Missouri Historical Records Advisory Board

Best Practices for Local Archives and Repositories


Introduction

The Missouri Historical Records Advisory Board (MHRAB) is the central advisory board for historical records planning within the state of Missouri. The MHRAB provides state-level appraisal of grant proposals submitted to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) by Missouri repositories. In addition, the MHRAB maintains an online directory of Missouri’s historical records repositories and Docline, a listserv through which Missouri’s records keepers can share best practices, grant and training opportunities, and other cooperative strategies.

In 2008, as part of an in depth assessment of the condition of Missouri’s historic records, public meetings were held to gauge the status of historic records repositories around the state. A common theme was the desire to have access to basic information to assist in properly administering historic records repositories. This became an action item in the resulting 2009 strategic plan, Securing Our Documentary Heritage: A Plan for the Preservation of Missouri’s Historical Records.

The MHRAB set out to collect sample policies, procedures and forms from institutions of varying sizes to serve as examples to assist local groups in better managing and preserving their collections. Thanks to the following institutions for sharing their administrative documents: the State Historical Society of Missouri, the Missouri State Archives, Missouri State University Special Collections and Archives, A. T. Still University Museum of Osteopathic Medicine, Johnson County Historical Society, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Perry County Lutheran Historical Society and Lutheran Heritage Center, Ray County Historical Society, St. Joseph Museum, and Vernon County Historical Society.

What are best practices?

“Best practices” are accepted methods of operating that provide results that are considered good, or better. Large institutions can easily meet these benchmarks, while smaller institutions can find them difficult to achieve. As we all share a common goal of wanting to preserve historic records, these should be seen as minimum standards for care.

Building

A sound building is a necessity. Walls should be sturdy; roofs should not leak. Records and exhibits are heavy, the floors need to be up to the task of supporting them, 300 pounds per square foot is a minimal requirement. The plumbing needs to be in good shape, no leaks. No water-bearing pipes running over records.

Temperature and humidity need to be controlled, year round. For most small institutions with mixed-use space (meaning record storage and people) a temperature of about 70 degrees and humidity below 50% is sufficient.

Security must be maintained. Make sure doors and window locks are solid. Everyone should not have a key to the facility—control access. Provide secure space for coats, bags and other items that could conceal records. Keep researchers in sight.

Disasters happen, maintain fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. If at all feasible, automated fire and burglar alarm systems should be in place. You should develop a disaster plan—how you will respond to a disaster, who you call, etc

Administration and staffing

Someone has to be in charge. Whether the organization is run by volunteers, or a board, someone needs to be authorized to operate the facility and make day-to-day decisions. Institutional policy and planning decisions should be made by a board.

Staff needs to be trained, to whatever extent possible, in handling records, providing reference assistance, and operation of the facility (adjusting/monitoring temperature, opening/closing the facility, using computers, turning on the lights, etc.)

A list of the facility’s holdings, an inventory, should be kept and updated as necessary. This indicates what the facility owns and allows researchers to find what they need.