What exactly are historical records?
Historical records are those materials which are no longer used in day-to-day business. Historical records would include correspondence, photographs, meeting minutes, internal publications, annual reports, daybooks, oral history recordings, committee reports, scrapbooks, promotional, social, and educational materials, or ledger-books. In documenting history, the napkin that an idea was first drawn up on is just as important as the final product. Alone these materials may not mean much, but when placed within the context of a collection the items tell the organization’s story.
Unless an organization has disbanded, some materials should remain with the institution: deeds, charters, award citations, legal agreements, special photos. Donors are encouraged to make a copy of any materials they may frequently need to reference.
What is the benefit of donating my materials to the Regional History Center?
There are lots of reasons to donate!
- Your documents are carefully preserved and organized by professionals
- The RHC provides a safe, temperature and humidity controlled facility
- Records are organized and made accessible for future generations
- Researchers from all over the world can locate the permanent home for your organization’s records
- You no longer need to worry about keeping the items safe from fire, a flood-prone basement, or simply...losing them
- Donating records frees up space in your home
What does it cost to archive my items?
We will do the work for free! Collections given to the Regional History Center are cared for and organized by our professional staff. However, because we put many hours into the processing of the materials and many dollars into storing them, in return we ask that the property rights be given to the Regional History Center. This is done through a deed of gift agreement at the time of donation.
Like any non-profit organization, the Regional History Center always welcomes monetary donations of any amount from both organizations and individuals. Contact our Director, Cindy Ditzler, for more information.
What happens after I donate my collection?
Once we pick up the collection, we take special care to document what you’ve given us. We will then store it in our temperature controlled facility until we are able to fully process it. Staff size and the number of other collections awaiting processing can affect the time it takes before we are able to get to your collection.
Processing a collection involves removing all metal pieces (staples, paperclips), cleaning dirty or moldy papers, organizing the documents, putting them in acid-free folders, labeling the boxes and folders, and finally, creating an inventory. Along the way, we will communicate with you about any items we many not want or need. This may take a long time depending upon the size and condition of the collection.
In short, archiving takes patience. But the payoff is a fully organized collection that is preserved for future generations of researchers.
We will send you the completed inventory when we have finished your collection and then will officially open it for researchers.
Should I organize my papers before I give them too you? Do I need to finish the scrapbook that has not been updated in...years...?
It depends. As archivists, it is our job to organize documents as close to their original order as possible. This is largely based on the order, however loose, that you have already created. We will look closely for misfiled items and put them with the appropriate documents; meaning that you should not feel like you must comb through and label all your papers before they come to us. That is our job!
However, some donors feel that their materials are too chaotic for someone else to understand. We do our best to adhere to the original organizational method used, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to try to give some order to your documents, but it is not necessary—it is our job as archivists to make sense of it.
Don’t feel like you need to start, or even finalize a scrapbook for your organization before donating pictures and newspaper clippings. The most important thing is to be sure pictures are labeled with important names, dates, and events. Although scrapbooks are an important part our collections and give your organization additional personality, they are often difficult to store and were created on paper that deteriorates easily. In short, if you’re feeling creative, go for it! If not, don’t fret. Either way, just be sure to tell us why the pictures are important, but do not feel as if they must be perfectly organized in a book.
Do I need to bring everything to you?
Nope. We will come by when you’re available to pick up your donation. We will even bring boxes.
Can I take items out at a later time?
Unfortunately, no. Unless special arrangements were made in the deed of gift agreement items cannot leave the Regional History Center after they have been donated. After great time and expenses are spent to process the collection we ask that the property rights belong to the Regional History Center. ALL of your donation is important to us, and it is also important that the complete collection be available to researchers.
Special arrangements can be made with donors if an item is needed by the organization. We are able to loan materials back to the donor for a specified length of time. If you believe you might regularly need a document for future use, be sure to make copies for yourself. We would also be happy to provide a photocopy of a document upon request for donors.
If you are concerned about your privacy regarding specific documents discuss it with us. We want to do everything we can to be sure you are comfortable with your donation.
Who uses these records and what are they used for?
Hopefully the records will be used by your officers, employees, and members as well as by serious researchers in regional and local histories. Many family records are also used by genealogists. It is possible to restrict access to parts of the collection, but the Center discourages this because of the significant investment it makes in processing and housing the collection. If some materials are so sensitive they must be completely restricted, we prefer they remain with the donor. But again, we would be happy to help you sort all of this out--just ask!
Can you digitize my materials?
We agree with you that scanning does appear to offer a good way to make historical records available for research and provide widespread access. However, the cost of scanning is very high and the task is incredibly time consuming. We hope that one day all the Center’s materials can be found online in digital format, but for the time being it is not possible.
What guarantee do you have regarding treatment of the records in the Center?
When a collection is brought into the Center a formal legal deed of gift agreement is signed. This document carefully spells out the rights and responsibilities of both the donor and the Center. The Regional History Center is a fully integrated function of Northern Illinois University and meets all national archival standards in professional staff, facilities, and operations.
What about security?
The Regional History Center archives is located in Founders Memorial Library, which provides 24-hour security. The storage facility for the materials is temperature and humidity controlled and provides a security cabinet for restricted materials. Also, the Center does not allow patrons to remove anything from the reading room: all materials are paged and photocopied by staff for the researchers.
Can I see the place?
Yes, of course! Call to set up an appointment, or stop in to say hello if you are in the area. Better yet, do some research while you are here.
Who should I contact?
Just call the Center's Reference Desk at 815-753-1779 and you will be connected with the appropriate staff member.