Frequently Asked Questions

Why would SFU Archives decide not to acquire my records?

Acquisition Mandate

SFU Archives acquires records that document the functions and activities of the University and, more broadly, the university community (faculty, students, staff, alumni, and related organizations such as student societies and unions). We also acquire records from private sources that support teaching and research interests at the University. If your records fall outside of this acquisition mandate, we would not acquire them. For example, we would not acquire the records of a professor whose career was based at the University of British Columbia nor would we acquire records that would only support research in a discipline not taught at Simon Fraser University.

Territorial Provenance

Territorial provenance refers to the origin of a group of records with respect to a geographical area. The concept is linked to the principle that archival material should not be removed from the territory in which it was created. For example, SFU Archives has acquired the records of many feminists and feminist organizations based in British Columbia's Lower Mainland. It would be a violation of territorial provenance for SFU Archives to acquire similar bodies of records created, for example, in Ontario. To do so would be to alienate the materials from a researcher community and geographical area to which they most closely relate. An exception might be made when a creator was active in multiple geographical areas. It is preferable to keep a body of records intact rather than divide it by donating parts of the whole to repositories located in different geographical areas.

Physical Condition and Volume

Practical factors do play a role in determining whether SFU Archives will acquire any given body of records. For example, if the records are in poor physical condition and would require costly conservation treatment, we might decide not to acquire them. Similarly, the size of a proposed donation may affect whether we acquire it due to storage space limitations.  Such assessments are made on a case-by-case basis.

Records v. published works, artifacts, and artwork

Many people contact SFU Archives wanting to donate materials to us because they are old and/or rare, and may be of historic significance. Generally speaking, different memory institutions, including libraries, museums, and art galleries collect different types of materials. Archival repositories focus solely on the acquisition of records and not on published works, artifacts, or artwork.

Typically, SFU Archives only acquires bodies of records that were made and received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their everyday affairs. These records were accumulated over time and kept for their enduring value as a future reference resource and/or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator. 

For example, Jane Doe decides she wants to donate her records to SFU Archives. The records include her diaries, her letters with family members and friends, photographs of her and her family over a time span of many years, a manuscript she wrote but never got published, and records she created while serving on the board of a local charity. Jane created and accumulated these records throughout her lifetime and kept them for sentimental reasons or for practical ones (e.g. she needed the records she created while on the board of her local charity because they helped her to carry out that volunteer role). Jane's records are an example of the type of materials SFU Archives might acquire.

In contrast, libraries collect published works like books, periodicals, and newspapers that document certain subjects, but do not exhibit the same qualities as records. SFU Archives does not acquire published works, even if they are old, unless the published works form part of a body of records and the removal of them would seriously impair an understanding of that body of records because of meaningful contextual interrelationships (e.g. keep newspaper clippings if they form part of a file and the records in that file refer to the clippings, keep publications if they are heavily annotated with insightful comments).

For example, Jane Doe has a run of old newspapers that she found in her grandmother's attic. She also has a copy of the very first telephone directory issued in her hometown. These publications would be more appropriately donated to Jane's local library than to an archives.

Similarly, we do not acquire artifacts and/or objects of historical interest (e.g. war medals, plaques, trophies, etc.) or artwork. 

For example, we would not acquire Jane Doe's grandfather's war medals, the plaque she received for her many years of volunteer work, the painting she inherited from her parents, and the arrowhead she found on the outskirts of her hometown.

Many proposed donations consist primarily of published material or copies of records pulled from other sources (e.g. copied from other libraries or archives) that have been collected by an individual or organization as opposed to made and received in the course of their daily affairs. We do not acquire such material.

For example, Jane Doe's hobby was collecting information about the history of her hometown. Over the years she collected all sorts of documentation, including published accounts of the town's earliest settlers, copies of records she found in the Provincial Archives about the growth and development of the town, and clippings from newspapers about significant town events. SFU Archives would not acquire this material.

A decision not to acquire a proposed donation does not mean your material is unimportant and has no value. It simply means the material you propose to donate falls outside the scope of our particular professional expertise and acquisition mandate. SFU Archives may be able to suggest a more suitable memory institution if we decline a donation.