Articulating the Value of Your Archives to Resource Allocators

This post was authored by guest contributor Erin Lawrimore, University Archivist, University of North Carolina Greensboro


If someone asks “why is your archives important?,” how would you answer? Is your archives important because it preserves and provides access to important historical materials? Does its importance stem from its ability to foster a sense of community and “place?” Perhaps your response would focus more on its ability to provide accountability or serve as evidence of past actions. All are wonderful responses. But, when you are talking with a resource allocator – particularly one who has no past experience with archives – lofty ideals and notions of identity-building or remembrances of past events often aren’t going to cut it when they want to know why they should give you a sliver of the big (but shrinking) money pot. You need concrete evidence of the impact that your repository has in order to ensure that administrators’ support continues.

Cello_Music_CollectionThere are many ways to assess an archives’ value. From circulation numbers to gate counts to collection growth, each number gathered can provide useful clues as to how your archives is changing (or should be changing) over time. But, numbers alone do not make an effective argument for the archives. In order to advocate for your repository to administrators and others who hold the purse strings, you must frame these numbers in a way that fits their overarching missions and goals.

You must place the archives within the greater picture of your parent organization. To do this, of course, your parent organization must have clearly identified goals and objectives (hopefully it does, but, if not, that’s a whole different post!), and your archives must define its mission and purpose within those broader goals. How does your work contribute to the mission of your parent organization? For instance, a university archives is often housed within an academic library at a university. You should be able to clearly articulate how your archives directly impacts the library’s main objectives. If your library’s stated objective is to support undergraduate education, how does your archives contribute to this goal? How does your work help support undergraduate education at your institution?

Often you will need to advocate for your repository with administrators at an even higher organizational level. Returning to the example of the university archives, you may need to also consider how your archives contributes to the goals of the university (of course, ideally, your library’s goals will be in line with those of the university). Remember that you will often be advocating for your repository with non-archivists who, in all likelihood, are heavily focused on the present bottom line. Can you articulate the value of the archives in terms that non-archivists use and understand?

0205151447Once you understand and can articulate your value within the larger framework of your parent organization, you can then turn to the various metrics you have collected. How does each measurement demonstrate that you are contributing to the mission of your organization? For instance, return to the example of the library that is particularly focused on supporting undergraduate learning. A gate count of the number of undergraduates attending teaching sessions in the archives is one way of demonstrating your value to the library’s mission. But, that number might get lost in the world of general information literacy courses which most (if not all) undergraduates are required to attend at some point in their academic career. Perhaps adding information on the number of research hours accrued by undergraduate students coming into the archives for class assignments (as opposed to more basic instructional sessions) would enhance your advocacy and your ability to tie the unique contributions of the archives to the mission of the library.

Archives, libraries, and other cultural heritage institutions will always have the challenge of having numerous indirect and collective benefits that may not always be easy to directly measure and quantify. Yes, your archives holds unique information that can’t be found anywhere else and ensures that it is accessible now and in the future. But proving why that is important and why funding must be maintained (or increased) to support that role is critical to ensuring you get the money and support you need to do all of the work that goes into meeting that broad mandate.

5 thoughts on “Articulating the Value of Your Archives to Resource Allocators

  1. Geremew KEBEDE says:

    so interesting article , I like it . I am ”archivist” at the Ethiopian National Archives and Library Agency. do you know why I put in quotation the word archivist ? because I am not a real archivist though I want to be.How can I be that is Question for me and my nation because there is no a single archivist in country where rich in literature heritage.I was graduated in history. I want continue may education in the field information management with special emphasis in record management and archive administration. I sincerely request your help to show me the way in which I can realize my dreams. Thank you


  2. Franklin Angote Nganywa says:

    A nice article Erin.As an Archivist,truely i love this profession.It has helped me gain alot that cannot be measured.First,organising my collection,appraising it to determine how valuable it is to my clients then how i can comeup with better systems to use in maintaining and retrieving this collection.To me is just Hurray.An archives(local)can even help in maximizing profits and performance in organisations.What i learnt is its sometimes not easy to understand but after thorough research,study and understanding one becomes a consistent material within an organisation.Concentration within this profession is the key lead.Before deciding on acquiring these valuable(Permanently valued) material,collection,information,one should involve a variety of other professionals like,litigants,CEOs to determine this permanent value.Also unerstanding the whole organisational Structure contributes knowledge to organize your Archives.


    • Franklin Angote Nganywa says:

      I feel that in regards to the querry,perspectively and intelligently we need to understand what is an archives,and benefits to the users and the entire organization,institution or company.All the same the archivist.Does s/he find this beneficial to him/her?Conclusively we take an archives as an area,the materials and the process.Also we need to put in mind enduring value of the archives.Like in my country we have a national archives called The Kenya National Achives and Documentation Service with its head office in Nairobi and its territories in every county.It has a role of advising on good care of records in all public institution to some extend even private institutions.It even acquires these mateials and records for appraisal and permanent preservation for access to the public.Example we have Murumbi collection a very nice sector one can acquire knowledge and enjoy.It even has the mandate as per our law to destroy or advise on the destruction of the unwanton and archiving the permanetly valued.Thanks.


  3. Carleen says:

    Lots of very good points in this article and some clear ideas that can be taken forward easily. A metric I have taken to adding in to my data collection in relation to archive access and use is value in savings made for the organisation. As a small local government archive the research papers, as-built plans, investigative reports etc that were done years ago have become highly valuable records. Particularly where conversations start up again about taking forward “xyz” project/s that didn’t take off back in the day but have now resurfaced years later. Clear savings have been identified from an organisation perspective where as-builts or prior reports mean we don’t have to repay for the work to be done from scratch. I would suggest the ability to demonstrate savings to an organisation, especially substantial amounts of money, is often a winner in todays boardrooms/council chambers. Unfortunately this is not always the case with archives, but I suggest looking for those savings where you can in order to demonstrate another avenue of “value” to your collection.


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