Re: Best Practice for Organizing Donations of Photocopied Originals

Kathryn Otto


It depends on where the copies came from/where the originals are, if the donor has any rights, and how useful the material is.

The two most common scenarios are 1) copies of things the donor still owns, but just doesn’t want to give them up; and 2) someone made photocopies for research purposes at some other institution and thinks your institution really should have copies.

In scenario 1), the donor has the right to give you copies and if those copies have worthwhile content, then treat them like you would any manuscript collection. If it is the kind of material that is useful enough that people would actually cite it in an article/book/website, you would definitely want it accessioned and have a donor form to protect your institution when, perhaps years and years from now, the descendants of the person who donated it to you make a stink. Then the future you can whip out your donor form that shows their ancestor donated the items and intented that they be available for research purposes. You might need to adjust your donor form a little bit because the current donor might not want to give the copyright/literary rights to your institution. They might be fine with someone using it for research and using “fair use” quotations in a published article, but they might not be fine with someone doing a book that publishes the entire collection. (“Entire” could be just 2 letters, published in a compilation of letters on a topic.) You need to discuss the donor’s intention and, as always, make them aware of what they are signing.

In scenario 2), some institutions are fine with having copies in other repositories as long as it is clear made where the originals reside (including call number, box/folder), and that they are the institution cited if the material is used in a paper or publication. Some institutions absolutely do not want photocopies of their materials in another institution. So in scenario 2), you need to contact the institution that has the original collection and see what their preference/policy is.

In either case, you would want to note in the cataloging that the material was loaned for copying and, in scenario 1), that the originals as of [date of donation] were still in the possession of the original owner/creator. “Describing Archives: A Content Standard,” in Chapter 6 says “if the materials being described are reproductions and the originals are located elsewhere, give the location of the originals” (6.1.4). That’s really meant for scenario 2) and the 2 examples are institutions, but you could also put the name of the person from scenario 1 (probably just keep their address in your accession file rather than make that public). Examples given are: “Originals are in the Minnesota Historical Society,” and “Original letters in the collection of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, CT.”

Photographs can be a little trickier if a professional photographer/studio is involved. Whoever is giving you the copies may own an original print, but that doesn’t give them any rights to make a copy of any kind to donate to you if the photograph was taken after 1923 and the studio still exists or there might be descendants out there who care about copyright (that’s the tricky part). With any kind of publication 1923 is again the magic date. If they are offering you a copy of the entire thing, it would be better to just purchase one yourselves if it is still available. Individual newspaper articles generally should not be a problem.