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Donating to the Collections

Photograph of a group of boys and men posing in front of a fence.

What to Donate

Friends Historical Library accepts donations of as little as a single item and as large as dozens of boxes. Material need not be organized; it need not be "old"; and it need not relate to a famous individual, event, or organization in order for it to be historically significant. Historical material itself should not be mailed or dropped off without first consulting with the staff; a repository must evaluate all material offered and ask the donor to sign a donation agreement.

Do you need to "cull" the papers or reorganize them?
Archivists are experts in identifying materials that are candidates for long-term retention. Because the research value of records may be diminished if items are removed or if the records are rearranged, donors are encouraged to contact the Library staff before weeding, discarding, or reorganizing their papers and records.

What should I do with my electronic records?
Yes, the Library can accept certain types of digital files. Email to ask for instructions.

Will the Library take everything you offer?
Although FHL cannot accept everything that may be offered -- either because of staff and space constraints or because the papers are not within our collecting mission -- it welcomes the chance to review material. If it is not appropriate for us, we may be able to identify another site.

Donating Personal or Family Papers to a Repository

The Library can only invest materials and labor in the preservation of items which they own. Except for Meeting records, which are covered under a depository agreement, Friends Historical Library accepts donations of individual or family papers, but will not accept such material on deposit or on loan. Donors are asked to sign a donation agreement, which formally signifies that the papers become the actual property of Friends Historical Library.

Information for Quaker Meeting clerks

Please begin by consulting this handy two-page overview about depositing meeting recordsIt answers frequently asked questions about what to deposit in the archives, paper vs. electronic documents, ownership and access regulations, and more. We welcome further questions, as well as inquiries about arranging deposits to the Friends Historical Library, by email ( or telephone (610-328-8496).

A few Yearly Meetings have developed guidelines for the maintenance and preservation of monthly meeting and committee records. Clerks and recorders are encouraged to consult these guidelines, even if their own Yearly Meeting has not developed specific instructions. A couple relevant, although somewhat dated, resources include the Records Committee of Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Handbook on Records: their Creation, Maintenance, and Preservation in the Meeting (1989), and Thomas C. Hill's survey of historical and current Discipline Provisions Regarding Records (1998, 2003).

Access to Collections

Once material is donated to FHL, it does not circulate - in order to insure that it is preserved as long as humanly possible. Access to donated papers is governed by our written policies regarding availability, photo duplication, and publication. A prospective donor should become familiar with such policies and discuss any special needs or concerns with the curator before completing the donation agreement.

Restrictions on Access

Sensitive material should not be removed by the donor. Instead, the donor should discuss with the Curator the possibility of restricting part of the collection to protect the privacy of the donor or others. While the Library desires to make all papers freely accessible to researchers, they normally will agree to reasonable and equitable restrictions for limited periods of time.

Literary Rights or Copyright

Assignment of copyright is often complex, and you should work with the repository staff to clarify issues of copyright ownership. Generally, copyright belongs to the creator of writings and other original material (such as photos and music), but can be legally transferred to heirs or others. Moreover, ownership of copyright is separable from ownership of the physical item. Curators often ask donors to donate not only the physical papers but also any literary rights in them that the donor might own. This request is made to make it easier for researchers to use quotations from the papers in their work.

Conditional Gifts

A repository usually is not able to promise that donated materials will be placed on exhibit or used in some other specific fashion as a condition of accepting the gift.

Monetary Appraisals for Tax Deductions

In certain circumstances, it may be possible for a donor to take a tax deduction for the donation of a manuscript collection to a repository. The Curator cannot give tax advice, nor is he permitted to appraise the monetary value of a collection. The curator may be able to provide donors with a list of local manuscript appraisers who can (for a fee) make monetary appraisals for the donor. It is up to the donor to arrange for and bear the cost of any such appraisal, although the repository will make the collection available to an appraiser hired by the donor.

Monetary donations

Friends Historical Library is a non-profit, charitable organization. Preparing papers for use by researchers is the most expensive operation in a repository. Although such grants are rarely a prerequisite for the acceptance of a collection, donors who are able to assist repositories by making grants toward the arrangement, cataloging, and conservation of their donations of papers are encouraged to do so.

We also gratefully accept monetary donations from any interested person. The use of the Library is free, and we are open to the public, but limited budgets frequently make it necessary to apply for grants and seek funding for special projects.

Adapted from: A Guide to Donating Your Personal or Family Papers to a Repository ©1994 by the Society of American Archivists.