site from the Archives for any purpose, the Archives will loan such materials to the donor under the terms of the Archives’ then current policy for special loans.

How long before my collection is available to researchers?

It depends.  All collections and archives are inventoried soon after they are accessioned into the Archives’ collections so that a basic description of the material is available fairly soon.  Depending on the size, complexity, restrictions and conservations issues associated with an archive, processing and cataloging of the material can take anywhere from a few hours to several years.  Collections or archives may not be completely open for research until all of the work is completed.

Who will use my collection or archive at the Archives?

The Harvard University Archives and its collections are open to the public for research.  Our collections are used by Harvard faculty, students, alumni/ae and academic and administrative departments requiring information from studying their own early records, as well as a wide range of others such as scholars, genealogists, filmmakers, artists and literary authors.

What if I don’t want people to see part of my archive right away?

Sensitive material may, at times, be found within collections. Harvard University Archives staff will discuss with a donor the possibility of restricting parts of a collection to protect the privacy of the donor or of others. Although we aim to make all papers and records as accessible as possible to researchers, the department will normally agree to reasonable and equitable restrictions for limited periods of time.

Just as museums prefer to collect original artifacts rather than reproductions, the Archives prefers to collect original records and materials rather than copies. Archives researchers prefer to use originals both for their readability and so that they can be assured of the integrity of the materials they are studying.

The Archives will provide to donors, free of charge, photocopies of any small collection donated, or copies of selected materials from any large collection donated. In exceptional cases, the Archives will accept high-quality copies of very significant materials should a donor be unable to donate the originals.

What if some of my files are on computer disks or videotape?

The Archives accepts donations regardless of format (e.g., published, typescript, audio-visual, and electronic data, such as computer disks and files). For documents in formats requiring any form of machine intervention, such as videotapes and all computer files, consideration will be given to issues of long-term accessibility and preservation.  Early consultation with the Archives is strongly encouraged for all such materials.

Copyright generally belongs to the creator of writings and other original material (such as photographs), and can be legally transferred. While certainly not required as part of the donation, the Archives encourages donors to transfer the rights they possess in and to the non-published materials in the collection.  Transfer of copyright allows the Archives to assist researchers in their scholarship by making it easier to provide permission to quote from the papers and documents contained in the collection.  If donors wish to retain all or a portion of the intellectual property rights they own in the collection, the Archives will include such a provision in the Certificate of Gift. 

Can you tell me how much papers are worth?

Financial appraisals of collections should only be done by qualified appraisers.  The Archives can assist a donor by providing the names and addresses of qualified manuscript appraisers if a professional appraisal seems desirable or necessary.

For information on obtaining a tax credit for a donation, please see the page on Tax Benefits and Appraisals.

Does the Archives buy collections or materials?

Although most University Archives collections are acquired through donation or gift, from time to time the Archives does purchase unique or rare items related to Harvard’s history.  Manuscript and book dealers, or others wishing to offer the Archives items for sale, should contact the Associate University Archivist for Collection Development at virginia_hunt@harvard.edu.