About: History & Archives
Scientific Association Records Programs: A Beginner's Guide
The manual is designed to serve as a guide to the establishment and maintenance of a records program by the officers and governing boards of scientific societies and organizations.
This manual is not intended as an exhaustive treatment of the subject. It is intended as a guide only, providing both a raison d' etre for the preservation of organizational papers in an established program, and the basic "how to" to begin the serious task of bringing together the documents that should be saved. Because this manual cannot treat in depth the many facets of document selection, arrangement and preservation, references are provided to lead the user to more detailed treatments of specific areas of interest.
Some scientific associations may already have decided to place their historically important records with a library, university archive, or science history center rather than keeping them themselves. This report still has some use for them because it suggests how they can improve current record-keeping operations. The better the files today, the better the archives tomorrow. Scientific societies that want to explore the option of finding a home for their old records should request a copy of the brochure "A Guide to Donating Your Organizational Records to a Repository" from the Society of American Archivists (address in the Getting Help section of this report).
Much of what follows is based on nearly fifteen years experience in developing an archive at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Before 1982, the AAAS had no clearly defined policy for collecting and maintaining the records of the Association. Much of its early history was lost, at least prior to about 1960. A potpourri of 19th and pre-World War II, 20th century records are to be found scattered among several eastern university archives and in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Since 1960, and more particularly since 1980, more complete records exist at the Association headquarters in Washington, D.C. The neglect of the earlier records is unfortunate inasmuch as the Association, founded in 1848, played a seminal role in the emergence and later dominance of the scientific and technology enterprise I the United States. Thus, as the Association prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary, it finds itself in a difficult position of not being able to document the full extent of its contribution. However, AAAS is not unique in this regard. Other organizations for one reason or another faced or now face similar problems. But some, like AAAS, have taken positive steps to prevent further losses of their corporate histories.
This manual is designed to take some of the mystery out of the concept "Records Management," to encourage the officers and governing boards to examine their records with a view to preserving the corporate (i.e., institutional or organizational) memory, and to make the establishment of a records program less daunting a business than it might otherwise appear.