FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS FROM DONORS ABOUT DONATING PERSONAL PAPERS AND RECORDS TO THE WEST FLORIDA HISTORY CENTER AND UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES
What is the West Florida History Center and University Archives?
The Archives is a section of the John C. Pace Library, University of West Florida, which specializes in the acquisition, preservation, cataloging, and making information available which documents the history of the West Florida region (ten-county area of the Florida panhandle between the Perdido and Apalachicola Rivers). It is the largest research collection on West Florida in the United States and one of the few major archival depositories dealing with Florida and the Gulf Coast.
Materials in the collections include personal papers of individuals and families, business records of lumber, railroad, and other companies, church records, records of organizations such as fraternal and civic organizations (Lions, Rotary, League of Women Voters), community action groups (Friends of Perdido Bay), health organizations and similar groups.
Chronologically, the research collections range from microfilm Spanish, British, and French records of the Gulf Coast from the sixteenth-century, to letters of West Florida businessmen in the 1840s to Civil War diaries and letters. Bringing the materials up to the present time, the collections include newspapers published in the panhandle, environmental studies, maps, photographs, blueprints, oral history interviews, audio and videotapes, digital files, and related items.
The purpose of the collection is to provide information for the use of University students and faculty in their studies, primary sources for the training of students in History, Archaeology, Business, and other areas, as well as to support research by the West Florida community. The collections are open to any user. Community users have included school students working on History Fair projects, to environmentalists studying wetland maps, to individuals restoring houses or buildings, or people interested in the history and culture of the Gulf region.
Why are we interested in your papers?
Historians, researchers and students of history have found that the history of an area, a person, or a family is more often told by unpublished records than printed materials. Unpublished materials can include letters, correspondence, reports, minutes, planning documents, financial statements, programs, brochures, newsletters, photographs, and other kinds of personal and business records and papers.
All people and organizations produce and accumulate these materials. We are approaching you because we believe your records are an important historical resource that should be preserved as part of the historical record of West Florida.
My records are recent, not historical.
Unlike published books, most papers and records are extremely limited in quantity—perhaps only enough photocopies for a board or membership of an organization. If we don’t actively locate and save these materials now, they may not be available when they are “historical.” We take the long range approach to preserve important records now for the future.
What kinds of papers do you want?
This is a difficult question to answer—first, because there are an infinite variety of the kinds of records, and second, because a document that might not be important to you could be very important to us—perhaps that single issue of a newsletter that we are missing to complete a file, or a newspaper clipping about an event that other researchers have hunted for.
What should I do to make a donation?
Please call us and let’s discuss your donation. We can make arrangements to meet with you, pack the materials, and pick up any donation.
My files are a mess; I should sort them out first.
Seriously, everyone says this! But it is not necessary to sort the materials – we do this as part of the cataloging process.
First, we acknowledge your donation and ask you to sign a deed of gift form. The records will be kept together as a collection and a title and accession number given to them – for example, the “John Jones Papers” or the “Gulf Islands National Seashore Collection.”
Second, we will go through the materials item by item. Materials will be sorted, placed in folders, and folder titles, subjects, and dates identified and marked. Some preservation steps will be taken – rusty paper clips removed, fragile items treated and protected.
At this state, some items may be discarded – blank forms, empty folders, etc. and some items may be singled out to be placed in other collections such as large maps, photographs, etc. There might be some items that are not needed – every group of papers has these – for example, say a 1980 Atlanta phone book or a highway map of Rhode Island. These items can be returned to the donor if requested or we try to forward them to other libraries or archives. There also may be personal items that will be returned to the donor.
Finally, an inventory of the collection will be prepared and a copy given to the donor. We will prepare subject and name indexes for our catalog and place the collection in our storage areas (climate-controlled shelving stacks).
Can anyone use my papers?
Can anyone use my papers?
Yes, any researcher will be allowed to read or study any materials donated. All researchers must register with the Archives staff, and only the staff will provide the materials to the user. Collections cannot be checked out of the Department.
I’m afraid there may be some items that I don’t want people to view.
We can discuss this at the time of donation. It is true that a collection may include “sensitive” items but we can arrange restrictions on use or place a “closed” time on an item. Restrictions on donations are very rare, but we will discuss them with you.
Actual use depends on the subject and the kinds of materials. We have students, third-graders, and doctoral candidates researching the history of West Florida cities, people, institutions, churches, businesses and historic events (Civil War, Great Depressions, etc.). Others are restoring houses, looking for deed and abstracts, old photographs, histories of families who lived in the house. All materials, unless otherwise restricted, are made available to any user.
We understand. The West Florida History Center and University Archives is the largest and one of the few major research collections on the Gulf Coast. Before making a commitment, we encourage you to visit us, see our facility, learn how we preserve and catalog materials, and see some of the 750 collections and more than 1.5 million documents already housed in the John C. Pace Library. We are proud of our facility and the services that we provide.
We can also discuss other alternatives such as photo-reproduction of papers so there is more than one copy, or the possibility of a deposit or permanent loan, as opposed to an outright donation.
Are there other ways that I can help the Archives?
Yes. Ask your friends and professional acquaintances to consider donating their collections to the Archives. Do you belong to organizations, committees, or churches? Do they have older records that need preservation that they would like to donate?
Even with our commitment to preserve West Florida history through unpublished records, we still have limited resources – staff and time. By acting on our behalf in encouraging others to donate or by delivering materials to us, you help both us as well as the cause of preservation of West Florida history.
HOW TO CONTACT US:
West Florida History Center and University Archives
John C. Pace Library
University of West Florida
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514-5750
University Librarian/University Archivist