Trash or treasure? University archives can help you decide

As the book closes on another academic year, you could help add a chapter to Iowa State's history. How? Clean out your office filing cabinets, closets and secret stashes, and transfer important papers, photographs, videos and other items to ISU Library's archives department.

"It's our job to document the history and value of the university," said Michele Christian, associate professor of library. "We're here to collect and preserve historically significant and valuable documentation."

What to keep

What may seem unimportant to you could be valuable to university archives. Iowa State has established a records retention policy to help departments know what to save and when. Here's a sampling of those items. A complete list is available online.

  • Faculty meeting minutes
  • Annual reports
  • Audio/visual items
  • Photographs
  • Newsletters
  • Documents that reflect the department's development

Interesting archives

Here are some examples of unique items housed in Iowa State's university archives:

  • Muskrat skin stretcher from Paul Errington, research professor in zoology from 1932 to 1962
  • The letter written by Jack Trice to himself on the eve of the Iowa State vs. Minnesota football game, where he sustained an injury which ended his life on Oct. 8, 1923
  • A freshman beanie from 1918
  • Carrie Chapman Catt's suffrage buttons from the late 19th and early 20th centuries
  • The 1895 death mask of Margaret Stanton, wife of Edgar Stanton, who purchased the first carillon bells in Iowa State's campanile as a memorial to her

University archives offers tours of its facility to student groups and organizations. Contact Michele Christian, 4-4216, to make arrangements.

University archives also wants 3D items that reflect Iowa State's history. Some examples include Veishea and homecoming ephemera, faculty awards, trophies and almost anything that documents Iowa State's development.

If you need help determining what should be saved, the university archives staff is ready, willing and able to lend a hand. They even will help pack up materials. Contact them at 4-6672 or at

What to toss

Not everything is archive-worthy. Some items that should be thrown out include:

  • Receipts
  • Student rosters
  • Grade books
  • Anything that could infringe on a student's privacy

A list of items not accepted by university archives is available online (scroll down to see this list).

The transfer process

Before stockpiling every report, photograph and research paper that your department has produced for the past 20 years, contact university archives (4-6672) and let the staff know what you have. They will evaluate the items and make arrangements to have them transferred from your building to the library.

From there, the archives staff logs the materials, organizes the information into a database and places items in acid-free folders and boxes. The folders and boxes are then filed in a humidity- and temperature-controlled storage area, which houses approximately five miles of shelving.

University archives stores materials for free, and all information still is accessible once it moves to permanent storage. Departments are strongly encouraged to transfer files and items to university archives.