Librarians and archivists are increasingly giving consideration to capturing as much written historical knowledge as possible. This has partly been caused by an increasing recognition that the internet is an ephemeral place (tangible material is less likely to disappear), is partly caused by the need arising from increasingly niche research topics and output, and is partly caused by an increasing sophistication and professionalism brought to bear by archivists and librarians. These factors have caused documents which might once have been considered of ancillary value to be vacuumed up by archivists and librarians.

Acquisition of archival materials is not a task which should be done without documentation, or even reliance upon a straightforward deed of gift. The operative terms of a document for the acquisition of archival material should include the following:

  1. Assignment: the agreement should provide for a transfer of ownership. If the materials are not assigned or permanently loaned to the recipient, then the recipient has to consider the consequences of the conclusion of the loan period – how are the materials to be returned? What sort of state do they need to be in? What happens if a loan period ends and there is no one to take custody of the materials? These sorts of considerations can be very messy to document and put into practice.
  2. Donor’s warranties: the donor must warrant that they own the material, and have legal authority to donate it.
  3. Copyright: should the donor make representations as to ownership of the copyright in the donated material? Typically, either the donor or the recipient (or both) will be required to make all reasonable and prudent enquiries as to the existence of any third party rights or interests in any copyright subsisting in the material.
  4. Damage, deterioration or loss: a donor will typically want the materials to be well-looked after. But ordinarily the recipient will not want to be liable for any loss, damage or deterioration of the material. Typically this is addressed by a best endeavours clause. Sometimes, a recipient will have a preservation or access policy, which can form part of the agreement: an obligation to anyone accessing the materials to minimise skin contact or use gloves, not to make markings on the materials, keeping the original order of the materials, and not placing other objects on the materials.
  5. Access: are the materials for public access, or should they remain confidential for a period of time (for example, to be released to the public after the death of someone materially affected by the public disclosure of the materials)? If the materials are made available to members of the public, if any member of the public wishes to conduct a published research project using the material, should the recipient be obliged to obtain the donor’s permission prior to enabling access to a researcher?
  6. Accessioning and De-Accessioning: the process of accepting items into a collection is referred to as ‘accessioning’ and the processes of deciding what should be removed from a collection permanently is called ‘de-accessioning’. De-accession can be important for practical reasons of space: when archive collections expand, a process can be put in place to facilitate the removal of materials which are no longer considered useful. The aim is to support the long-term preservation of a collection yet have a mechanism to dispose of superfluous material. Typically, if the recipient wishes to de-accession any material, the material can only be de-accessioned after first being offered back to the donor or an individual or organisation nominated by the donor.