The correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, the journals of Lewis and Clark, and the Manhattan Project notebook are all examples of records with historical value. They’re the stuff that history textbooks are filled with, and without question, these records significantly inform our understanding of U.S. history.
How do we determine if records are historical, though, when the circumstances are less obvious? Or if the temporal distance between the present moment and when the record was created is relatively short?
Recently, a Managing Public Records workshop attendee asked this very question. She wanted to know why things that were significant to her agency’s history were not necessarily scheduled for eventual transfer to the State Archives. Indeed, she posed a good question—one that others may have pondered as well.
Staff of the North Carolina State Archives explained that records, which may be historically valuable for a specific agency, may not be broadly valuable. The State Archives identifies, preserves, and makes available records that protect the rights of citizens and that are historically relevant to the entire state of North Carolina—an admittedly broad scope that must work in conjunction with careful stewardship of the archives’ finite financial and physical resources.
If, for instance, an agency contributes to a state-wide program that reflects a marked social or economic change across the U.S., such records might be good candidates for eventual inclusion in the State Archives.
On the other hand, an agency may hold records that document that particular agency’s birth, growth, and significant moments in its history, but those records may be duplicative or only relevant to the agency. Some examples might include scrapbooks containing ephemeral items, newspaper clippings (whole copies of newspapers are available on microfilm through the State Library), photographs or slides (a representative selection might have historical value), or reference files that are ultimately derived from other sources.
Feel free to contact the State Archives or a Records Analyst if you have any questions about the historical value of your agency’s records.