Every year, we receive new records to add to the Archives’ holdings. The Archives is the official repository for the City of Vancouver’s permanently valuable records, and City departments regularly transfer these records to us for permanent preservation. Another key component of the Archives’ mandate is to acquire private-sector records that also document the City’s history. This is in line with the Canadian archival practice known as “Total Archives,” in which archives of public bodies purposefully acquire not only their institutional records but also records from the community to more broadly preserve our heritage.
The Archives acquires private-sector records by donation (we rarely purchase). We accept donations throughout the year and all offers are reviewed collectively by archivists at one of our regular staff meetings.
The private-sector records we acquire come from businesses and organizations, non-profit groups and organizations, and individuals and families. Overall, we’re interested in material whose creator is (or was) based in or had substantial relationships with Vancouver, or was affected the history, culture, and development of the city. Questions that we use to assess an offer of material include:
- Are the records unique or demonstrate valuable information?
- Do the records provide documentary evidence of significant historical events?
- Is the creator’s activity or time period, or the social group they are part of, over- or under-represented in our holdings?
- To what degree do the records provide additional context to City records already found in our holdings?
The Archives’ Acquisition Policy describes our approach in more detail. Staff will also speak with potential donors to better understand the scope of the material on offer and the preservation requirements of those records. Generally, we’ll want to know what the records are about, what their physical format is, how much there is, and what kind of physical condition they are in. For material that staff feel doesn’t quite fit with our acquisition mandate, we may suggest an alternative institution that might be interested. For instance, records more relevant to a different municipality will be directed to that city’s archives, or records related to a specific theme may be directed to a university archives that collects in that subject area.
An acquisition can consist of a single photograph, letter or pamphlet, of hundreds of boxes of records in various formats, or anything in between.
Some examples of small donations made in 2019 include photographic negatives taken of the 1983 Walk for Peace demonstration, architectural plans for a downtown apartment building from the 1940s, and a 1980s poster campaigning for the creation of CRAB Park. The largest donation in 2019 was the Woodward’s Department Store records, consisting of 123 metres of textual records and other material dating from 1900 to 1990 and donated by the Hudson’s Bay Company (which had acquired all of Woodward’s assets in 1993).
The Archives may also receive new records from a donor whose records we have acquired in the past. This is called an accrual and, once arranged and described by an archivist, will be added to the donor’s existing fonds for public access.
Have material that you think may be of interest for our holdings? Please contact the the Archives about making a donation.
In response to COVID-19, the Archives is open and operating at modified service levels. We are still accepting new donations but please contact us beforehand as all deliveries are now by-appointment.
4 thoughts on “Acquisition Demystified: Community Contributions to the Archives”
Great post! Perhaps this has been explored before in a previous post, but are there any examples of private records that the CVA has purchased in the past?
We’ve only made purchases twice in the past 15 years, in large part because we do not have an acquisitions budget. One of those purchases was from an American donor who could not, as a non-Canadian taxpayer, take advantage of a Canadian tax receipt for a charitable gift in kind.
I would like to identify people in a short range of still pictures, as they include other authors and people than the one overall title. Is there some way to do this?
The best way to provide additional information is to email a list of changes to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the url or reference code for each photo description you’d like us to update