Preserving Cornell University History

The University Archives supports Cornell's mission to discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge by collecting, and appropriately sharing records that document Cornell University’s history. The Archives serves as Cornell's institutional memory, and as a resource for those interested in understanding Cornell’s history and impact on the world.

The University Archives holds official university records and publications, records of student organizations, as well as selected faculty papers and alumni collections. The Archives’ holdings come in many formats, including paper files, printed publications, bound volumes, film, audio and video recordings, print and digital photography, three-dimensional artifacts, and born-digital electronic records. The Archives relies on the assistance of the Cornell community in identifying materials of enduring value, and the information here is intended to serve as a starting point for transferring materials to the Archives. We appreciate the help in documenting the history of our great University and those that have been a part of Cornell.

The information below gives details about University Archives polices that may useful for those who create, manage, or otherwise discover records of a historical nature that should be preserved. The page provides insight on some types of materials that are accepted and other procedural details. These details can be considered just guidelines and the University Archivist and University Records Manager are available to consult on any questions or details not covered here.

What the University Archives Collects

University Records

University Records are records in any form that are created, received, recorded, or legally filed in the course of university business. University records serve as evidence of the university’s organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, transactions or other activities. Records that have an institutional or legal necessity need to be retained for a certain number of years, and sometimes permanently. Management and retention of these records is governed by the University Records Retention Policy (University Policy 4.7). Policy 4.7 includes useful definitions as well as identifying the appropriate retention periods and offices of record. Staff who create or manage records covered by this policy should be familiar with its scope, and are encouraged to contact the University Archivist or University Records Manager with any questions.

Departmental or Office Records

Much of Cornell’s daily work is carried out by departments, offices, programs, and centers engaged in academic, research, and administrative work.

What is collected:

  • Departmental histories, including narrative, visual or other media items
  • Faculty and staff biographical material including job descriptions
  • Minutes and meeting proceedings
  • Organizational charts
  • Academic program proposals
  • Accreditation reports and correspondence or other institutional evaluation files
  • Departmental level correspondence and supporting documentation regarding administrative matters including topics of interest, events, legal, fiscal, other non-routine issues of significance impacting the department
  • Policies, including legal opinion or directive, resolutions, rules, regulations, manuals of procedures, etc.
  • Official publications of the department including public communication or marketing materials and event, conference and symposia materials
  • Special project or program files including related publications, audio and visual aids, photographs, handouts, publicity material
  • Reports, annual, daily, long-range, project related
  • Subject files

What is not collected without consultation

  • Active files, those that are still being used regularly do not need to be transferred to the University Archives, but a schedule should be developed so that as the files become inactive they are transferred at regular intervals
  • Personnel files, files containing hiring, tenure review or disciplinary materials
  • Student records that fall under FERPA
  • Records that are scheduled for destruction
  • Duplicate copies of materials, either within the collection or that duplicate other holdings within the University Archives

Faculty or Research Records

The University Archives wishes to document the whole range of academic life within the University. Unlike official university records, faculty papers are the property of the individual and must be transferred through a deed of gift. Faculty may donate materials that document their research, teaching, and other accomplishments. Additionally, the University Archives welcomes material concerning policies, programs, discoveries, and decisions that reflect development, change, or events of impact within the discipline. Family and personal papers may also be included. These materials can be in physical form, digital, or on media, such as disks or CDs.

What is collected:

  • Biographical sketches, resumes, curriculum vitae
  • Bibliographies
  • Course related materials, descriptions, syllabi, or lecture notes, reading lists, class presentations
  • Research notes, data, subject files
  • Monograph publications, including annotated drafts
  • Lists of conferences attended and talks or papers given
  • Speeches and presentations
  • Meeting minutes
  • Diaries or journals
  • Scrapbooks
  • Photographs, preferably identified, and other audio visual material
  • Correspondence including email

What is not collected without consultation

  • Student records that fall under FERPA, such as grading or advising materials.
  • Duplicates of publications, including offprints
  • Reference photocopies
  • Memorabilia, plaques, awards (with some exceptions)
  • Extensive data sets

Student Organizations, Clubs, Fraternity & Sorority Records

Cornell's student organizations provide a great snapshot of University life. We want to help preserve the activities and accomplishments of these groups. Groups are welcome to arrange visits to view their material individually or in one of our classrooms. We encourage group leaders to contact us to transfer their group's materials to the archives on a regular basis. We also advise groups to utilize correspondence to alumni, such as newsletters, as a method to solicit materials to add to their collection.

What is collected:

  • Founding documents, constitution, bylaws
  • Meeting minutes
  • Officer lists
  • Publications, newsletters, annual reports
  • Event ephemera, programs, advertising
  • Personal experiences and reminisces about being with the group
  • Photographs, preferably identified, and other audio visual material
  • Scrapbooks

What is not collected without consultation

  • Duplicates
  • Bulky objects of little historic value
  • Organic or hazardous material that may degrade and cause damage to collections, such as food, liquids, batteries
  • If unexplained, materials relating activities that very few people would understand in the future

Transferring Records to the University Archives

Preparing and Transferring Records

Small amounts of records can be delivered in person or mailed to 2B Kroch. Larger collections can be delivered to the Uris Library loading dock; please inform the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections front desk at 607-255-3530 before arriving. A courier service, such as Red Runner, can be used as well.

Boxing Material

Materials do not need to be in preservation quality, acid free, boxes or folders before transferring them to the University Archives. If you plan on reboxing or organizing a collection we can provide input on proper techniques and supplies. We prefer that rehoused collections avoid the use of hanging files, paper clips, sticky notes. If items are already foldered and labeled it is not necessary to relabel them, but if items are being placed into new folders we prefer folder descriptions be written in pencil on the folder.

Describing Material

Materials should come with a basic level of description. The more detailed the description the better. If assistance, such as student help, is available to describe the materials at a box or folder level contact the Technical Services Archivist so that we can guide the description creation process. We can provide a template for creating a box list in Excel that can be used for creating a guide to the material. Proper description of materials allows them to be more easily found and more useful for research. Particularly important and special items should be noted when transferring items. The University Archives relies on the creators of the material, or other subject experts on the faculty or in transferring departments who are most familiar with the material to help provide the best description and properly identify what is most significant. While there is no cost to add materials to the University Archives, financial support for archival supplies or processing of particularly large collections is greatly appreciated.

Restrictions on Use or Publication of Materials

Materials in the University Archives that are not restricted are made available on equal terms to all researchers. Some materials in the collections have restrictions that limit their access or use. When depositing items in the University Archives restrictions can be placed on the entirety of the collection or portions therein. Restrictions can be customized to meet the needs or legal requirements of the donor. Restrictions typically fall into one of the following categories or a combination of several.

  • Time based

    The restriction expires on a certain date, after a specified number of years, or upon the death of an individual.

  • Permission based

    Materials are restricted to the permission of a specific individual, a department or office.

  • Use based

    Materials not in the public domain may have specific copyright restrictions in place that will impact publication of the materials. For more information, please see Guidelines for Using Text, Images, Audio, and Video from Cornell University Library Collections.

Restrictions may also restrict use of an item because of its value, historical or monetary, or due to its fragility or availability of a physical or digital surrogate. If requesting items be restricted they should be marked clearly. Restrictions should be described as to why the restriction is in place and include information about who has the authority to grant permission or adjust the restriction. University Archives staff will administer restrictions and advise researchers in navigating restrictions, but may request involvement from the researchers in obtaining permissions. The University Archives prefers, if at all possible, that collections have at least some portion that can be accessible to the public without restriction and that restrictions in place have a time based expiration in which the material can be made public. It is understood that this is not always possible. Researches using restricted collections acknowledge personal responsibility for respecting the privacy and confidentiality of the materials they view. Researchers shall also inform staff if they find confidential or restricted material not labeled as such. Information on confidential data can be found in University Policy 5.10.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Care must be taken with any materials containing student records. The University Archives typically does not accept student files that are covered by FERPA except from offices of record for this type of material. If there are materials that fall under FERPA that an individual or office would like preserved in the collections or if the transferring party believes that there may be student files in records being sent to the University Archives please notify us of this before transferring records. More information about access to student information is available in University Policy 4.5.


Evan Fay Earle
University Archivist
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
2B Carl A. Kroch Library
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853


Eileen Keating
University Records Manager
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
2B Carl A. Kroch Library
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853