Grote Reber, 1975 (NRAO/AUI image)
NRAO logo

N.D. Conklin, 1975 (Image courtesy of N.D. Conklin)
H.I. (Doc) Ewen, 1951 (Image courtesy of Doc Ewen)

John Findlay, 1957 (NRAO/AUI image)
John Kraus, early 1970s (Image courtesy of Kraus estate)

Ron Bracewell touching up signature pier (FBOA image)
Lo, Vanden Bout, Roberts, Heeschen - 4 NRAO Directors at 50th anniversary (NRAO/AUI image)

NRAO Archives Policy

"The NSF’s contract laboratories and observatories do not create federal records; accordingly, these national observatories are not required by law to maintain records management programs or secure records of archival value. While at least some national observatories retain records, we are not aware that any of them have archival programs. To make matters worse, national observatories are not affiliated with universities or other organizations with archival programs and thus lack natural repositories." [AIP Study of Multi-Institutional Collaborations: Final Report: Highlights and Project Recommendations, 2001, p. 17]

"Efforts to document events from earlier decades will be frustrated by the frailties of records-keeping practices." [Ibid., p. 65]

I. Introduction

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a facility of the National Science Foundation (NSF) operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI).

NRAO has adopted the following policy for the collection, preservation, and maintenance of records, papers, and publications for use of NRAO, NSF, and AUI staff, and of other qualified students and researchers. The intent of the archives is to actively seek out, collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to institutional records and personal papers of enduring value which document NRAO’s historical development, institutional history, instrument construction, and ongoing activities, including its participation in multi-institutional collaborations. Oral histories created by interviewing key people will greatly enhance the archives. As the shift continues from paper to electronic, efforts must be made to retain and organize appropriate records in electronic format.

This policy does not address the archiving of observational data from NRAO telescopes; such archiving is the responsibility of NRAO’s Data Management Division.

This policy does not address the collection, preservation, or maintenance of astronomical images.

This policy does not address the collection, preservation, or maintenance of artifacts.

This policy does not address mandated retention requirements for business and human resources records, but does try to include HR and business records that may be important to the archives.

II. Organization of Archives (including staff, funding and physical space)

NRAO archives will be organized and retained centrally in Charlottesville rather than at the individual NRAO sites, since that is the best way to 1) catalog and arrange materials without duplication of effort, 2) maintain control of materials and prevent them from being rearranged, relocated, damaged, or discarded, and 3) best serve researchers using the archives.

On the organizational chart, the archives and the archivist, rather than being a department of the library, will be parallel to but separate from the library, and should report to the Director, who has the necessary long-range organizational vision to make appropriate administrative decisions as required.

The archivist must understand the function of the institution in order to articulate and execute a documentary plan, and to determine what records should be acquired and retained to carry out the mission of the archives. If the archivist does not already have training in archive management, funding should be provided for such training.

There will be an Archives Advisory Committee composed of one person at each site. In addition to advising the archivist on issues and policy, the committee members should serve as point person at each site, making sure that important materials are retained and transferred to the central archives.

Materials identified as important for the NRAO archives will be transferred from the sites to the centralized archives. It is not the intent of the archives to strip the sites of their history, but rather to make certain that we preserve our institutional history, both that of the individual sites and that of the organization as a whole; that preservation is best done centrally. However, there are times when it is important to have archival materials at a particular site, e.g. for the education and visitor center in Green Bank, and those materials could either be retained at the site or loaned by the archives (just as the central library in CV loans materials to all sites). The archivist and the Archives Advisory Committee should work together to determine the best way to maintain and preserve archival material. Any materials held at the sites, should be inventoried and included in the catalog of the archives, and should be housed with the same care they would receive if they were part of the centralized archives. At such time as they are no longer actively needed at the site, the materials should be transferred to (or returned to) the central archives.

There will be a Web-accessible online catalog for the archives. As an interim measure, inventory lists of materials should be posted on the Web.

III. Collection Policy

The NRAO archives shall collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to institutional records, personal papers, and non-print materials of enduring value which document NRAO’s historical development, institutional history, instrument construction, and ongoing activities, as well as NRAO’s participation in multi-institutional collaborations. For multi-institutional collaborations, record-keeping and archival responsibilities should be incorporated in the agreements between collaborating institutions. Sharing of responsibilities between collaborating institutions will involve coordination and cooperation between those responsible for archival collections at each institution.

The NRAO archives should include:

  • Materials relevant to the organization, establishment, and operation of NRAO, including oral histories.
  • Administrative records of the Director, Associate and Assistant Directors, Site Directors, and Division Heads, with particular emphasis on documenting the formulation of policies and procedures, the starting and ending of programs, and establishment of goals, including whenever possible materials which show how and why decisions were made, how they were implemented, and the implications and ramifications of those decisions.
  • Annual, quarterly, and monthly reports.
  • Personnel information will be available through the Human Resources Office, and that office will make all decisions about the appropriateness of the material requested. See section V below for details of access to personnel information.
  • Records documenting NRAO’s relationship with NSF, including contracts or cooperative agreements, and from grants for special projects.
  • Papers of individuals which include information related to NRAO’s organization, history, programs, or projects, which reflect the individual’s expertise in areas of importance to NRAO, or which reflect the individual’s service on committees, task forces, etc of importance to NRAO and the wider astronomical community.
  • Documentation, including notes, photographs, papers, written accounts, and oral histories, related to significant scientific discoveries by NRAO staff members or by others using NRAO instruments.
  • Press releases.
  • Reports and recommendations of governing and advisory committees, including official and ad-hoc, internal and external, task-specific and long-term.
  • Policy and procedure manuals.
  • Funding and budget history.
  • Materials relating to physical facilities, including the relationships, agreements, and contracts between NRAO and the universities or other institutions on whose property NRAO is located, and also including plans, photographs, and drawings.
  • Documents relating to site acquisition for NRAO instruments, and to their construction, including the project managers’ records.
  • Other documents describing the design and decision-making process for individual instruments, projects, or programs.
  • Materials about the relationship of the institution to the local community, including materials documenting the economic, social, and cultural impact of NRAO on each of the communities in which it has or has had facilities.
  • Goals, policies, funding decisions, and general management of major EPO programs, their services, and activities.
  • Non-text materials not archived by Information Services and EPO, e.g. photos, videos, CDs, audio tapes.
  • Internal publications, including both technical report/memo series and publications for and/or about employees. Some of these publications may already be part of the library collection; any not retained permanently in the library should be transferred to the archives.
  • Observing proposals, both successful and unsuccessful, as well as records of time allocated and actual observations made, both of which provide valuable documentation of the direction, goals, and strategies of observers and the ways in which our instruments were used.
  • Annual bibliographies of staff and visitor publications.
  • As the national facility for radio astronomy, it is appropriate for the archives to include materials on history and development of radio astronomy in the United States, particularly if such materials are in danger of being lost or discarded by other institutions or individuals.

For multi-institutional collaborations in which NRAO participates, the archival collection should include:

  • Memoranda of understanding.
  • Records of the executive or governing board, program committee and/or technical representatives committee.
  • Records of external advisory committees and design review panels.
  • Records of project managers.
  • Records of science project teams.
  • Contracts and associated records, including documentation for significant subcontracts.
  • Technical reports and newsletters
  • Other relevant materials as noted in the more detailed collection guidelines for NRAO materials above.

The archives will not retain items or segments of collections that are deemed unnecessary, extraneous, out-of-scope, or otherwise unsuitable for retention. Unwanted materials will be transferred to the NRAO library if appropriate, to another institution’s library if appropriate (e.g. NSF), returned to the donor, or destroyed. Acceptance of materials does not guarantee that NRAO will keep those materials in perpetuity. (See section below on Accessioning and Deaccessioning for further details.) The archives have the option of transferring information to microform, digital format, or other appropriate storage medium, and of discarding the original records or returning them to the donor when retained information is secure in another format.

IV. Accessioning and Deaccessioning Materials

All records, papers, and publications generated or received by the various offices, projects, and programs of NRAO belong to the Observatory, and transfer of those materials to the archives is simply a change of custody, responsibility, or jurisdiction.

Private donors or custodians of records may transfer legal title to AUI for the NRAO archives, in which case AUI should receive a signed release of title to the records in a document of transfer. Ownership of archival materials rests with the Observatory regardless of management entity. The document of transfer may specify conditions of acquisition and/or preservation, as well as limitations on access to the records, should address whether the donor retains or transfers to the archives any copyrights or literary rights associated with materials being donated, and may specify methods for disposition of unwanted materials in the collection both at the time of accession and in the future. The deed of gift may also specify that if AUI ceases to manage NRAO, donated items will be transferred to the new management entity. In some cases, a donor may want to have a lawyer draw up a formal deed of gift; deeds of gift should be reviewed by AUI’s legal counsel. Copies of all documents of transfer and deeds of gift should be kept on file in the archives. Conditions for transfer of materials may differ from one donor to another.

If at some time in the future AUI should cease to be the management entity for NRAO, ownership of all archival materials will be transferred to the new managing entity along with all other transferred files, records, and property of the Observatory. Note, however, that AUI records, e.g. records of AUI Board of Trustees decisions affecting NRAO, are part of AUI’s files, and will be dealt with according to AUI policies and procedures.

A good collection policy and careful selection standards will reduce the need for deaccessioning. Nevertheless, the archival collection should periodically be reappraised, and materials deaccessioned as appropriate. Reappraisal is intended to improve holdings and highlight resources, and is not meant to be a process undertaken solely to create more space for incoming materials. Materials considered for deaccession should be at least as carefully reviewed as materials considered for accession; a written reappraisal report should justify deaccessioning. Criteria for deaccession include but are not limited to:

  • whether the material falls within the scope of the current collection
  • whether the material is a duplicate or duplicates information elsewhere in the collection
  • whether its deteriorated physical condition makes the material no longer useful
  • whether donor agreements or other legal obligations apply

The method of disposition of deaccessioned material, when not otherwise governed by prior agreements with the donor, will be jointly decided by appropriate professional staff. After obtaining any required approvals from NSF or AUI, materials may be transferred to other institutions, be offered for public sale, or may be destroyed.

V. Access Policy

The NRAO encourages the use of its archives by NRAO, NSF, and AUI staff, and by other qualified students and researchers, for serious projects which can be undertaken with existing and unrestricted materials in the archives. Users of the archives are expected to be familiar with the topic being researched so that the time spent working in the archives is efficiently used and the materials sought are focused in scope rather than broad and general. The archives are open by appointment only, and the prospective user must apply in writing, stating the purpose of the research project and the specific materials sought.

Users must register on arrival, and must fill out and sign a form outlining the purpose of the research, intent to publish, agreement to copyright rules, agreement to citation rules, and agreement to other applicable rules and regulations of the archives.

Users may follow the same application and registration process to apply in absentia to receive photocopies of documents in the archives. All photocopying is done in accordance with Sections 107 and 108 of the 1976 Copyright Act, which govern Fair Use.

Documents whose access is restricted in any way will not be available to researchers, either in person or by photocopy.

Applicants for use of the archives who are denied access for any reason may appeal in writing to the archivist, who will consult with the NRAO Director. Decisions on appeals are made on a case by case basis. The decisions of the NRAO Director are final.

Unless otherwise specified by a donor or by legal restrictions, NRAO permits single-copy reproduction of archival originals by researchers for use in their research.

Any materials which have been released to a larger audience, including those of the Board of Trustees and the current NRAO administration, will be open to qualified researchers. Papers from individuals will be available as specified by the donors in the documents of transfer or deeds of gift.

As stated in section III above, access to personnel information will be at the discretion of the Human Resources Office; final decisions rest with the Human Resources Manager, with advice of the NRAO Director as needed. Requested information may include dates of hires and terminations, as well as positions and job titles held during an individual’s NRAO history. Historical wage and salary scale information may also be available in special cases, but will be provided only as general, Observatory-wide information, not information on specific individuals. Records of tenure considerations, letters of recommendation, and any other records relating to the hiring/firing/promotion/demotion etc of individuals are closed unless there is some compelling reason to allow access to such information. Social security numbers, medical and insurance information, salary history, disciplinary notes, performance evaluations, etc. will not be available. There may be instances in which access to information may be allowed, but with restrictions on how the material is used or disseminated. Written requests for information will be forwarded to the Human Resources Office, which will supply information as is deemed appropriate.

VI. Sources Consulted

This policy was written in 2002 by Ellen Bouton with the advice of the Archives Advisory Committee: Mark Gordon, Miller Goss, Ken Kellermann, and Jay Lockman, and approved by NRAO Director K.Y. Lo in November 2002. The policy has benefitted greatly from the advice and recommendations of NRAO staff members Barry Clark, Bob D’Angio, Dave Finley, Dave Heeschen, Dave Hogg, Kathleen Le Febre, Ted Miller, Jim Ulvestad, and Paul Vanden Bout. An August 2002 presentation on the draft policy to the weekly Science Tea in Socorro elicited a useful discussion of related issues and ideas. Librarians, archivists, and historians at other institutions provided many valuable suggestions: Antoinette Beiser (Lowell Observatory), Brenda Corbin (US Naval Observatory), Steven Dick (US Naval Observatory), Shelley Erwin (California Institute of Technology), Peter Hingley (Royal Astronomical Society), Sarah Stevens-Rayburn (Space Telescope Science Institute).

Electronic resource management guidelines, version 2. St. Paul, MN : State Archives Dept., Minnesota Historical Society, June 2002.

Ham, F. Gerald. Selecting and appraising archives and manuscripts. Chicago : Society of American Archivists, 1993.

Hunter, Gregory S. Developing and maintaining practical archives. New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1997.

Policy for access to archival materials. California Institute of Technology Archives, February 3, 1998.

Preserving scientific data on our physical universe : a new strategy for archiving the nation’s scientific information resources. Washington : National Academy Press, 1995.

Samuels, Helen Willa. Varsity letters : documenting modern colleges and universities. Chicago : Society of American Archivists, 1992.

Warnow-Blewett, Joan; Genuth, Joel; Weart, Spencer R. AIP study of multi-institutional collaborations, phase III: Ground-based astronomy, materials science, heavy-ion and nuclear physics, medical physics, and computer-mediated collaborations. Report 1: Summary of project activities and findings; project recommendations. Report 2: Documenting collaborations in ground-based astronomy, materials science, heavy-ion and nuclear physics, medical physics, and computer-mediated collaborations. College Park : Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, 1999.

Warnow-Blewett, Joan; Genuth, Joel; Weart, Spencer R. AIP study of multi-institutional collaborations, final report. [Report 1]: Highlights and project recommendations. [Report 2]: Documenting multi-institutional collaborations. College Park : Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, 2001.

Wilsted, Thomas and Nolte, William. Managing archival and manuscript repositories. Chicago : Society of American Archivists, 1991.


Modified on Wednesday, 10-Feb-2016 14:00:37 EST by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)