PCMA

The History of Toronto and Surrounding Areas

About the Archives

In this section: a definition of archives; our collecting mandate; uses for archival sources; role of the archivist; make a donation to the archives.

What is an Archives?

Archives are institutions that collect, preserve and make accessible a variety of original documentary materials containing information of permanent historical value. To fulfill such a mandate, a professional archives must have:

  • Professional staff
  • Sustained funding
  • Legal authority
  • Secure storage facilities
  • Regular public access
  • Written policies on acquisition, preservation, description and access.

What exactly does the Archives collect?

Archival material by definition is unique, original and one-of-a-kind material worthy of long-term preservation. By collecting the paper trail, archives keep the record. They hold evidence of, for instance, what a person did in their career, how people lived in a given era, how a company operated, or how a political leader made certain decisions…

Archival collections include but are not limited to:

  • Letters
  • Minute books
  • Diaries
  • Business records
  • Architectural drawings
  • Blueprints
  • Maps
  • Sketches
  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Motion pictures
  • Videotapes
  • Computer disks…

By specializing in the management of original, unpublished material, archives preserve evidence reflecting the life and activities of those who created such material, and help ensure it is available for successive generations to discover.

How might archival sources of information be used?

An archives can be an excellent resource to draw upon for a variety of purposes – especially in situations where original research is required. You can use an archives to:

  • write school papers or scholarly dissertations;
  • research a house, building;
  • develop a history of a business, organization, farm etc.;
  • embellish your family history;
  • locate early photographs for use in publications;
  • learn about daily life, the impressions and the decisions of people that lived before us.

What does the Archivist do?

Most archives have a professional archivist on staff, who is responsible for both the holdings and the making of vast amounts of stored information available and easy to use. An Archivist’s job includes the following:

  • appraisal and acquisition of material on behalf of the institution;
  • processing of material (arrangement and description);
  • developing finding aids for visitors so they can better access material;
  • researching and developing temporary exhibits;
  • ensuring that policies, privacy restrictions and ethical codes are observed;
  • assisting researchers in finding the information they are looking for;
  • preservation and preventative conservation of the entire archival collection.

Is the Archives interested in donations of old records, photographs etc.?

Yes! The Archives generally accepts material by three formal methods; 1) transfer – of public records from City departments and agencies; 2) purchase – limited, typically under special circumstances; 3) donation – where title and ownership of the material is granted to the Archives from the existing owner.

Donation is the preferred and most common mode of acquisition of private papers and records. We prefer donation because of our investment in time, money, archival supplies and storage space that we assume when material is acquired. Each foot of storage space in the Archives has an equivalent cost in time, resources and labour.

The Archives is a registered charity. Therefore, charitable tax receipts can be issued for donations. We are designated as a Category A Collecting Institution under the terms of the Canadian Cultural Property Export/Import Act. If one donates archival material of “outstanding significance and national importance,” that person is eligible for a tax credit up to 100% of net income. Please contact the City Archivist if you would like more information.

What can I expect of the Archives if I decide to donate material?

Donations are always welcome. Prospective donors should contact the Archives to either arrange for a pick-up or have the material delivered (preferably by the donor). At this point a ‘temporary receipt’ will be issued. We appraise the material using our acquisitions policy and mandate as criteria. If the material meets the institutions mandate it is formally accepted and the donor signs a deed of gift. Donor conditions are considered but are usually very limited. Prior to acquisition the donor can request privacy and/or copying restrictions, and the Archives will decide to continue with the acquisition as requested or discontinue the process. All access restrictions once agreed on are strictly enforced.

Once the material is acquired it is then formally processed. This involves arrangement and description, cleaning, conservation (if the material is fragile or in poor condition) and the replacing of standard file folders with acid-free folders.

We then prepare an inventory of the contents and produce a computer database record. The Archives always preserves (where appropriate) the original filing system and order of every body of records or papers we acquire. A permanent location in storage is designated once all forms are completed.

Only when these steps are complete is the material ready for use by researchers and the general public.

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