Work With An Archivist

Archivists are skilled in assessing the legal, administrative, and historical value of papers, photographs, documents, electronic materials and other records. We help donors identify materials that should be preserved for their research interest and future use, including faculty papers.

Although not all papers and records fall within the scope of our collection development statement, this page provides some guidance regarding the process of donating “personal papers” (i.e. materials that are not official university records or records of an organization) to the University of Illinois Archives. Representatives of campus offices or external organizations may find information about transferring records or placing them on deposit in other resources.

Because the research value of materials is diminished if items are removed or rearranged, donors are encouraged to contact an Archivist before discarding or rearranging materials. To discuss donating personal papers to the Archives, please contact the Archives Staff or call (217) 333-0798.

The Process

Archivists work closely with donors to identify materials appropriate for preservation. Depending on the volume of records in question, we may conduct an inventory or survey of the collection. As necessary, we will consult with conservators or those with other specialized skills. Based on this work, we develop a formal recommendation for specific actions to be taken. After the archivist and donor have agreed in principle that the materials are worthy of preservation, the archivist will make arrangements to have the papers or records transported to the Archives, where they will be accessioned and stored for processing, arrangement, and description by an archivist or a student working under close supervision.

Legal transfer of the materials from the donor to the University occurs when the donor reviews and signs a deed of gift agreement. The deed of gift formally transfers ownership of the materials to the University. The University cannot invest materials and labor in the care of collections it does not own. Therefore, we accept faculty, personal, or family materials on deposit or loan only in very rare circumstances.

The following types of information may be of archival value, but this is not an exhaustive list:

  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • speeches/lectures
  • albums/scrapbooks
  • memoirs/reminiscences
  • photographs
  • professional files
  • genealogical or biographical information
  • films
  • videotapes and audiotapes


Copyright generally belongs to the creator of writings and other original material (such as photographs and music), and can be legally transferred. To enable scholars to quote readily from collections, the department encourages donors to transfer any copyright they possess in the donated papers to the University. Transfer of copyright also allows the Archives and Library to make digital copies of the materials available online, where such access is warranted or useful.

Appraisals for Tax Deductions

In certain circumstances, it may be possible for a donor to take a tax deduction for the donation of a manuscript collection. Donors are encouraged to speak with their tax accountants or attorneys about this possibility. By law, University staff cannot give tax advice or appraise the monetary value of a collection. We are able to provide donors with a list of manuscript appraisers, but it is the donor’s responsibility to arrange for and bear the cost of any appraisal.

Collection Storage and Care

Collections are kept in environmentally-controlled, secure, closed vault areas, and do not circulate outside of the Archives. Staff members retrieve them for research use in a supervised reading room. When the department is closed, storage areas are protected by security staff and systems of the library and university.

To provide research access, collections are arranged and described by graduate and undergraduate students working experienced, professional archivists. They prepare descriptive guides and box/folder lists. All descriptive information is placed on our website, and the guides are used by researchers to select materials to study. To provide information about the department’s holdings, descriptive records are also shared with national databases, such as WorldCat and ArchivesGrid.

Collections may contain materials that need treatment to ensure their long-term preservation. If necessary, staff archivists can consult and work with professional conservators in the library’s Preservation Department to decide upon appropriate treatment.

Restrictions on Access

Sensitive material may be found within collections. When necessary, archives staff will discuss with a donor the possibility of restricting parts of a collection to protect the privacy of the donor or others. Although we desire to make all papers and records accessible to researchers, we will normally agree to reasonable and equitable restrictions for limited periods of time.

Monetary Support

Providing physical and intellectual control of valuable collections is expensive. Donors able to do so are encouraged to provide financial support for the arrangement, description, and preservation of their papers or records.
The information in this page is based, in part, on a resource developed by the staff of Yale University’s Manuscripts and Archives Department.

Last revised 2/3/2012, cjp