Diaries, scrapbooks and photo albums, letters, emails, manuscripts, and other materials accumulated over the years give vital and unique information regarding your life, the history of your family, or your organization. When you donate your personal, family or organization’s records to Special Collections, this history becomes a part of our community’s collective memory.
If you agree to donate your materials, you stand to gain many benefits. Special Collections can provide the materials with environmentally controlled, secure and physical storage and can oversee their proper handling and use. Equally important, Special Collections can provide research access to the contents of the records, both to you and to others. In future years, researchers—including students, professors, genealogists, journalists, and many others—may thus find your records both interesting and of value to their work.
What to Donate
Listed below are types of materials that are often valuable to a researcher. This list, which is suggestive and not definitive, illustrates the wide range of documentation that is often useful for historical and administrative research
Personal or Family Papers
- Letters, memoirs, diaries, scrapbooks and photo albums, professional papers, genealogical information, speeches and lectures, articles/essays, legal documents, awards/certificates, photographs (with subjects and locations identified), films, videos, and audio tapes (including identifying information)
- Architectural records, articles of incorporation and charters, budgets, bylaws, constitutions, and revisions, handbooks, legal documents, memoranda, minutes of meetings, membership lists, newsletters and other publications generated by the organization, pamphlets, brochures, fliers, etc., photographs, planning documents, press releases, Reports (annual, committee, etc.), and research and subject files
Objects or collections must be evaluated by archival staff before donation. If material is deemed historically significant and within the collecting scope of Special Collections, a Deed of Gift will be signed by both parties. A deed of gift is a legal instrument used to transfer stewardship of the materials to Special Collections from the donor or donors.
The Special Collections archivist or curator will discuss with you the means by which your collection can be transported to the repository. In some cases this will involve a visit by a Special Collections archivist or curator to your home or office. Special Collections may prefer to capture digital material directly from your computer. Part of that process is discussing how you use your computer in your work or personal life, including organization, file names, and file storage, especially storage in places other than your personal computer. The Special Collections archivist or curator will need to know the current location of all the digital material that you wish to donate, such as backup disks or thumb drives, other computing devices, networked or cloud storage, or on the Internet.
Additionally, because the research value of records may be diminished if items are removed or if the records are rearranged, you should contact a Special Collections archivist or curator before discarding or reorganizing papers and records. It is also helpful if you can provide contextual information, such as names of people who appear in photographs or the stories behind significant items that document personal or family history.
Although Special Collections cannot accept everything that you offer, we welcome the chance to review material; if it is not appropriate for Special Collections, there may be another repository to which it could be referred. We generally do not take publications that are widely available elsewhere, such as popular magazines, and some material, too, may be of more sentimental than historical value and should be kept by the individual or family.
Please contact Heather Gilbert, Associate Dean of Collection and Content Services, to discuss or arrange for donations.
Access and Restrictions to Access to Collections
An essential mission of Special Collections is to make their collections open and available for research use. Most donors do not limit access to donated materials. There may be instances, however, when a donor or Special Collections feels it is appropriate to restrict access to all or a portion of the materials for a limited and clearly stated period of time. As a prospective donor, you should discuss any special needs or concerns with a Special Collections archivist or curator before completing the deed of gift. If you are concerned that material considered confidential may be represented in your personal, family or organization’s records, be prepared to identify items or groups of items of concern and then discuss with the archivist the possibility of restricting part of the collection to protect the privacy of you or others. While archival repositories strive to make all materials freely accessible to researchers, they will agree to reasonable and equitable restrictions for limited periods of time. If the materials you donate contain student records, financial records, medical records, or legal case files relating to third parties (individuals other than you, your immediate ancestors, or your organization), federal or state privacy laws may apply. If you know that such materials exist, bring this to the attention of the Special Collections archivist or curator. You may request that the Special Collections archivist or curator discuss with you any such materials that the repository discovers during cataloging.
If your concerns go beyond these types of materials, explain them to the Special Collections archivist or curator, and be as specific as possible when you discuss the papers or records you want to restrict. If needed, the Special Collections archivist or curator will work with you to arrive at language regarding a restriction for a limited time that is acceptable to you and which can be enforced by Special Collections.
Be aware that any digital materials that you donate, including computers, computer disks, and other digital storage media, may contain passwords, web browsing history, other users’ files, and copies of seemingly deleted files. Whether or not these files are apparent to researchers will depend on the initial method of transfer and on the repository’s access policies and procedures for handling digital material, which may change over time as technology evolves. Discuss any concerns you have about deleted content with the archivist or curator.
Additionally, the final description of the collection and the posting of the description online may not occur immediately.
While we are deeply grateful for contributions of materials to our holdings, Special Collections archivists cannot give tax advice, nor are they permitted to appraise the monetary value of a collection that is under consideration for donation. However, archival faculty and staff and the College of Charleston Foundation officers would be delighted to work with those donors who would like to discuss potential tax deductions in more detail.