CoPAR Bulletin 7: Saving Association Records

Saving Association Records
by Nancy J. Parezo

Every anthropological association produces and collects a wide variety of documents, which represent its collective memory. These records are important for the history of the discipline and for understanding its development and practice. Associations have identities that are defined by their current activities and purposes but are also shaped by their pasts. These pasts are contained in records that document past decisions and actions, as well as debates about the nature of the discipline. Without these crucial records, the only sources of understanding anthropology’s history and corporate identities will be published accounts, which are scarce, and individual memories, which are ephemeral. All anthropological associations have responsibilities to their past, current, and future members to document their decisions and actions. It is important that each association develop policies regarding their records, and establish records management systems.

It is the responsibility of officers, editors of journals and newsletters, and chairs of ad hoc and standing committees to retain those association records necessary for on-going business and preserve those needed to document the history and ensure the corporate memory of an association. Likewise, it is the responsibility of each out-going officer to determine which records are no longer needed for active business and to sort them for archival disposition. Responsibilities may be spelled out in association by-laws.

Record retention policies and guidelines should clearly state which records are to be kept, and when and where they are to be transferred. The guidelines should be published so that all members know of them and new officers should be briefed on their importance.

Every association should designate a member as historian or appoint a history and documentation committee to oversee and implement its record preservation policies and practices and establish records retention schedules.

Retention Schedule

In general, any record that was created in the routine performance or special business of an office or committee and that demonstrates the functioning of the association should be retained. It is the responsibility of each officer to ensure that documents needed for ongoing business are transmitted to his/her successor. This should be done as soon as possible after the beginning of term of the new officer.

Documents no longer active should be transferred to the association historian (or chair of the history committee) for coordinated transfer to the designated repository. It is the responsibility of this individual to produce an initial inventory and subsequent inventories at each transmittal or records. These inventories should remain part of the active records of the historian or history committee. Records should be transferred to the repository at two to five year intervals or after election of new officers. The historian should temporarily hold all non-active records at his/her home institution until transfer. He/she should also prepare and periodically up-date a listing of all items in the association archives.

If past association officers or other members hold inactive records in their personal files, they should transfer them to the historian who should ensure that the records are identified, inventoried, and added to those already placed in the repository.

Identifying Records for Retention or Archiving

An association’s records should be differentiated into those that should be held by the current officers, those that should be transferred to an archive when no longer needed for current business, and those that may be discarded when no longer in use. If there are any doubts as to whether an inactive record should be retained or discarded, the association historian should with an archivist at the designated repository.

Records to be retained in the association’s permanent files to meet legal requirements

Official records necessary for the transaction of business (signature authorities), old   and current articles of incorporation of by-laws (copies of current legal document) any legal documents, such as wills naming the association as beneficiary, deeds or contracts.

Records to be archived when no longer in use

Items reflecting general association business

  • contracts
  • election and poll results, correspondence, etc.
  • correspondence
  • officers’ files
  • reports (e.g., those presented at annual meetings)
  • policy statements
  • administrative and financial records
  • minutes of association and committee meetings
  • officers’ manuals and updates

Publications: journal, occasional publications, and newsletters

  • copies of each journal and newsletter issue
  • files relating to publication and review
  • legal materials pertaining to publications

Special activities and task forces

  • abstracts and programs of meetings
  • special committee materials


  • files and information concerning the history of the association
  • audio-visual materials, such as audio and video tapes and photographs (fully identified)
  • publicity (including press releases and media coverage)
  • memorabilia

Any records, such as anonymous reviews of manuscripts or proposed meeting sessions, for which confidentially or anonymity was promised should be so marked and restrictions as to future use noted. (Note: the editor of a journal should be consulted to determine what agreements were made with reviewers. Records should be retained in such a manner that does not compromise any promised confidentiality or anonymity.)

In cases where past officers or members have produced association records that may also be considered as personal property (such as correspondence that is partly personal and partly association business), a copy should be made and archived as part of the corporate memory of the association.

Personnel records and medical records of association officers and staff are subject to special legal constraints. Association officers and the association historian should seek appropriate legal guidance about how such records should be handled.

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