Records Management for Student Organizations: University Archives 101

How to manage your group's records, what to keep and to discard, and how to donate materials to the University Archives

University Archives 101

What are Archives?

Archives is the term we use for a collection of records (letters, memos, notes, photographs, etc.), that are originals or unique, and are/were collected by one person or by one group. At the University Archives, this means that we are the keepers of the papers of former students, student organizations, and faculty members. We also collect and make accessible the records of the University's administration: from the Office of the President and Provost, to the schools, institutes, centers, academic departments and administrative offices.

How are Archives different from Libraries?
  • Archives collect unique materials (letters, notes, drafts of novels, etc.) whereas Libraries collect copies of published or publicly available works such as books, periodicals, recordings, databases, etc.
  • Libraries organize materials by subject areas: think of call numbers and how books related to one subject can be found on the same shelf. Archives are not organized by subject, but rather by the person(s) or institutions who created, used and collected the records. Archivists arrange and describe records as they were kept originally. For example, the Office of the President records are kept in the context in which they were created but these records can cover an unlimited range of subjects: from the introduction of coeducation, the 1968 student strike, to the divestment from South Africa protests.
What is available at the University Archives?
  • To find materials related to student organizations and student life in general, check out the Student Life research guide. This guides lists those resources available at the University Archives: from publications to archival collections. You will find resources online (like the Columbia Daily Spectator) and some that are only available for in-person person consultation at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Butler Library. There are also additional guides to help you locate materials on the LGBT student groups, Varsity Show, WKCR, and athletics
  • In addition to the research guides, you can find a list of our most requested materials in our Collection Overview. This list includes the major administrative records (Trustees, President and Provost), our largest photograph collections, and other frequently requested items such as yearbooks.
  • For materials available online, please check out the Columbia History Resources. Here we have collected links to materials relevant to those looking to know more about Columbia.
How do I access materials at the University Archives?
  • Archival collections are non-circulating and can only be viewed in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's reading room (RBML). In order to use the collections at the RBML, you will need to register your own Special Collections Research Account before your visit and to validate the account in person with government-issued photo identification or Columbia ID card. Once you have the account, you will be able to request materials and schedule appointments in the reading room. For more information, check out our Research & Access page.
Why should we donate our records?
  • By archiving your organization’s records at the University Archives, you know that future members will have access to these resources when planning outreach and fundraising initiatives, when researching alumni, when answering questions about past events and projects, and when looking for historic material to promote the group.
How do we donate our records?
  • In making the decision to donate your records to the University Archives, discuss it with your organization’s membership and get everyone on board. If needed, the UA staff can arrange a visit to the RBML and meet with group members to answer questions.
  • Donating your organization's records is not a one-time event. Create documentation or assign the duty of maintaining a relationship with the archives to an officer, like a Historian or Secretary. The end of each academic year is a great time to review your group's records and determine what might be eligible for inclusion in the archives.
  • The University Archives also has some guidance on how to prepare your materials for donation. Please read our recommendations on how to pack boxes and how to transfer digital records.

About the images

Left -  Columbia College seniors marching to Class Day ceremony, June 3, 1940. Scan 3631. Historical Photograph Collection; center - women Columbia College seniors at May 13, 1987 commencement ceremony. Scan 2774. Office of Public Affairs photograph collection; right - view of Columbia College graduates during 1964 commencement ceremony. Scan 3842. Office of Public Affairs photograph collection.

Jester, 1945

University Archives

Butler Library postcardColumbia University Archives
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Butler Library, 6th Floor
535 West 114th Street
New York, NY 10027

Phone: (212) 854-3786
Fax: (212) 854-1365

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