Suggested first steps for perserving YMCA historical records

Is your YMCA thinking about embarking on a project to collect and preserve its historical records? (If not, find out why you should consider it.) Here are some tips on how to get started.

Identifying what should be saved

Records that document your YMCA's programs, activities, and relationship with the local community are all of historical value. In addition, genealogists are always interested in biographical material about staff members. Here at the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, we get a lot of inquiries from researchers who are looking for information about a relative whom they know was secretary or director of a particular YMCA. Examples of types of material to target include (but are certainly not limited to) the following:

  • Founding documents (charters, articles of incorporation, bylaws, etc.)
  • Newsletters, both external and internal
  • Board and committee minutes
  • Annual reports
  • Project or activity reports and summaries
  • Local procedure or policy manuals
  • Summary financial data
  • Grant applications
  • Staff directories
  • Scrapbooks and photographs (preferably with names, places, and dates identified)
  • Copies of publicity and outreach materials, brochures, videos, etc.
  • Correspondence files of key staff members

Examples of material which is generally NOT suitable for archives include the following:

  • Material still being regularly used or referred to in daily operations
  • Non-summary financial records, such as receipts, invoices, cancelled checks, etc.
  • Personnel records, with the exception of resumes and other biographical or summary information

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Organizing the records

Some basic DOs and DON'Ts:

  • DO keep materials in their original, labeled file folders or place in folders and label.
  • DON'T use stick-on labels, as the adhesive dries up and the labels will fall off. Instead write labels directly on file folders.
  • DO keep materials created or generated by the same program, committee, or office together.
  • DON'T attempt to rearrange materials by subject matter.
  • DON'T pull individual documents from files. Do not try to find single, interesting documents in your files. It is better (and less time consuming!) to handle records as sets or groups rather than to try to identify individual documents and pull them from the files.
  • DON'T archive records that you use regularly. For example, if the records are used on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis, they do not belong in the archives.

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Helpful information to compile about your records

Whether you plan to maintain your own archives in-house or donate your historical records to another repository, there is some basic information you can compile about your records which will be helpful to anyone who works with them.

  • Date span of materials
  • Total number of boxes
  • A very basic list of what is in each box (could be a list of file folder titles or just a summary of the contents, e.g. "minutes 1960-1985 and newsletters 1978-1990").

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Deciding where to keep the records

Once you identify and collect records of historical value, you'll need to make a decision as to how they should be maintained. For records and papers of the national-level YMCA and its leaders, the Kautz Family YMCA Archives is the official repository.

Procedures for transferring records to the Kautz Family YMCA Archives

For historical material on local YMCAs, the two basic options are to establish your own archives in-house or to donate the records to a local repository, such as a historical society or special collection based at a local college or university.

In-house archives

The biggest advantage to starting some type of archives program in-house are that records are close at hand if you need access to them. On the other hand, starting an archives will require knowledgeable staff or volunteers, a suitable storage space, and the development of procedures for accessing the material when needed.

Donating to a local repository

Donating your historical records to a local repository can ensure that the material is preserved long-term under the care of people knowledgeable about the care and maintenance of archival records. Staff will typically catalog the material and create inventories, finding aids, or indexes which allow you to more easily identify and locate material of interest to you later. Choosing a repository that holds the records of other local organizations and individuals can also be a great way to connect the history of your Y with the history of the community in general.

Most repositories will require that materials be donated outright. Although they may be willing to make arrangements for you to borrow materials back for special exhibits or other events, generally material once donated stays in the custody of the repository. Staff requiring access to the material are generally not allowed to borrow it and would need to use it on site in the repository's reading room. Keep in mind that the terms of such donations are often negotiable. The staff of the Kautz Family YMCA Archives is available to advise on appropriate repositories and assist with donation negotiations.

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How volunteers can help

Whether you decide to keep your historical records in-house or donate them, identifying and collecting these materials can be a great opportunity to utilize or expand your volunteer base. A lot of people are excited about the idea of working with historical material. Here are a few ideas for ways you might involve volunteers:

  • Assisting with boxing and labeling of files
  • Typing up box or folder lists
  • If you have volunteers that have been associated with the organization for a long time, they may be able to help identify people or events in unlabeled photographs.

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How the Kautz Family YMCA Archives can help

Please feel free to contact the staff at the Kautz Family YMCA Archives for assistance or advice on any of the above.

While we generally only collect records of the YMCA of the USA (i.e. records of the organization at the national level), we are very willing to help connect you with an appropriate repository for your Y's records or advise you on maintaining them yourself.

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