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Harvard University Archives
Mission
 
 

Our Mission

Detail from the Carter of 1650. UAI 15.100
 
 

Harvard University Archives Mission

 

The Harvard University Archives supports the University's mission of education and research by striving to preserve and provide access to Harvard's historical records; to gather an accurate, authentic, and complete record of the life of the University; and to promote the highest standards of management for Harvard's current records.

Harvard’s official records date from the establishment of the College in 1636.  In the early 1850s, under the direction of President Jared Sparks, historical records were gathered together and placed in the Library for safekeeping.  In 1939, the Harvard Corporation voted that the, “archives of the official activities of University officers and offices are the property of the University” and officially recognized the University Archives’ responsibility for these records. To further address changes in national and international record-keeping practices, the Corporation voted in 1995  to establish, “a comprehensive records management program throughout the University, under the direction of the University Archives.”  The objective of this expansion was to ensure the careful “maintenance and efficient disposition of University records, consistent with sound archival standards, budgetary considerations, and legal obligations.”

 

The mission and the authorization for the work of the Harvard University Archives derive from a succession of votes by the Harvard Corporation, which are noted chronologically below.

 
 
 

1851 Vote

 

At a stated meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College in Boston, December 27th, 1851,


The committee appointed to examine into the condition of the Records and other College Papers, and to suggest some method for their safe keeping and preservation, report, —

That they have attended to this duty and found that the place heretofore set apart for the papers in one of the towers of Gore Hall is so much subject to dampness from the walls, as to render it unfit for that purpose.  The Committee recommend, that, in one of the alcoves, or rooms on the upper floor of Gore Hall, a case or cases be made, suitable for the reception and safe-keeping of the papers,  and that all the College records, and other manuscripts relating to the history of the University and the proceedings of the several Boards deemed worthy of preservation be deposited therein, methodically classified and arranged, except such as may be retained in the safe attached to the President’s Office; and that all these papers be held in the special charge of the President.—

Voted – That the Report be accepted, and that the President be requested to cause the cases to be made, and the papers to be deposited therein.

     
     

    1939 Vote

     

    At a meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College in Boston, February 6, 1939

    Voted to adopt the following provisions for the preservation of official files, records and documents:
    All administrative officers of the University, including officers of instruction whose regular or occasional performance of administrative duties puts them in possession of files, records or documents pertaining to their official duties, are requested to observe the following regulations:

    • The archives of the official activities of University officers and offices are the property of the University.
    • Such property is not to be destroyed without the approval of a committee of three consisting of (a) the Secretary to the Corporation; (b) The Director of the University Library; (c) the officer in charge of the department where the papers accumulate.
    • The officer in charge of each administrative office will be the judge as to how long it is convenient to hold obsolete papers in his own office under his direct control.
    • All archive material, when no longer wanted in the office to which it pertains, shall be sent to the University Archives in the College Library.  Note: The term "archives" in the above statement is taken as meaning: (1) files of letters, both sent out and received; (2) records and memorandum books, ledgers, journals, cash-books, vouchers, mimeographed and similar material; (3) the files of any matter printed for official uses.

    In adopting the above regulations, the Corporation have had equally in view the importance of preserving material for the Archives and the facilities which the Archives department of the University Library is in a position to render to all administrative officers in relieving their offices of obsolete material, in eliminating materials that does not need to be preserved, and in providing space and safe custody for everything that should be preserved.

    The Director of the University Library and the staff in charge of the Archives are to be at all times ready to assist officers of the University in disposing of archive material of which they wish their offices to be relieved.

       
       

      1951 Vote

       

      At a meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College in Boston, January 22, 1951

      Voted to establish the following revised regulations in regard to the use of manuscript theses and prize papers in the University Archives:

      When a thesis is accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a degree, or a manuscript is successful in a prize competition, it shall become the physical property of the University, and it may be lent, or its use restricted, in any way the Director of the University Library sees fit.

      The literary rights, including those of publication, copying extracts, or closely paraphrasing from the manuscript, shall remain the property of the author, except that the University shall have the right to make available to the public and copyright any unpublished thesis or prize paper at any time after the expiration of five years from the time it was accepted.  Every reader using one of these manuscripts shall be required to sign a printed acknowledgement of the fact that all literary rights are so reserved.

      Special agreements concluded in the past between the Library and departments or divisions regarding the use of theses accepted previous to the adoption of this vote shall not be abrogated by it.

      If an author wishes to lay more stringent restrictions upon the use of his thesis, he must obtain the endorsement of the head of the department under which the thesis was written and then make application to the Director of the Library.

         
         

        1988 Vote

         

        Vote of the President and Fellows of Harvard College, October 3, 1988

        Voted, on the recommendation of the Committee to Review Access to Harvard University Archives, to amend the vote of this board of February 19, 1968, in accordance with regulations presented at this meeting (D.R. 2259), governing use of material in the Library comprising archives of the University and manuscripts other than Harvard Archives, as follows:

        The Director of the University Library, or his/her representative (usually the Curator of the University Archives) shall ordinarily authorize the use of University records more than fifty years old (or records concerning individuals which shall be more than eighty years old, or the individual having died, whichever is later).  In appropriate cases, where sensitive material may be involved, the Director of the University Library or his/her representative should consult with the author(s) of the documents in question and any individuals mentioned in the documents whose reputation or welfare may be affected by their release.  In case of doubt, the Director, or his/her representative shall refer the matter to the head of the University department concerned.

        The Director of the University Library, or his/her representative (usually the Curator of the University Archives) may with the approval of the head of the University department or division concerned authorize access to records less than fifty years old (or records concerning individuals that are less than eighty years old), if it is determined that these records do not violate the privacy of individuals and their families, are not fragile original records that might be damaged by use, or that their use would adversely affect the fullness or completeness of recent or evolving records that may be deposited in Archives and become the historical resources of future generations.  In appropriate cases, where sensitive material may be involved, The Director of the University Library or his/her representative should consult with the author(s) of the documents in question and any individuals mentioned in the documents whose reputation or welfare may be affected by their release.  In the case of records of departments or divisions which have ceased to exist, access may be authorized by The Director of the University Library, or his/her representative who, in case of doubt, shall refer the matter to the President and Fellows.

        An advisory committee shall be established by The Director of the University Library to which may be referred cases where doubt or disagreement exists, with the understanding that the committee may consult scholars or other individuals as may be necessary.

        A department or division for the above purposes should be understood to conform primarily to the budgetary units as listed in the Financial Report, with the understanding that additions, deletions and exceptions will be determined by The Director of the University Library and the Secretary to the Corporation, acting together.

           
           

          1989 Vote

           

          Vote of the Harvard Corporation of March 13, 1989

          Voted, on the recommendation of the Committee to Review Access to Harvard University Archives, to amend the vote of this board of October 3, 1988 governing the use of material in the Library comprising archives of the University and manuscripts other than Harvard Archives, so that it now reads:

          The Director of the University Library, or his/her representative (usually the Curator of the University Archives) shall ordinarily authorize the use of University records more than fifty years old (or records concerning individuals which shall be more than eighty years old, or the individual being alive, after his/her decease, whichever is later), provided they are not fragile original records that might be damaged by use, in which cases copies will be provided. In appropriate cases, where sensitive material may be involved, the Director of the University Library or his/her representative should consult with the author(s) of the documents in question and any individuals mentioned in the documents whose reputation or welfare may be affected by their release. In case of doubt, the Director, or his/her representative shall refer the matter to the head of the University department concerned.

          The Director of the University Library, or his/her representative (usually the Curator of the University Archives) may with the approval of the head of the University department or division concerned authorize access to records less than fifty years old (or records concerning individuals that are less than eighty years old), if it is determined that these records do not violate the privacy of individuals and their families, are not fragile original records that might be damaged by use, in which cases copies will be provided, or that their use would adversely affect the fullness or completeness of recent or evolving records that may be deposited in Archives and become the historical resources of future generations. In appropriate cases, where sensitive material may be involved, the Director of the University Library or his/her representative should consult with the author(s) of the documents in question and any individuals mentioned in the documents whose reputation or welfare may be affected by their release. In the case of records of departments or divisions which have ceased to exist, access may be authorized by the Director of the University Library or his/her representative who, in case of doubt, shall refer the matter to the President and Fellows.

          An advisory committee shall be established by the Director of the University Library to which may be referred cases where doubt or disagreement exists, with the understanding that the committee may consult scholars or other individuals as may be necessary.

          A department or division for the above purposes should be understood to conform primarily to the budgetary units as listed in the Financial Report, with the understanding that additions, deletions and exceptions will be determined by the Director of the University Library and the Secretary to the Corporation, acting together.

             
             

            1995 Vote

             

            At a meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College in Cambridge, March 13, 1995

            Voted to amend the Corporation's regulations, adopted February 6, 1939, providing for the preservation of records.

            The purpose of the amendment is to authorize a comprehensive records management program throughout the University, under the direction of the University Archives. The objective of such a program shall be to ensure the prudent maintenance and efficient disposition of University records, consistent with sound archival standards, budgetary considerations, and legal obligations.

            • University records evince the University's history, organization and operations; as such, they are the property of the University and not of the officers, faculty members, or employees who create them or to whom they are entrusted. The University's records, as defined in the subsequent note, consist of information assembled or kept in any medium, whether paper, tapes, computer disks, or other media.
            • Records are not to be destroyed or otherwise disposed of except in accordance with procedures and schedules established by the University Archives through its records management program.
            • The Curator of the University Archives shall establish general record procedures and retention schedules for records that are common to the University's various offices and departments, subject to approval by the Secretary to the Corporation and the Director of the University Library. The Office of the General Counsel shall be consulted when appropriate to ensure compliance with legal obligations.
            • The Curator of the University Archives may establish special record procedures and retention schedules necessary to preserve exceptional records or to accommodate unusual circumstances. Such procedures and schedules shall be devised in consultation with the officer in charge of the affected records and, when appropriate, with the Secretary to the Corporation, the Director of the University Library, and the office of General Counsel.
            • Faculties and other units may establish individual archives; in such cases the administrator of the archives shall coordinate the archives' procedures and schedules with the Curator of the University Archives to ensure that the objectives of the University's record management program are met.  The administrator of the Archives shall observe archival standards and university policies regarding the condition of the records and the storage facility as well as the maintenance and accessibility of the collection. No records in these archives shall be destroyed without the approval of the Curator of the University Archives.

            Note:    
            University records definition: For the purposes of this definition, records shall mean recorded information, regardless of physical form.

            University records include all forms of recorded information regardless of physical characteristics, created, received, recorded, or legally filed in the course of University business or in pursuance of the University's legal obligations.  These records serve as evidence of the University's organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities and are subject to records management review and evaluation prior to any decisions regarding reformatting or disposal.  University records include but are not limited to minutes; correspondence; memoranda; financial records, such as invoices, journals, ledgers, purchase orders, and other information pertaining to fiscal matters, including grant fiscal matters; published materials, including reports and newsletters; moving images and photographs; sound recordings; drawings and maps; annotated copies or books; and computer data or other machine readable electronic records, including electronic mail.  Records created or received by faculty in administrative and University committee capacities are also considered to be University records.

            The items found in the following list are not considered University records.  However, the Archives offers its services for selected disposition of those items found relevant to its collection policy:

            • Extra copies of documents kept only for convenience or reference;
            • Extra copies of publication stocked for distribution purposes;
            • Reproduction masters, unless they are the only copy of the record in existence or are the microfilm master copy;
            • Material relating to individual employees' memberships;
            • Faculty research notes;
            • Blank forms kept for supply purposes;
            • Personal or private papers neither created not received in connection with the University's business; and
            • Reference materials such as library, museum, and specimen material made or acquired solely for reference, research, or exhibition purposes.

            Attest:

            Secretary
            Michael Barone
            Barbara Graham
            Harley Holden
            Margaret Marshall
            Allan Ryan, Jr.
            Sidney Verba