Discussion: Archival Acquisitions in the Time of Coronavirus

On May 21st the Society of American Archivists Acquisition and Appraisal Section held a virtual meeting over Zoom to discuss the challenges associated with collecting and acquisitions work during COVID-19. Over 90 participants shared their experiences, asked questions, and provided ideas on how to keep safety standards while maintaining archival best practices when it comes to donor relations, acquiring materials, and accessioning physical items during these challenging times. The conversation was insightful and we hope to have another call to assess the situation again in a few months. Here are some of the major points:

Status of Operations:

  • Many institutions’ last physical collection was acquired in late February/early March. Some digital acquisitions are still moving forward as well as documentation regarding COVID-19’s impact on individual institutions.
  • Some have ceased acquisitions operations, while others are moving forward with donors over phone, zoom, FaceTime, or email. Those moving forward with donations are requiring photos and inventories of materials and having donors use their institution’s FEDEX or other shipping options. Deeds of gift signed and sent over email.
  • Many are experiencing mail disruption at institutions- not sure if collections received or returned to donors.
  • Some have made exceptions for high profile donations, or donors who need to get things out of storage units quickly. 
  • Those who are continuing to acquire collections reported minimal accessioning work is taking place with no processing occurring yet. 
  • Most everyone agreed that acquisitions are in varying states of disarray and it is hard to keep track of the status of donations while working from home. 

Moving Forward:

  • How can we establish and maintain donor relations and build communities of trust in a time of social distancing? Options like FaceTime, Zoom calls, and phone calls are good options. 
    • With neither archivists nor donors comfortable having face to face meetings indoors, choosing a neutral intermediary space such as a porch or yard.
    • Calls with elderly donors might be some of their only forms of communication.
    • If meeting in person, ensure you and the donor are at a safe distance and have appropriate PPE.
  • Establishing an oral history program and recording practices over Zoom.
  • Quarantine collections for several days after they have arrived. If space is needed, unused classrooms provide a potential option.
  • Many participants expressed concern and uncertainty regarding budget cuts and hiring freezes.


Now more than ever, advocacy is essential. Ensure your organization takes the work of donor relations, appraisal, and accessioning into account when building a framework to reopen. 


Resources (shared in chat)

An early webinar on working with paper-based collections from IMLS in online at https://www.imls.gov/webinars/mitigating-covid-19-when-managing-paper-based-circulating-and-other-types-collections.

The Boston Library Consortium is interested in implementing the Big 10’s ILL for special collections protocols https://www.btaa.org/docs/default-source/library/btaa-principles-and-protocols-for-interlibrary-loan-of-special-collections.pdf?sfvrsn=9bbe4bf3_2&sfvrsn=9bbe4bf3_2

COVID-19 Crisis Resources and Information for Museums and Archives in Missouri (Missouri Association for Museums and Archives) https://mama.wildapricot.org/covid-19 

NEDCC guidelines for quarantine and disinfecting last updated March 26 can be found at https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/3.-emergency-management/3.5-disinfecting-books


Webinar Recording: Oral History at a Distance: Conducting Remote Interviews

Sponsored by Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History and the Oral History Association https://www.oralhistory.org/2020/03/26/webinar-oral-history-at-a-distance-conducting-remote-interviews/


Cultural Resources and COVID-19 by National Center for Preservation Technology and Training



Preparing to Re-open by American Alliance of Museums


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