What do you take?
Sometimes the easiest way to begin answering this question is by discussing what should not come to the archives. Archives are not usually the best place to store material that contains private or protected data such as student records and in the health sciences, patient related information. Student records are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Patient records and material with personal health information (PHI) are governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Both acts protect personal information and identifiers from being published or displayed publicly. From an archives perspective, these materials are best managed by a records retention plan and not deposited in the archives.
Other personal data such as personnel records, search committee files, recommendations on file, tenure decisions, and academic misconduct files are also considered private data and are usually not accepted for deposit.
When an office or department is reviewing its material, it should consider the point of origin for the records. If an office has a filing cabinet full of salary surveys conducted by a related professional association, these materials would not be suited for the archives due to the fact that they were created by an outside entity and only kept in the office as a reference. A researcher wanting to learn more about salary histories would turn to the association and generally not think of looking to the office or department for that kind of information. Likewise, information produced by one office (such as a newsletter) and copies of it kept in another office as a reference, leads to duplication in the archives. If the archives collect the material produced by each office there is little need to maintain the duplicate material.
In general, archives accept little material related to daily fiscal and accounting records. Again, these materials are better governed by a records retention schedule.
So, what do we take?
After discerning what can or should be removed from a set of materials it can become very clear what is suitable for deposit in the archives. There is never a set list of what should go to the archives. Correspondence, departmental records, research files and reports, curriculum materials, non-personnel related committee files, certain publications and audio/visual materials are all types of material housed in the archives. But it is not just about the type of material, it is also about the information found in the records. The content of the material and its relation to the office, department and institution should also be evaluated. This appraisal activity is usually conducted by the archivist or in consultation with the donor and the archivist.
How are the archives different from off-site storage? Can I get access to the stuff?
Archives are often synonymous with a place to store something. While it is true archives are made to store boxes, archives also provide a service beyond storage. Materials are reviewed by the archives staff that then creates written descriptions of what they contain. These descriptions known as finding aids help to provide access to the materials. Office and departments still have access to the materials they deposit with the benefit of discussing their needs with the archives staff. In addition, researchers have access to the same materials for their own work. Material deposited in the archives benefits two constituencies, not one. Archives commit to the long term preservation, storage and security of the materials. The longevity of the materials is not based on current staffing or outside vendor storage contracts. The University provides this commitment through the University Archives.