Artist's Legacy Toolkit: Access

[ Introduction | Using this Toolkit | Identify | Organize | Preserve | Access | Resources | Copyright | Digital Files | Records Management ]

Why Provide Access?

A well-organized records system has many benefits. Easy access to your materials can help when you are creating new work, restaging an older work, applying for grants, responding to requests from researchers, loaning items for exhibitions, transferring your archive to another organization, or selling your business. If you needed to pull your lease, 501(c) status, budgets, and resumes for all your employees for an audit or grant application, how long would it take you to find these materials?



Image of Dance Theatre of Harlem archive project:
File cabinet drawer with labeled U-Matic and VHS tapes.
Photo by Kat Bell.

Sharing Your Materials

Policies protect your materials when accessed by, borrowed by, or transferred to outside people and institutions. Segregate sensitive files, keeping files with information such as passport or social security numbers separate so that they can be removed before outside access is given to the materials. If you are lending materials for an exhibition, the borrowing institution may have policies in places that you will be asked to read and sign. See the guidelines below for more information on lending. If you are a seasoned artist ready to part with your materials, you will need to speak directly with the institution you wish to give your archive to. Need further assistance? View the Society of American Archivists' Guide to Donating Your Organizational Records to a Repository

The following links contain examples of policies that you may encounter:

Deeds of Gift

If you donate your materials to an archival repository, you will be asked to sign a Deed of Gift, a formal legal agreement that transfers ownership and legal rights to the collection. Read a brochure from the Society of American Archivist that provides information about what you can expect:

A Guide to Deeds of Gift

Look at sample deeds of gift:

Building an In-House Archive? Develop Access Procedures

If you plan to provide research access to your materials while they remain in your possession, develop written procedures for how people can gain access. This will protect your materials and save time when you deal with research requests.


→ See Legacy Tool #10: Developing Access Guides and Procedures


What are your in-house access needs?

Before setting up guidelines for access procedures, be sure you understand how your staff is using materials and how systems might be made more efficient. Use or adapt this survey text to gather information.


→ See Legacy Tool #11: Access Survey


Lending Your Items for an Exhibition?

Lending institutions bear the dual responsibility of making their holdings as accessible as possible while setting conditions and methods for lending materials that minimize the risks to the materials. In balancing these responsibilities, lending institutions generally should give priority to the safeguarding and long-term preservation of the materials requested for loan. In determining whether materials should be loaned and for how long, lending institutions may also consider the needs of users who may expect to have ready access to materials locally. Final authority regarding whether to lend the requested materials, to provide or allow reproductions, or to accept any specific loan arrangement or terms rests with the lending institution in keeping with its ultimate responsibility as the owner or legal custodian of the materials.1. Review requests to borrow special collections materials with due regard for the access, security, and preservation needs of the requested materials.

  • Lending institutions should have a conservator or other appropriately trained personnel evaluate the condition of the requested materials prior to making a commitment to lend them.
  • Individuals who exercise direct curatorial responsibility for the requested materials should be involved in the approval process. In some cases, such as those involving materials with high financial and cultural value, higher levels of institutional authority may be required for final approval.

2. Ensure that the institution has proper ownership or authority to lend the requested materials.

  • This is especially important in cases in which loaned materials are owned by a depositor or third party, or when materials will cross international borders and be subject to customs inspections.

3. Determine the measures needed to safeguard the materials throughout the loan process and term.

  • Such measures may include conservation repair or stabilization, special packaging and shipment, insurance, specific environmental conditions, and special instructions for handling and display.b. The measures should be adequately described and documented in the written loan agreement.

4. Inform the borrowing institution in writing of any legal requirements or other restrictions and conditions concerning the use, display, reproduction, or citation of the loaned materials.5. Respond to all loan requests in a timely and professional manner.6. Offer to provide appropriate substitutes, such as reproductions or related materials, if the original materials cannot be lent.

Source: ACRL/RBMS Guidelines For Interlibrary And Exhibition Loan Of Special Collections Materials

[ Introduction | Using this Toolkit | Identify | Organize | Preserve | Access | Resources | Copyright | Digital Files | Records Management ]