Frequently asked questions

What are the benefits of donating my records to SFU Archives?

Your records will become a valuable research resource to the faculty, students, and staff of SFU as well as members of the general public. A decision to donate records to us means the documented memory of the life and career of an individual or the history and operations of an organization will be preserved for the use and benefit of future generations.

Donated records are not only used by researchers to understand the past, but are often creatively repurposed in ways unimaginable to the creators of the records. For example, photographs of student protests on campus in the 1960s have been included in world-class art installations; the records of feminist collectives in the 1960s and 1970s have been used by modern day students of gender, sexuality, and women's studies; and personal correspondence written by a professor to her parents during the early years of SFU's existence has been mined for details on the challenges and trials facing a fledging institution of higher learning and the overall tenor of the time.

In addition to the above benefits, your records will be:

  • Arranged and described by an archivist according to professional best practices and standards.
  • Re-housed in acid-free file folders and containers (if paper-based) to better preserve them. Migrated (i.e. copied) to recognized preservation formats if the records are in electronic form.
  • Stored in environmentally controlled vaults or managed on secure university servers.
  • Communicated to the university community and the general public through institutional, provincial, and national descriptive databases.
  • Accessed by our users in our monitored reading room.

Will SFU Archives purchase my records?

No, SFU Archives does not purchase records. We are a non-profit organization and, unlike libraries, we do not have a dedicated acquisitions budget.  However, issuing you a tax receipt based on the fair market value of your records may be possible.

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 versus 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.

Can I access my records if I donate them to SFU Archives?

Yes, you can always access your records after you donate them to SFU Archives. You may do so by visiting our Reading Room. Once records are donated to SFU Archives, we do not allow them to circulate outside our premises in order to protect their authenticity. Restricting access to our Reading Room helps to ensure records are not inadvertently or maliciously altered after their deposit with us.

Due to limited resources, we cannot offer free copying or research services to donors.

What types of records should I include in my donation?

It is difficult to generalize about the types of records that you should include in your donation since any given body of records can vary greatly from donor to donor. Don't exclude records in your donation just because you cannot find them listed amongst the illustrative examples below. Consult with the Staff Archivist if you are unsure about what to include in your donation.  Donors are often surprised to learn what is considered to be historically valuable. We are interested in preserving as complete a picture of the person or organization as possible.

Individuals (Students, Staff, Alumni, and General Public)

Records that provide insight into the interests, occupations, and life of an individual.

  • Diaries, journals, blogs, and notebooks that document daily life or special events
  • Correspondence with friends, family, and colleagues (letters and email)
  • Photographs (dated and identified) are of value because they illustrate some meaningful event, place or time and are clearly linked to your life or career (digital or analogue)
  • Records documenting your education, career, community involvement, and membership and service in organizations

SFU Faculty

See Guidelines for Donating Faculty Papers (PDF)


Records that document the core functions of an organization, its responsibilities and legal obligations, its impact on its core constituency (customers, members, clients, etc.) and its development and growth over time.

  • Articles of incorporation or other founding documents
  • Policies and procedures
  • Correspondence of the governing executive body and/or executive officers of the organization (letters, memos, directives, and email)
  • Agendas, minutes, and supporting papers of the governing executive body and the organization's committees (digital or analogue)
  • Annual reports (PDFs or bound paper copies)
  • Publicity and communication materials (e.g. newsletters, pamphlets, websites, etc.)
  • Membership lists (databases, spreadsheets, directories)
  • Job descriptions (digital or analogue)
  • Records documenting interactions between the organization and its clients, customers, or members that are not shaped or constrained by standardized forms or templates (e.g. application and registration forms), but instead are more narrative in form and document expectations, concerns and complaints and the organization's response to them (e.g. correspondence, case files, interviews, etc.)
  • Photographs (dated and identified) of staff and significant corporate events that were pivotal in the life of the organization (digital or analogue)
  • Financial records such as general ledgers, annual operating budgets, and financial statements (bound paper copies, spreadsheets, PDFs)

University Departments

University departments do not donate their records to SFU Archives, but transfer them to our custody and control through approved Records Retention Schedules and Disposal Authorities (RRSDAs).  RRSDAs prescribe how long a particular record series (i.e. type of record or grouping of records) must be kept and whether that series should eventually be destroyed or transferred to SFU Archives for permanent preservation. Contact the Records Management Archivist for details.

What do the terms fonds and collection mean?

The terms fonds and collection refer to two different types of record accumulations acquired by SFU Archives.

A fonds is a body of records that was 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. The key characteristics of a fonds are provenance (records are created by one individual or organization) and original order (the way the records were originally ordered by their creators can be significant in interpreting their meaning).

For example, SFU Archives is home to the W.A.C. Bennett fonds. The records document Bennett's personal finances, his participation in charitable, fraternal, and service organizations, the operation of his hardware store, his involvement in the Social Credit Party of BC, and his longstanding tenure as the Province's premier.  All of these records were either made or received by Bennett. They include correspondence with his constituents, the financial accounts of his hardware businesses, and speeches he made as the President of the Kelowna Branch of the Canadian Red Cross.  Wherever possible, the records original order was maintained. For example, the fonds includes a series of files that were created and kept in the Premier's Office over a period of 20 years. Their order has not been altered.

In contrast, a collection is a body of records assembled by a person, organization or repository from a variety of sources (i.e. multi-provenancial) usually on the basis of some subject or theme and arranged in such a way as to make the records easily accessible for their purely informational value.

For example, John Doe, a student of British Columbia political history, decides to create a W.A.C. Bennett collection. The collection might include political posters and buttons featuring Bennett, interviews with Bennett recorded from television, and letters sent by Bennett to several different individuals. None of these records were made or received by John Doe, but were instead collected and purchased by him. The organizing principle of the collection is its focus on Bennett as a subject of interest.

SFU Archives acquires both fonds and collections.

What types of organizations donate records to SFU Archives?

SFU Archives has acquired records from a variety of organizations, including collectives, non-profit societies, and professional associations. These records support research in a variety of areas, including second wave feminism, social activism, labour, and publishing.  Examples include:

  • East Enders Society, a private social service group which worked to aid women in Vancouver's East Side neighbourhoods
  • Press Gang Publishers, a feminist printing press that published quality trade paperback books—fiction, non-fiction, poetry and art—primarily by Canadian women authors and artists
  • British Columbia Student Federation, an umbrella advocacy group representing student unions at BC's universities, colleges, technical schools, and secondary schools.

We also acquire the records of campus community organizations that are closely affiliated with the University, but are separately incorporated bodies. The acquisition of these records enriches an understanding of the broader university community, supplementing SFU's corporate historical record. Examples include:

  • Simon Fraser Student Society
  • Simon Fraser University Childcare Society
  • Simon Fraser Women's Centre

SFU Archives would consider acquiring the records of businesses if the records offered were valuable in documenting the history of an industry of particular importance to British Columbia's Lower Mainland.

Does SFU Archives acquire electronic records?

SFU Archives is currently building a digital repository that will increasingly allow us to acquire electronic records, preserving access to them for generations to come.

Electronic records pose serious challenges to long-term preservation because of the rapid obsolescence of software and hardware and the inherent fragility of digital storage devices (e.g. CDs, DVDs, flash drives, hard drives, etc.). However, individuals and organizations are increasingly documenting their activities only by electronic means and tomorrow's archives will be digital.

When proposing a donation, consider including your electronic records as well as your paper ones and talk to the Staff Archivist about SFU Archives' current technical capacity to preserve different types of electronic records (e.g. email, office documents, websites, etc.). It is important to capture as complete a picture as possible of the life and career of an individual or the history and operations of an organization. Omitting electronic records from your donation might mean significant gaps in the historical record.

Will SFU Archives digitize my records?

While digitizing analogue records is a great way to make them more accessible to a wider audience, there are several deterrents to digitization.

Digitization is a costly process when done according to recognized quality assurance standards. Thereafter, there is an added cost to preserve the digitized material in addition to the original analogue source records.

Permission may be needed from the copyright owner of the records. Generally, there are multiple copyright owners associated with any given body of records.

Records containing personal information and subject to provincial privacy laws or donor-imposed access restrictions cannot be digitized and posted online.

In general, SFU Archives tries to preserve records in the form in which they are received. Analogue records are housed in acid-free containers and stored in environmentally controlled vaults, while electronic records are migrated (i.e. copied) to recognized preservation formats and stored on secure servers.

SFU Archives may choose to digitize a body of records or some sub-set of a body of records if the resources are available, the demand warrants it, and there are no legal impediments to doing so.

Why can't I just drop off my records at SFU Archives?

If you are thinking about donating your records, you are always welcome to visit us to discuss a proposed donation. However, we are unable to make acquisition decisions without first collecting contextual background information that is necessary to assess their fit with our acquisition mandate and the impact any acquisition will have on our financial, staff and physical resources. See How to Donate Your Records to SFU Archives for details. These assessments are best scheduled in advance.

In addition, we ask donors to sign a Donation Agreement, legally transferring ownership of the records to the University. Donation Agreements are required for even the smallest of donations. Particulars of the agreement are negotiated between you and SFU Archives, including any time-limited, public access restrictions; copyright assignments; and tax receipting. Even if these matters are of little interest to you and you are more than happy to drop off your records and allow SFU Archives to preserve and provide access to them in any manner we see fit, we still need to be able to prove ownership and document donor expectations (or lack thereof) to avoid confusion or any liability issues that might arise at a later date. The Staff Archivist needs some lead-time to prepare a donation agreement for your signature.

We always work with you to make the donation process as straightforward and as easy as possible. It's best if the donation proceeds in a structured way that allows SFU Archives to first assess the suitability of the proposed donation for our repository and then document the legal transfer of the records.

Please contact us if you have any questions about your donation.

How should I prepare my records for transfer to SFU Archives?

Start by preparing contextual background information on the records described in How to Donate Your Records to SFU Archives or contact the Staff Archivist to book a site visit and inspection of your records.

Do your best to maintain the order in which the records were originally created and kept so as to preserve their context and their interrelatedness. There is no need to re-organize your records into subject or thematic-based groupings. You do not need to spend any time trying to "clean things up".

Box the records. If you need boxes, SFU Archives can provide you with standardized document storage boxes or "banker boxes" (12" W x 15" D x 10" H).

If your records are in electronic form, talk with the Staff Archivist about how to prep them for transfer.

Keep all of your records together instead of offering different portions to different archival repositories. One of the guiding principles of archival practice is a respect for provenance and original order. This means the records of one creator (individual, family, or organization) should be kept together in the original order in which they were created and maintained.

Identify any records to which you would like to assign time-limited, public access restrictions because they contain sensitive personal information. It is preferable to assign time-limited restrictions to personal information as opposed to destroying the records or choosing not to include them in your donation. The sensitivity of personal information diminishes with time and SFU Archives wants to preserve an accurate account of an individual's life and career or the history and operations of an organization. Destroying records that contain personal information can create gaps in the historical record. Talk to the Staff Archivist about measures that we take to balance privacy concerns with the preservation of the historical record.

Remove publications from your proposed donation unless their removal would significantly impair an understanding of the records (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). Consider donating your books and periodicals to a library.

Inspect the records to be sure there are no mold or pest infestations (e.g. bugs, mouse droppings), especially if they have been kept in damp storage for a long period of time (e.g. basement, garage, attic, shed, storage unit).

Tell us about yourself or the creator of the records so that we can prepare a brief biographical sketch or administrative history to accompany your records. Documents that are helpful include resumes, who's who entries, obituaries, articles of incorporation, organizational charts, annual reports, or any other document that succinctly summarizes the life and career of an individual or the functions of an organization. Of particular interest is the following information:

Individuals or families

  • Full name(s)
  • City or town of residence
  • Education
  • Occupations, life and activities


  • Dates of founding and/or dissolution
  • Mandate
  • Predecessor and successor organizations
  • Reporting relationships
  • Organizational name changes
  • Name(s) of chief officers

Why would SFU Archives ask me to sign over copyright ownership of my records?

You are not required to assign copyright ownership of your records to SFU Archives as a condition of donation. However, we ask that you consider doing so because it facilitates the use of your records by our researchers.

Copyright protection arises automatically when an author creates a record. That means you own copyright to every letter you have written, every photograph you have taken, or every interview you have recorded.

Copyright is not triggered when researchers simply want to view your records for the purpose of research or private study. Researchers are also entitled to quote excerpts from your records.

Copyright permission need only be sought, for example, when a researcher wants to publish copies of your records in a monograph or journal article, post copies of your records on a website, or display copies of your records as part of a public presentation.

Consider the following use case. If a researcher wants to publish one of your photographs in a book, s/he needs your permission to do so. If you have retained copyright in your records, SFU Archives is required to direct that researcher to you to negotiate the terms and conditions of their use. That researcher then needs to provide SFU Archives with documented proof of your permission before we can allow a copy to be made. Further complicating the matter, copyright subsists in records for 50 years after the death of their creator, meaning permission to copy the records may need to be sought from heirs or the estate of the original copyright owner if the records have not yet passed into the public domain.

Assigning copyright ownership of your records to SFU Archives means our researchers can simply copy the materials in our holdings without first clearing permission with you. Since most donors want their materials to be used by others, assigning copyright to SFU Archives simply facilitates the creative repurposing of the material you donate to us.

Please note that, generally, as a donor you only own copyright to the works you authored, but not necessarily to all the records you donated. For example, you would not likely own copyright in the letters you received (as opposed to authored) and kept. While the letters are your personal property, copyright is actually owned by the authors of the in-coming letters.

Feel free to contact the Staff Archivist about any questions or concerns you may have with either retaining or assigning copyright ownership.

Can I, at a later date, add to the records that I previously donated to SFU Archives?

Yes, we will accept records at a later date if you want to add to the records you originally donated to SFU Archives.

How do I get a tax receipt for donating records to SFU Archives?

You may request a tax receipt for a donation of records to SFU Archives. When such a request is made, SFU Archives hires a manuscript appraiser to determine the fair market value of your records. This monetary valuation can only occur after your records are properly arranged and described by a professional archivist. Due to a backlog of donations awaiting processing, there can be delays in the issuing of tax receipts.

SFU Archives will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to issue tax receipts for later donations that are added to the original body of records you deposited with SFU Archives. This is due to the expense of hiring a manuscript appraiser. Please note that multiple appraisals for smaller portions of a body of records are likely, in the aggregate, to be of less monetary value than a single appraisal of a complete body of records. In general, the more complete the body of records, the more valuable they are likely to be appraised. Therefore, making one complete donation is generally preferable to making multiple donations over time.

Non-profit organizations pay no taxes and thus a tax receipt is of no benefit.

Feel free to contact the Staff Archivist if you have questions about the monetary appraisal process or the timing of tax receipting.

How can I make a financial donation to SFU Archives?

Financial donations are welcomed by SFU Archives. Much of the work of physically arranging and describing records is performed by archivists working at SFU on a contractual basis, supplementing our small, permanent staff compliment. Donating funds to SFU Archives allows us to hire professional archivists to process your donation more quickly than would otherwise be the case due to our large backlog.

Financial donations are eligible for an income tax receipt from SFU.

Feel free to contact the Staff Archivist about your interest in a making a financial donation in support of our preservation activities.

Can I bequeath my records to SFU Archives?

Yes, you can leave your records to SFU Archives in your Will. However, you should contact the Staff Archivist prior to including such a provision in your Will so that an assessment of your records can be made and their suitability for acquisition by SFU Archives determined. SFU Archives may decline records willed to the University if they fall outside our acquisition mandate. In addition, you should document your wishes with regards to the imposition of any time-limited, public access restrictions; the assignment of copyright ownership; and any financial donation you would like to make to SFU Archives to help with the processing and preservation of your records.